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South African Travel Tips – Wine Tasting Room Etiquette

At Explore Sideways we often get asked for advice on tasting room etiquette when visiting South Africa. After living and visiting other wine-growing regions it’s safe to say that some rules are globally universal and others are specific to the Cape Winelands. Not to worry, we’ve compiled the 10 most important etiquette tips that will ensure you have an incredible time on your tasting adventure.

1. Book tastings beforehand
Pre-planning your wine tasting tour is crucial in the Cape Winelands. Many of the wine estates are happy to have you show up on a whim but many of the smaller estates offer wine tastings as well as cellar and vineyard tours by appointment only. Additionally, many of the farms close early, aren’t open Sunday and often close down for months at a time during the winter. If you want to get insider access to all the best estates, make sure to have Explore Sideways book you the very best off the beaten track experience.

2. Hire a guide or have a designated driver
If you do the Cape Winelands properly, chances are you exceed South Africa’s meager legal blood alcohol limit of 0.05g per 100ml, which is .03 lower than the US, UK and most countries in Europe. In the scenario that you’re a foreign traveller, remember that people drive on the right-hand side of the road and in the right-hand side of the vehicle (a challenge to many even when sober). And besides, wouldn’t you rather be enjoying the views and learning about the history and viticulture lead by an Explore Sideways specialist guide?

3. Eat a solid breakfast and don’t skip lunch
It should be no secret that food absorbs alcohol. If you want to make the most out of your day wine tasting, make sure to eat an ample breakfast and lunch. The caveat here is not to drink coffee, gum or lemon water right before wine tasting as it ruins the taste. Don’t forget to pack some water for the car and to sip on it between tastings. This is a marathon, not a race.

4. Ditch the perfume
Strong sells can interfere with the ability to smell and properly taste the wines. Avoid smoking or wearing heavy perfumes or aftershave lotions when you attend a wine tasting. Gum and breath mints alter the taste of wine during wine tastings too. It’s best to avoid using them when going wine tasting.

5. Don’t be afraid to taste off the beaten track
There are over 500 wineries in South Africa and over 15 designated wine routes, each with their own unique character. The unfortunate thing is how little exposure these mom and pop places get because they’re focused on making great wine rather than marketing. The best thing about visiting these boutique farms is that you’ll often get to meet the winemaker, go into the vineyard and taste wines not sold outside the tasting room.

6. To spit or not to spit?
It’s perfectly acceptable to drink all the wine poured in your glass but let it be known that both palate fatigue and inebriation can happen even after just a few tastes (take it from the experts). Palate fatigue occurs when your taste buds have been overworked and you’re less capable of discerning the unique differences between wines the more and more you drink. And inebriation, well, we hope you know how this occurs. If you prefer to spit a wine, you can take a sip, swirl it around in your mouth and then spit it into the spittoon as gracefully as you can manage.

7. Buy wine only if you like it
Think of the tasting room as a showroom for the wine, not a bar. The goal of the winery staff is to convert you into a lifelong buyer of their wines. Don’t feel pressured to buy wine if you don’t like it but if you love it, show your support! It’s also acceptable to ask for another taste of a particular wine if you are interested in purchasing it. If you live in a foreign country, ask the Explore Sideways team to give you a list of people that export the desired wine to your home country.

8. Do I tip in the tasting room?
Whilst tipping in South Africa is normally 10%, you are not expected to add a tip in addition to a tasting fee. The exception to this rule is when there are ample food and wine pairing or if the tasting room staff provided an amazing experience. If you are on an Explore Sideways tour, all the tasting fees and tips will be taken care of by your specialist tour guide.

9. Be open to trying new wines
South Africa is home to a variety of unique wines that are unlike anywhere else. Even if you don’t like red wine, try a pinotage just for the hell of it. If you only like reds try one of the amazing old vine Chenin blancs that are making waves in the wine world. Each winery has its own story and its own terroir, consider this a tasting adventure and who knows what you may end up loving.

10. Bring the whole family!
Many of the world’s renowned wine regions are not suitable for children but that’s not the case in the South African Winelands. Many wineries feature jungle gyms, juice pairings, eagle encounters, and even wildlife safaris. This is a parental utopia for parents of kids of all ages. See the Explore Sideways Family Fun and Furry Friends tour in the Winelands or contact us to book a customized tour.

11. Bonus! Book an Explore Sideways tour:)
If you haven’t figured it out already, Explore Sideways is the only place to book the best immersive travel experiences in the Cape Winelands. Let us guide you to the best and most amazing food, wine and cultural experiences across the incredible Cape. Contact us for more information!

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