Here are those promised pointers from last week for tasting travellers to experience satisfied sipping:
- Time of year – call ahead to see if the wineries you plan to visit are open. Ask their hours. DO NOT rely on guide books for the operating hours as they can often change after the books have been printed.
- Choose your region wisely. Are you looking for specific types of wine? Large wineries? Small ones? A mix of both? A dry Gewurztraminer or a bold Cab Sauv? Make sure the region you pick offers all you want. Each region will have different characteristics in their wine based on that fancy word terroir I told you about awhile ago. After you’ve selected your area, look at the regions within that area. For example, I learned of one of my favourite regions in the Sonoma area after we arrived in Bodega Bay. The Russian River Valley (RRV) suited our tastes perfectly but I had already chosen wineries more centrally located in Sonoma. Better planning would have allowed us to spend more time in the RRV. However, we chose to see the glass half full and look at that as an opportunity to go back for another visit, or five.
- Food. Mmmm food. Can’t type. Eating. Wait, what are we talking about? Oh yes, two of my favourite things, food and wine. Does the place you’ve chosen to visit offer a specific cuisine to suit their foods? (Mmmm Chianti and tomato dishes). Perhaps there is a real local movement happening where you’re visiting. (There sure is in the Okanagan Valley, and British Columbia as a whole, we’re die-hards when it comes to supporting local food and wine). Will you eat lunches out? At a winery? Or do you prefer to find your perfect bottle to match your picnic on a terrace overlooking the beautiful scenery only wine-country can offer? Aside from meals, make sure you keep snacks close-by. Unsalted, plain crackers or bread help to refresh your taste buds. And for the love of everything holy, take lots, and lots of water with you. I don’t care how much or little water you normally drink, during a day of wine tasting it is imperative to stay hydrated with more than just fermented grape juice, as good as it is. Trust me, you’ll thank me later when you’re still awake at 5pm and not napping off the buzz that will leave you hungover all evening.
- Where to stay. The fella and I like to rent flats or houses. We use a number of different online sources to find vacation properties that are rented out at reasonable rates. We love to cook for ourselves. We do love to eat out but we prefer to save those pennies for additional bottles of wine to pair with the dinners we dream up and leisurely prepare at our vacation rental. Though for some, cooking their own meals isn’t ideal and not considered vacation-fun. If that’s the case be sure to look for a place that will feed you well. Some wineries offer guest suites or B & B’s right on site. You can kick start your mornings with a splash of whatever tickles your tasters and breakfast in bed. You’ll want to consider how close you are to town and amenities, would you rather be centrally located or more rural? This can depend on the next point…
- Driving Ms. Daisy. Will you be driving your own car? ROAD TRIP!!! Or will you fly/train/bus to your destination and rent a car there? Perhaps you’ll just be on foot. Think carefully before getting behind the wheel for a day of wine tasting. It can be best to take advantage of shuttles or wine touring companies. However, that’s not for everyone so if you decide to drive, decide before fastening those seat-belts who will be the designated spitter. Perhaps someone on your trip isn’t a wine fan and will do the driving for you, score! Whoever drives should get to choose the dinner bottle as a reward for their restraint.
- Spit. Yes, you can spit along with the designated spitter and nobody will think twice. If you don’t like a particular wine, you don’t have to drink it. Most people serving you will take no offense if you dump something out that doesn’t suit your tastes. This trick can also help you last the course of the day while fairing better than those who pack away all five (give or take a couple) tastes at each winery they visit.
- Map your route. Most wine regions are great with marking their wineries and routes to get to them. For this point I’m less concerned with directions (though do consider having some to avoid the number one vacation ruin-er: “Do you know where we are? Let’s ask for directions.”), than I am with how many wineries you visit in a day and how far you have to travel to visit said wineries. Visiting too many tasting rooms in one day can be more overwhelming that planning your trip. I recommend choosing three to start. You can allow a surprise stop here and there for winery names you might recognize, or for the quaint chateaux that catches your attention mid-route. When behind the tasting bar, I am never one to commend those who boast about visiting 20 wineries in two days. While that kind of trip can send you home with a trunk full of wine, I bet you’d be hard pressed to tell me at the end of those two days where the wines in your trunk are from and what makes them so special.
- Speaking of trunks…your wine doesn’t like it in there. It’s hot, humid and bouncy. Take a cooler with you for those hot touring days and put your purchases in it and take them into your abode at night. You don’t want your wine to spoil before you even get it back to your B & B or hotel.
- Wine country is more than just wine.While the point of visiting wine country is to taste, these regions are often situated in majestic areas that offer intense natural beauty…or shopping. Why not check out whichever suits your fancy. I love to hike and do my best to add some in between the tastings. Plus, it helps with all that food I mentioned earlier.
- What to wear. As you might have guessed from my preference of hiking over shopping, I’m not a fashionista. I would bet on the fact that most wineries couldn’t care less what you wear into their tasting room, so long as it is tasteful – more to the point, so long as it isn’t tasteless! I’m not going to tell you what to pack (other than a corkscrew), but I would suggest not wearing white to a wine tasting. You’d be amazed at the number of times I see white on the other side of the tasting bar. (Uh, red wine stains. I’d be happy to sell you some Wine Away!) Though, it does remind me that the rest of the world isn’t as clumsy as I am. Finally on this note, if you plan on touring a winery, this can often mean walking up ramps and into the cellar – leave the heels behind! Seriously.
If you have any questions about planning your trip to wine country, I’d be happy to help. Leave me a comment below and I’ll be in touch. Cheers and happy touring!