Cartier Masthead Final Weeks

Wine Tasting 101: Expert tips on how to taste two regions

Beatrice Smith

Do you remember your first wine tasting? I remember mine.

I had ventured into a local wine region with a group of far more worldly University friends who wanted to educate me on the cellar door experience.

The memory is hazy but I vaguely remember being mystified as to why anyone would spit out good wine after tasting it, and (most likely) mispronouncing ‘viognier’ several times. I do remember, however, being excited to try it again (albeit after Googling some pronunciations).

Tastes of Two Regions will bring over 100 wines from The King Valley and Rutherglen to Canberra in late August. We caught up with two premier wine makers from those regions to get some professional tips.

What are your top three tips for tasting wine at a cellar door?

Rowly Milhinch, owner and winemaker at Scion Vineyard and Winery, Rutherglen

  1. Be open minded

No wine is ever the same, especially from region to region. Think you don’t like Shiraz? Even more of a reason to try it again, it will almost certainly be a little different from place to place.

  1. Ask questions

The more the merrier! Curious tasters are great fun to serve and often the learning goes both ways.

  1. Enjoy wine for what wine is for you

If you don’t like something, can’t describe what it tastes/smells like, or simply just want to relax and enjoy it without thinking too much, it’s all good. Be confident in the knowledge that your tastes are unique and ever-changing, hence you’re never wrong and can be surprised!

Rowland of Scion Winery

Rowly Milhich

What are some good questions to ask the cellar door staff?

Caroline Brown, Public Relations Manager for Brown Brothers, Milawa

“So, what percentage of new oak vs old oak has this Chardonnay seen? Has it been lees stirred and gone through malolactic fermentation?”

Joking. Don’t ask this.

In all seriousness, there’s no such thing as a silly question when it comes to wine, so ask away!

Tell us what you like!  Whether it’s other wines you have tasted, or if you prefer sweet, fruity or savoury flavours.  That way they can take you on a personalised tasting journey.

Rowly:  “So, tell me about the grapes…”

Wine is made in a vineyard. From site to site, region to region: place is the keystone to the uniqueness of wine. Much of a wines character can by understood by thinking a little about where and how the grapes are grown. This may sound a bit technical, however the climate basics (weather, soil, vineyard aspect) married with the growing practices (irrigation, yield, fruit selection) open up a wonderful Pandora’s box of learnings and answers. And probably more questions!

“What food could this wine be delicious with?”

I think the dialogue of food can often describe a wine better than tasting notes littered with strange adjectives. Quiz the staffer on some great food/wine pairings. Often this will lead into wine serving suggestions/preparations, the discovery of something you would never usually try or inspiration to get your cook on!

What is your advice for someone who has never been to a cellar door before?

Rowly: Relax and be guided by the staff. Allow them to help you navigate the wine selection at your own pace. Confronted by a long list of wines? Perhaps ask the staff to pick out a selection best suited to your favorite food, time of day, or that best reflect the region.

What is the etiquette around tasting too much (or too little)?

Caroline: Most cellar doors are generally tucked away in beautiful rural locations, so usually transport is required.  Make sure if you have a car that you have had a discussion beforehand who is the designated driver.  Never risk it.

Rowly: During a full day of wine tasting less can be more. Enter the concept of spitting, which can be a great way to ‘taste’ wines throughout the day whilst keeping yourself tidy and your palate fresh. If spitting isn’t your thing, try being selective with the wine list. Ask a few questions to get a feel for what’s on offer ahead of trying all wines at all places. Staying for a few days? Try a couple of half-day sessions or whites one day and reds/sweets the next.

What is the etiquette around spitting?

Caroline: Make sure you get it all in the bucket!

Rowly: We all know it’s not glamorous but don’t let that stop you! Why? To keep your palate on track. Some say that they don’t like to waste wine and won’t spit, but I think wine is wasted when they all taste the same (often the case at the end of a solid day of tasting!).

What makes a great cellar door experience?

Caroline: Friendly, helpful people.  Throw in some fresh, local produce matched to a delicious glass of wine (or two!)

Rowly: Relaxed, welcoming and informed staff who can tailor a tasting to suit! Most memorably for me is a passionate staffer at a McLaren Vale winery. Alongside me was a group of women on a ladies’ day out plus a family of holiday makers. He poured and described the list uniquely for each group, his technical knowledge was great plus he had a sense of humour (huge bonus!). I left with some knowledge, a smile and (most importantly) some delicious wine.

How will Tastes of Two Regions provide a unique wine tasting experience?

Caroline: Tastes of Two Regions is a wonderful event as it brings the best of Rutherglen and the King Valley together. Really, it’s the lazy person’s guide to drinking wine in North East Victoria, because we come to you!

We hope to tell some stories and show you some delicious wine.  We just hope it might entice you to come and visit us at a later date!

Rowly: It’s not often that you can explore a diverse range of wines representing two premium wine regions and over twenty passionate producers in one venue on one day. Wow! Seek out masterclasses, delicious food and evening events for a super snapshot of why Rutherglen and the King Valley are must-visit wine regions only a four-hour drive from Canberra.

the essentials 

What: Tastes of Two Regions
Where: Pialligo Estate, 18 Kallaroo Road, Pialligo
When: Sunday 28 August from 10am-4pm
Tickets: $35 in advance and $40 on the door and include a Spiegelau tasting glass to keep
Book tickets and find more information click here:

Feature image: Caroline Brown 

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Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Online Editor involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise, you’ll find her at the movies or ordering a cheese board. More about the Author