“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?
I am drooling over that picture of cheese. And wine is taken very seriously in my family. My father is French after all, it’s all about the wine and cheese. He got his Certificate of Specialist of Wine last year (and got 97% but I’m not surprised since he spent all his free time studying) and now he’s studying for some other certificate thingie. He’s part of a local wine tasting group and everything. My dad is the kind of guy who will say “This wine tastes like oak and lemon.” while all I can smell is the smell of wine. Though recently I drank a wine and was told it smelled like cat piss and well, it really did smell like cat piss (though the wine itself actually tasted fine!).
The swirl thing may look pretentious but if you know a thing or two about wine, they do that to release the aroma so you can smell it better (and it really does work so it’s not all for show). We went out to Sonoma back in 2006 to go to some wineries but this was before I could legally drink so I would love to go back. And the crackers do help clear your palate but it’s also to help you “digest” the wine so it slows down how much alcohol gets absorbed in your system so you can drink more wine (or spit it out which is what the serious wine tasters do).
The cheese was so, so, SO good. Haha I could live off of the things on that cheese plate forever.
That’s so funny your dad is officially a wine and cheese expert. I didn’t know you could be such a thing! It doesn’t sound like too bad of a thing to “study” for. 🙂
I’m not jealous of your wine experience as I don’t drink alcohol, but I wish I was there to enjoy the beautiful scenery in the sun and breath some fresh air. It looks like a cozy and relaxing wineland to me.
The scenery is gorgeous! And the food is good too. My dad went with us and didn’t drink so he could drive everyone home (thanks, Dad!) but I think he still had a great time because we got to sit in those gardens and have delicious food.
My parents live very close to Temecula (but moving soon) and so whenever I go home I make an effort to get to the winerys. It really is ¨day drinking in pretty places¨!
Spain is amazing, but I can´t lie– I´m pretty excited to be in Southern California for summer!
Oh we’re from really close cities then! I grew up in Riverside. Are you going to be back in Temecula for the summer?
Pretty funny, as I found your website looking for insights into Spain as we are planning a food and wine adventure for 2015. And the first post I read is about wine tasting in Calif. We love to travel and ALWAYS plan our travels around some sort of wine tasting, But forever more I will refer to them as Day drinking in pretty places !! Looking forward to reading more and visiting Barcelona (along with Madrid and the Rioja wine region) in 2015.
Haha that is funny! But there’s great wine tasting to be done in Spain. La Rioja actually has signs on the freeway telling you about the wineries. And Barcelona/the Catalonia region is famous for its cava. Next on my list is visiting the cava vineyards!
I am totally also a “This wine tastes like…wine” type of person, so I loved this post. I have always wanted to learn more about wine…maybe one of these days 🙂
Thanks! It was actually lots of fun to go and dip my toe into the wine tasting world. At the end of the day, some of them did taste different, but I wouldn’t say I know anything about wine. Luckily, it’s not a requirement to go wine tasting!
Although I cannot tell what is in a wine, I can tell if my palette likes it. Sometimes I think they are making it up. Love your post because us “the girls” are planning our next get together and it is going to be a wine trip so this is good to know.
Barcelona is on my list to go in the near future. Enjoy!
Wine trips are great with your girlfriends! I definitely recommend it, as well as Barcelona.
I spent a day wine tasting in Sonoma last October and had a great time! I might have been the only young person, of course, but it is such a beautiful area too!
Haha right? I went to a wine bar there and felt like I was the youngest person by about fifty years. But it’s so, so pretty.