Free wine tastings, a tonic for the times

blindtasterA couple of weekends ago, I attended the grand re-opening of Wine Connection in Pound Ridge, NY. Max Marinucci moved his store to a handsome, custom-built facility and it was an amazing tasting by any measure. There were about six Barolos available from producers that ran the modern-traditional axis, E. Pira, G. Mascarello, G. Conterno, and Sandrone among others. They also poured the 2004 Hudelot Noellat Richebourg (about $259; find this wine), and several current release Bordeaux. Then there was the amazing 1985 Leoville Las Cases (about $379; find this wine), whose aroma was so enticing with tannins were smooth as silk.

And the price for this tasting? Free.

In this tough economy, even seeking solace in a wine glass can still cost a lot. But there is one place where you can still taste fine wine for free: New York wine stores. Granted, you’re standing up and the pours are sometimes barely enough to cover the bottom of the glass, but they are a great opportunity for broadening your tasting experience–as well as talking with some interesting people who are usually doing the pouring.

While there are many silly (separate entrances for separate licenses) and annoying (not being able to to sell cheese in a wine shop nor wine in a food shop) aspects of New York wine retail laws, the free tasting is a definite boon for consumers. Stores can’t charge for tasting since that would be profiting from the sale of liquor on-premises, which requires a different license. Other states have different rules about in-store pourings and they are not always free, but are often a good value. (Sadly, one place where free tastings may someday be illegal is the little-known wine country called France.)

And the downturn in the economy means that some shops are eagerly pouring wines (or, technically, having the distributor reps pour the wines) to attract foot traffic. So check out your local retailers and see what’s on the calendar. Here’s my map of my favorite NYC wine shops.

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9 Responses to “Free wine tastings, a tonic for the times”

  1. So True Dr. Vino!

    But how do wine shops like Chelsea Wine Vault or Bacchus do formal wine tastings that they charge money to attend? Is this legal???


  2. Wow! Great writing, I didn’t even see it coming that this kind of event would be free. I was strung along by all those big numbers you mentioned and am now inspired to give this a go myself.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. @WTG – true. There is certainly a gray area. It may have to do with the “educational” component; the people pay for the instruction and the wine is free.

    Thanks, Dylan!

  4. Very interesting. Does sound quite gray though…

  5. Living here in Burgundy, where we just had a disastrous 2008 wine aquction in Beaune (yesterday) I can’t imagine the small winemakers charging for tatsing. It would change the whole ethos over here…yuck.

    Laura in Burgundy (from over at

  6. I guess that’s the downside of living here in California. Buying wine in grocery stores is nice, but it’s impossible to find a free tasting anywhere…

    Oh, that and the fires. Also a downside.

  7. Jesse:

    Some Livermore wineries offer free tastings if you’re interested (but if you’re in Southern California it will be a drive). I’m hearing the latest, greatest wines are organics. If you want to learn more read

  8. Great suggestions as to stores with interesting line-ups and tastings. Also recommend adding to the list The Wine Room of Forest Hills, owned and run by Carolina knowledgeable staff and terrific range of largely Italian wines. They’re always hosting tastings and events. Info available at

  9. Mrs. Taz and I have a standing Friday night date that starts with a tasting at a local wine shop. Always fun, and, as you said, a great way to try different wines. But not usually as stellar a selection as you had in in Pound Ridge.


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