Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wine Tasting Tips

Living in California, I have had lots of opportunities to go wine tasting. When I first started going tasting we'd get in the car, drive to Napa, hit wineries randomly (easy to do along Highway 29), drink what was served to us and drink all of it. This was an OK experience, pretty fun but not very memorable. I don't think I learned much about wine or tasted anything terrific.

As I learned more about wine and later moved to Sonoma County, I began to focus my tastings a bit more (example - today we are just going to taste Pinot Noir) and even (gasp!) plan in advance where I wanted to taste and (gasp, again!) make an appointment or two.

Regardless of how you go about selecting your wineries and planning your tasting agenda (and there is no right or wrong way), here are some tips to make it more productive and enjoyable:

- Spit. Yes, spit. I used to never want to spit at a winery because the idea of spitting into a shared spittoon was - and still is - gross. Also, how do you spit without getting wine all over yourself? Enter the personal spit cup. It can be as simple as a disposable cup or as fancy as the Italian ceramic ones that we sometimes cart around (see photo above). With your personal spit cup you can spit into it and then just dump into the spittoon.

- Share a taste. Since you are spitting, volume matters less. You can save some money by sharing a taste with a companion or maybe spring for one taste of a higher level of wine.

- Eat food, drink water. If you are drinking wine, even if you are spitting, you need to eat food and drink water.

- Know your limit for the number of wineries you can do in one day. Even with shared tastes and spitting, I top out at about five wineries. At that point, I get palette fatigue.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My Top 10 List of Sonoma County Wineries

I am often asked for my list of must-visit wineries in Sonoma County. It's not that easy to put the list together. First, there are so many wineries. Second, not all wineries are open to the public. And third, everyone's priorities are different. Some people are OK with a lot of structure and don't mind making tasting appointments. Others want to be footloose and fancy free and want no appointments. And others might be looking to mix wine tasting with other things such as art collections, pretty gardens or a game of bocce ball. I have divided my top 10 Sonoma County winery list to address the three types of tasters. It's not an exhaustive winery list by any means, but it's a list I would give to any friend.

J Winery: make a reservation in the Bubble Room for the wine and food pairings. A bit pricey but worth it. You can also walk in and taste in the tasting room. Cool building and good art.
Matanzas Creek: Go there less for the wine, more for the lavender. In June it looks like the south of France. They sell lots of lavender products in the tasting room year round.
De La Montanya: You can buy a bottle of their wine and have a picnic and game of bocce ball in the pretty garden.

Need an appointment
Siduri: Siduri makes a range of wines and their tasting room is a warehouse! Not your typical 'winery' experience but well worth a visit.
Talty: Good zinfandel, family run winery where the owner is likely to do your wine tasting.
A. Rafanelli: Good zinfandel.

Don't need an appointment
Lynmar: Very good (but a bit expensive) pinot noir. Nice tasting room and nice patio for tasting outstide.
Bella: Bella's wine caves are neat and they make good zinfandel.
Seghesio: Good zinfandel, bocce is available there too.
Rochioli: Most of their high-end wines are sold to their mailing list only. However, they do have a tasting room so it's a good opportunity to try their wines. They may only have a few wines to taste, but the tasting room is pretty, especially when the roses are in bloom.

Next up, some tips for wine tasting!