“We have to go wine tasting next time you’re home!” enthused my mum and sister for weeks leading up to my fall visit to California. I agreed, of course – I’m always down for drinking on someone else’s dime – but secretly thought it sounded kind of expensive and pretentious (sorry, family). I’m more of a whatever’s on offer with the best alcohol-price ratio kind of drinker. My mum and sister, on the other hand, are the type of people who can really taste different flavors. “This wine tastes of berries and summer and nutmeg!”, they might say, and they wouldn’t even be lying.
Meanwhile, my insightful commentary is usually limited to “This wine tastes like…wine.” So I wasn’t expecting much out of a day at the winery.
But I was about to be proven majorly wrong. As it turns out, wine tasting is actually really fun, despite the snobby-sounding name.
Not convinced? Instead of wine tasting, we should really call it “day drinking with your friends in pretty places.” Is that starting to sound a little more appealing?
The wineries I’ve been to have been in incredibly beautiful places. In southern California, Temecula has a gorgeous street lined with miles and miles of vineyards and surrounded by views of palm trees and mountains in the distance. In Sonoma, near San Francisco and the first wine region in California, the whole town is practically a vineyard, or at least has a view of one.
As soon as you get onto the winery grounds, you can hear light music playing in the background or fountains trickling, accompanied by the gentle clinking of fancy wine glasses and laughter. They might let you walk around the vineyards a little or take a tour, or you can get straight to business and head up to the bar.
At some bars, you buy a “flight” of wine tastings from a set list. At others, you purchase tickets and swap them for tastings, with fancier things costing more tickets. Either way, at the wineries I went to it’ll cost you about $10 – $20, which was way less than I was expecting (and it might be cheaper if you go during the week).
Oh yeah, and they usually serve amazing food as well. I present to you exhibit A from the Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula:
I’d imagined wine tasting as something very serious and solemn, but we had some fun with it with a guessing game. Have your friend hold the wine list and keep it secret while you drink your wine. Put on your best pretentious wine-tasting act – swirl, sniff, and swallow – and then try to guess what’s in it. For the next wine, swap positions. You’ll at least come up with some absolutely ridiculous guesses, which get even sillier as you drink more wine.
Actually, sometimes this works really well. It does get easier to pick out flavors like cherries or berries, for example. Sometimes it doesn’t work so well, like when I guessed one wine tasted like it’d been sitting in an old, damp barrel (it turned out to have an “oaky” flavor, so maybe I get half-credit for that? ).
Some of it is just a flat-out lie, I’m pretty sure. I did NOT taste chocolate in a single wine, even though lots said they had hints of chocolate. Wait, that’s not entirely true – I had some port served a chocolate shot glass while wine tasting in Temecula. That one tasted of chocolate, but I’m afraid there may have been a trick there.
Here are a few tips to make wine tasting more fun:
Go with somebody who is a member at the wine club if you can. I got a whole round of delicious tastings for FREE in Sonoma! Who doesn’t like free things?
Try everything. I don’t really like white wine, but it’s fun to taste different types anyway.
You don’t have to finish it if it’s really not to your liking. That’s what that mini trash can is for (I was slightly shocked at this news – why would you pour away perfectly good booze?).
The fancy jars of crackers aren’t just decorative, it turns out (oops). You politely nibble on them between samples to “clear your palate” or whatever.
Dessert wines are like drinking syrup from tinned peaches, but the grown-up version – so, delicious.
California isn’t called the Golden State for nothing. Go on a golden, sunny day for the optimal wine tasting experience.
Now, every time I go home, California wine tasting is definitely on my list of potential things to do. Relaxing in the beautiful California sunshine in a gorgeous garden with little glasses of wine and some of your favorite people – what’s not to like?
(And if your answer is that you don’t like wine, come be my wine tasting designated driver!).
And a few extra notes on wine tasting, now that I’m an expert and all:
I know I must have gotten good at wine tasting, because pretty much as soon as I was back in Barcelona I got invited to a tequila tasting. Let me just say there is much more potential for falling down the stairs after a tequila tasting. They really should restrict those things to the first floor, or at least to buildings with elevators.
Oh, and by the way, one of the wineries I went to had a rather charming winery pig. This is only encouraging me to wear my flower crown to work.
Cheers, salut, and chinchín! Have you ever been wine tasting?