About Croatian Wines

We were only in Croatia for a few days, as part of a longer trip.  We did not have the time nor the means of transportation to visit wineries, which we would certainly have done if the purpose of our visit was wine tasting.  As it was, we were simply tourists in Dubrovnik, but we did want to take advantage of being there to learn as much as we could about Croatian wines.

Normally, we wouldn’t write about wine tasting in a region without actually seeing the vineyards and speaking with the people who make the wine.  But as there is hardly any wine exported from Croatia, we thought it would be a good idea to share what we learned with Power Tasting readers.

Croatian wine regions.  Map courtesy of Vineyards.com.

A few notable facts:

  • Wine has been produced in Croatia for thousands of years, going back to the time when the eastern Adriatic coast was settled by ancient Greek settlers. The mountainous geography and the Mediterranean climate has long made Croatia an ideal place to grow grapes.
  • Wine is made all over the country, from the Dalmatian coast in the south, Istria in the west, to the eastern highlands and the region along the Danube.
  • The Croatians make wine from grapes we’ve never heard of. And they taste unlike any wines we’ve ever sipped.

The dominant red wine grape is Plavac Mali, pronounced “Plavass Molly”.  It produces a dark, intense wine, which we would categorize with Merlot.  It can be a little rough around the edges, but that may have more to do with the limited production facilities in Croatia.  There are no large producers, just small vineyards making wine for their neighbors and fellow countrymen.  So what we call “rough” they might term “honest”.  And to be fair, we did taste a number of Plavac Mali that went down smoothly.

We tasted two white wines from a variety of producers.  They were called almost the same thing, but what a difference a single letter can make.  Malvazia, with a z, (also sometimes spelled Malvazija) comes from Istria, the Croatian province not very far from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, which is best known for Soave.  But the Istrian wine is much fruitier, with hints of honey and honeysuckle.  From what we saw of restaurants and wine bars in Dubrovnik, it’s the most popular white wine there.

In the south, quite near to Dubrovnik, they grow Malvasia, with an s.  This is the same grape used to make Malmsey Madeira, a luscious dessert wine.  But the Croatian version is quite different.  These white wines are austere (in the same vein as Chablis), acidic and distinctively perfumed.  They go well with shellfish, much like a Sancerre, but are not especially good wines for sipping on a pleasant sunny afternoon along the beachfront.


Sadly, with rare exception, you won’t find Croatian wines in the United States, which is a shame.  There are a few stores in New York that carry a few bottles, but that’s about it.  The production at individual vineyards is too small to attract many American importers and the wines are too unknown to make a large place on wine store shelves.  These are wines worth getting to know and we recommend that travelers to Croatia make time for them.


L’Angolo DiVino

This is a continuation of Power Tasting’s irregular series on great wine bars of the world. Previous issues have taken readers to locations in Paris, London, Copenhagen and Lisbon…and now, Rome.

If you google “Best wine bars in Rome” you’ll get various lists made by people with different tastes and experiences.  In almost all cases, you’ll find Angolo DiVino there, often at the top.  It’s a Roman attraction, albeit a bit difficult to find.  Nonetheless, Italians do find their way there and these days you’ll hear other languages spoken, not least American-accented English.

It’s located on a very narrow street called the Via dei Balestrari.  Cab drivers have never heard of the street; GPS gets lost; and in typical Roman fashion, everyone you meet on the street will give you directions, whether they know where it is or not.  The key is that it is only a block off of one of the corners of the Campo di Fiori, which every cabbie can definitely find.  Ah, but which corner?  There’s a restaurant at one end, called Carbonara.  That’s the wrong end.  But if you turn your back to the restaurant, go to the corner of the Campo to your right and walk one block, you’ll be there.

And once you get a table, you’ll be glad you did.  L’Angolo DiVino is quite small and you may have to wait a while for a table.  Of course, you can order a glass and stand outside sipping while you wait.  Once seated, you’ll be handed the wine list of the size of a short novel.  There must be a hundred wines to choose among.  However, most of them are sold by the bottle and it seems that most patrons, especially groups larger than two people, order bottles.  Buying by the bottle gives you a greater selection to choose from but less chance to experiment with the little-known wines on the by-the-glass list.

There is also food to be had from a rather short menu of bruschettas, salads, cold cuts, olives and cheeses.  It’s possible to make a meal from these dishes, but it seems that most patrons order their antipasto at l’Angolo DiVino before moving on.  We must say that the prosciuttos, salamis and cheeses complement the wines quite well.

You can get an education in Italian wine at l’Angolo DiVino, if you have the time and stamina to work your way through their list.  But you can also get an education in the easygoing way of Roman life.  This enoteca is no different from the hundreds of others scattered around Rome, with a better quality of wine and a less rambunctious clientele.  Voices are not raised at l’Angolo DiVino.  Families get together there.  Couples sit, sip and talk.  And the servers really do know what they are talking about when it comes to the wines on offer.

As said elsewhere in this issue, enotecas are beloved gathering spots in Rome.  Many are neighborhood hangouts.  L’Angolo DiVino is a destination.

And oh, about the name.  Angolo means corner, and indeed this wine bar occupies a corner.  The rest is a play on words, so it’s either the Corner of Wine or the Divine Corner.

Amateur Winemaking

We like wine; we know a bit about it; and of course we publish Power Tasting.  We’ve had some friends and acquaintances who are aware of our oenological tendencies tell us that they/their neighbor/their father-in-law makes wine at home.  And they always tell us it’s as good as the best from Napa/France/Italy.  There’s no way to put them off by saying, “I’m sure it’s quite good”.  They insist on giving us a bottle to hear our opinion.

Photo courtesy of the San Diego Amateur Winemaking Society.

We suspect they never tasted Petrus and certainly not their home-made wine next to a glass of it.  So we sip what they give us, hoping that it isn’t vinegar, swirl it in our mouths a while and then, trying hard to look earnest, tell them that while theirs is interesting, we prefer to stick with the wines we know.  Notice the absence of any actual opinion.

This experience comes to mind in our wine tasting travels because quite a few wineries offer the experience of making your own wine.  We are aware of several that have similar programs, including Conn Creek and the Wine Foundry in Napa and several places in Texas called Water2Wine. We have tried our hands at blending at Joseph Phelps in Napa Valley, trying to replicate Insignia, their flagship wine. We have concluded that a) we are not very capable winemakers and b) professional winemakers do an awfully good job.

Neither of those points should have come as surprises.  We have no training, no experience and, though we hate to admit it, probably no aptitude for winemaking.  We don’t expect rank amateurs to do our jobs, so why should we be expected to become skilled professionals just because a fine winery has given us some fermented juice to play with.

We have been fortunate enough to spend some time with several real winemakers from wineries we admire and we have great respect for them.  It’s not just that they have skill at blending varietals.  For one thing, they have well-cultivated tastes for wine.  Sure, we do too, but we only taste the finished products.  They can sip a little of this, a bit more of that and figure out what combination will be consistent with the production of years past and will taste good years in the future.

We’re happy to leave our expertise at opening bottles, pouring wine into glasses and having enough insight into wine to distinguish well-made ones from plonk.  At best, we know the difference between good wine and really good wine.  Which brings us back to the wines made at home.  There are home cooks who can make a great, restaurant-quality meal but not hundreds of meals of exactly the same quality every night for years.  The same applies to amateur winemakers.  We’re certain that they enjoy what they’ve made, if only because they get to drink the results of their own handiwork.  We’ll go further and recognize that if they like their own wine, that’s their own business.  But they cannot make great wine, just wine they like.

Having had the chance to make our own wine, we’ve decided to let the professionals do their thing and we’ll do ours: drink it and enjoy it.

The Evolution of Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

We’ve been visiting Napa Valley for the purpose of wine tasting for a long time, since 1977 to be exact.  Needless to say, the valley has changed greatly over nearly a half century.  In some ways, the wine has stayed the same, but in others it has developed quite a bit.  And thus, the way that visitors engage in wine tasting has evolved tremendously.

St. Helena in the 1950s.  Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures


Napa Valley was primarily agricultural, and of course it still is.  But towns like Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga are unrecognizable from what they once were.  For example, we can remember when the French Laundry in Yountville used to source its produce and poultry from farms just across Washington Street.  Calistoga was known for mud baths, not wine.  St. Helena was a village for locals and Napa was nowhereseville.  What changed them?  Tourism, of course.  And what brought the tourists?  Wine.

In the earlier times, growers and wine makers would offer tastes of their wines for free as a form of advertising, in hopes that visitors would buy some.  Wine tasting was an afterthought in the commercial scheme of things, conducted in a barn or a barrel room.  The visitors were attracted more by curiosity (“Do they really make wine up there?”) than advanced oenological expertise.  And while there were always exceptions, the wines were predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

St. Helena today.  Photo courtesy of Visit Napa Valley.

By the 1990’s, tourism was well established.  There were plenty of excellent restaurants to feed the visitors (quite well), though hotels there were primarily chains and bed-and-breakfasts.  Wineries began charging for their tastings, enough at first to cover their tasting costs.  These had begun to climb as they had to improve facilities, hire more staff and improve the glassware.  And the varietals had expanded.  Everyone seemed to have a Pinot Noir from Carneros and Sauvignon Blanc from all over the valley.  And the visitors were interested in sipping some of all the wines.  The tastings went from a little of one or two wines to flights of four or more.

By the millennium, wine tasting had become a profit maker unto itself.  Napa palaces were erected from one end of the valley to the other.  And the tasting fees had risen to the point that they were a consideration – along with alcoholic sanity, of course – as to how many wineries could be visited.  Many tasting rooms offered two lists, with the premier wines available at a higher price.  Increasingly, the visitors demonstrated significant knowledge and taste buds.

Today, especially with the aftereffects of the pandemic, much of the tourism in Napa Valley is directed to resorts, with wine tasting almost a sideline.  Of course, Napa Valley wines had long achieved eminence in the world and preeminence in California and the US generally.  But the cost of tasting in Napa Valley had made other winemaking areas, such as Sonoma County, Santa Barbara and the Central Coast attractive alternatives.  The wines of Napa Valley are still superb, but the tasting fees at the finest wineries are a deterrent for some potential visitors.

Napa Valley will long produce great wines and the scenery will forever be beautiful, but the nature of wine tasting there may never be the same.

Vineyard Tastings

The model for most of our wine tasting experiences over the years was having a drink in a bar.  We would stand up and taste selected wines.  More recently, especially in Napa Valley, the model has been restaurant style.  We sit at a table and servers bring us wines to try.

There’s another model that we have encountered more rarely but have enjoyed quite a lot: a wine tasting in the very vineyards where the wine comes from.  This way of wine tasting is often, but not always, combined with a tour of the winemaking facilities.  There is quite a lot of variety, in fact.

The vines of Chimney Rock

For one thing, many wineries are situated in the middle of or adjoining their vineyards.  There is nothing to stop anyone from picking up their glass and wandering out among the vines.  This is especially fun during the days just before the harvest, when the tasting can be paired with a few stolen grapes.  Once, on a slow day at Chimney Rock in Napa, our server went with us and showed us around the vines.  (We understand that this winery now offers a vineyard tour with a tasting, though we have never taken it.)

Chappellet is a winery that incorporates a brief walk through the vines as a part of its regular tastings.  From experience, we can say that this is a more pleasant experience from March through November.  It gets cold up on Pritchard Hill in the winter.

Most American vineyards are rather protective of their properties, but in many places in Europe, it’s easy to walk through vineyards on your own.  So we have sometimes made ourselves a picnic, bought a bottle of the local wine and sipped while eating and walking.  Those Burgundy wines aren’t bad, y’know, and actually being there added to their luster.

Some wineries, including the recently reviewed Black Stallion in Napa Valley and Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma County have model vineyards so that visitors can get a sense of what the vines and, in season, the grapes actually look like.  These are not the ones that wind up in your glass, but learning to recognize the vines, leaves and grapes is valuable anyway.

Winemaker Jon Priest explains Etude’s way of making Pinot Noir, at their flagship Heirloom vineyard in the Grace Benoist Ranch.

We recently had a unique vineyard tasting experience.  Etude hosted a members-only tasting in its Pinot Noir vineyards in Carneros.  Interestingly, although the Etude winery is in Napa County, their premier vineyards in the Grace Benoist Ranch are in Sonoma County.  We were bussed from the winery to the vineyards and had a barbecue lunch under some shady trees with about 35 fellow members.  The vineyards for the wines we were served were right nearby!  There is a thrill for wine lovers to marry the sights, smells and tastes of the wines we enjoy with the sights and smells of the vineyard.  Added to the pleasure, we were joined by the winemaker, Jon Priest, who explained what we were looking at in terms that satisfied both the wonkiest of wine lovers as well as those who cared far more about what is in the bottle than how it got there.

As noted, there are a lot of ways to combine wine tasting and vineyards.  We heartily recommend taking one.

Seated Tastings – Plusses and Minuses

In the not very distant past, a typical wine tasting would involve entering a tasting room, finding a space at the bar, getting the server’s attention and sampling a few wines as slowly or as quickly as one pleased.  The server would explain what each wine was, very briefly on busy days, with more detail and conversation on slower ones.  The trend in wineries these days, particularly but not exclusively in Napa Valley, is to take a seat at a table (by appointment, if you please) and be served a selection of wines by someone who acts more like a waiter than a bartender.

Photo courtesy of Medlock Ames.

In some ways, we like this experience, but in others we miss the way things used to be.

Beginning with the upside, a seated tasting more closely matches the way you would enjoy these wines in your own home.  You might stand up and sip some Chardonnay at a party or a barbecue, but the wine would not be the center of attention, nor would the wines in question be of the quality you expect at a wine tasting.  Especially if the server offers you something to eat, even a few crackers, you get a better sense of how you would enjoy each wine were you to purchase some.

Almost without exception, the interaction with the servers is cordial and as informative as the server’s knowledge can make it.  That’s because they aren’t being pulled from one visitor to the other, trying to serve as many people in as short a time as possible.  In the worst days of the pandemic, wineries were forced to seat their customers at widely spaced tables.  Finding employees was more difficult as well.  Both these trends are still apparent now that Covid has ebbed.  As a result, with seated tastings, servers have more time, less pressure and can give their guests more attention.

It must be said that the facilities, in or out of doors, are more attractive.  Visitors can look around rather than stand at the bar facing the scurrying servers.

However, there are some negatives.  At a bar, if you were served a wine you don’t especially care for, you could pour it out at strategically placed buckets and move on to the next wine.  At a table, you may have to ask for a bucket and then wait your turn for the next wine to be served.  (A few wineries, such as Duckhorn and Black Stallion, both in Napa Valley, serve the entire flight at one time, so visitors can drink at their own pace.)

Yes, you have more of an opportunity to speak with the servers.  What you want from them is their knowledge of wine in general and that winery’s products in particular.  But you didn’t come there to hear their life stories, which teams they root for and where their kids are going to school.  (Honest, these have happened to us.)  One of the big plusses of seated tastings is having the chances to sip at your leisure.  Having some stranger dominate your time eliminates that advantage.

Finally, seated tastings take more time, an hour at a minimum but often more.  This significantly reduces the number of wineries anyone can visit in a day.  That’s a plus for sobriety, but for those who sip and pour, as we do, it’s not so positive.  And we find that in sitting and waiting for our servers, we drink more of what’s in front of us than we would have otherwise.

Napa Valley Tasting – A Post-Pandemic Status Report

Less than four years ago, Power Tasting issued a status report on wine tasting in Napa Valley.  Then the pandemic occurred and turned everything topsy-turvy.  Some things remain the same; others the same, but more so; and some things are transformed.

The view of Robert Mondavi’s vines and the Mayacamas Mountains, as seen from under umbrellas at a tasting.

What has not changed and may never change is the beauty of Napa Valley.  Especially in 2023, following the incredibly rainy winter that occurred there, the hillsides are greener and the vineyards seem to sparkle just a bit more than we remember.  Just driving around fills our hearts with joy.

Some old favorite restaurants have closed and others have taken their places.  Such is the way of the world, though the pandemic might have sped things up a bit.  Fear not, there are plenty of places to eat.  It seems to us that Napa Town has more, and more varied, eateries.  There are surely more in-town tasting rooms there, as well.

The fees for tastings have increased greatly, while those for reserve tastings have particularly skyrocketed.  In 2019, we were appalled at the prices.  Now we are simply flabbergasted.  On average the cost seems to have doubled, with some reserve tastings costing $125 per person or more.

The view during a veranda tasting at Beringer.

On the other hand, it seems that visitors get more for their money.  With some very limited exceptions, standing at a bar is a thing of the past.  (It used to be nice to be able to stop at a winery, walk to the bar and taste their “basic” wines, while paying a courtesy fee for that.  For those who still enjoy that mode of tasting, bellying up to the bar is still possible at some in-town tasting rooms.)  All other tastings are seated, with a dedicated server pouring wine for you and explaining what you need to know about what you’re tasting.  The pours are heavier and time goes more slowly.  Nearly all tastings last for an hour; some go on for a half hour longer.  It depends on the server and even more so on the vibe that the winery is trying to project.

For example, Domaine Carneros would like you to believe that you are in a bistro in a French village (with a château, of course).  Beringer would like to evoke the refined elegance of another era.  At Robert Mondavi (at least for the club member tasting that we indulged in) the servers sit down and chat with you, as though you were sitting with friends (that you did not know you had) in an unbelievably beautiful back yard.

We found that even though we were able to partake in fewer tastings, not more than three in a day, we were drinking more.  We used to take a sip or two and pour out the rest.  Now, while we waited for our server to bring the next wine, we were more likely to see the bottom of the prior glass.

The prices for the best wines at each winery have also escalated.  The very top wineries, the ones that habitually are found at the top of the reviews, were and are expensive, but their prices haven’t changed much.  The cost of a bottle of the top wine at less well-known wineries has reached the same stratospheric levels as their better known rivals.  We’ll leave it to others to judge the comparative quality of the wines, but it’s fair to say that we were shocked by some of the price tags.

Napa Valley will be America’s premier winemaking region, at least for Cabernet Sauvignon, for quite some while.  But we’re not at all sure that it’s still the best wine tasting destination – at the price – for the average wine enthusiast.

Champagne: Les Petites Maisons

If we asked you to name ten Champagne houses, without giving it any thought, we’d bet your initial choices would include some or all of Moet & Chandon, Mumm’s, Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot, Pommery…and then you’d slow down a bit.  Oh, yes, Perrier-Jouet, Pol Roger…a little more thought and maybe you’d come up with Roederer, Deutz or Piper-Heidsieck, to round out the ten.  Or maybe not.

The point is that for most of us, our knowledge of Champagne is restricted to a handful of the biggest names, the ones that are always available and occupy the most shelf space in our local wine stores.  But there are more than 2,000 producers of real French Champagne, of which approximately 370 are considered the Grandes Marques, the most prestigious of them all.  Now, very few of us have tasted anything close to 370 Champagnes, much less 2,000 of them.  So, if you have the chance to taste a Champagne other than the very few at the top brands in terms of popularity, it will be something new to your taste buds.

We have four categories of Champagnes: the super premiums, the top sellers, the “oh, yeah, I’ve heard of them”, and then the truly small, little known producers.  The super premiums include wines such as Dom Perignon from Moët et Chandon, Krug Crystal and Comtes de Champagne from Taittinger.  These cost a lot and are hardly for routine drinking unless you own a hedge fund or are a Russian oligarch.  More frequently, we buy the wines that we know, the ones on the list of ten we challenged up front, because…well, because we know them.

There are plenty of Champagnes in that third category, which you may have heard about.  These might include Lanson, Nicolas Feuillatte or Philliponat.  They tend to be a bit less expensive than the Big Names (English for Grandes Marques) and some are excellent.  But some are somewhat disappointing.  So if you decide to be a little adventurous and try some Champagne you’ve never tasted before, why not go all the way and get one of the Petites Maisons, or little houses?  We think you’ll be well served doing so.

We’ve written previously about Tribaut Schlosser, a favorite of ours.  Others might include Alfred Gratien, Henriot, Jacquesson and Duval-Leroy.  Whether these fall into category 3 or 4 depends on your familiarity with Champagne wines.  With more than 2,000 more to choose among, there are bound to be more than a few – a lot more – that you’ve never heard of or tasted.

Why try something you don’t know?  For the same reason you try the new restaurant that just opened in your neighborhood or the new flavor of ice cream.  Maybe you’ll love it; maybe you won’t.  But the upside chances outweigh the negatives.  The worst that will happen is you’ll decide not to buy that Champagne again.  It’s very rare that you’ll hate any of them and you’ll broaden your knowledge of what the Champagne region has to offer.

So take a chance at your local store.  Or to reduce the outlay, try a glass at an upscale bar or restaurant.  Or best of all, travel to Champagne.  You won’t have any trouble finding Petites Maisons there.



New Wines, Old Memories

One of the great pleasures of tasting wine during our travels to many faraway places is the discovery of a fabulous wine that we’d never tasted before.  But that experience is often mixed with a little sadness, because we realize at the time that we will probably never taste this wine again unless we happen to pass that way another time.  There was the cooperative wine at a hilltop restaurant in Valpolicella.  The Rhône blend poured by the winemaker in a shed near Saint-Chinian.  And that Volnay in Burgundy that we couldn’t even find in the local shops.

Photo courtesy of Open Table.

And then, by pure happenstance, we have spied one of these memorable wines on a store shelf or a restaurant wine list.  We hasten to buy it and then one of two things happens.  We realize that our memories had played tricks on us and we couldn’t figure out what we had liked so much all those years ago.  Or, more happily, we are instantly transported back at the first sip.

The salt flats near Marsala, Sicily

Maybe it was a wine, for instance, that we had drunk at an outdoor café on the Italian coast.  We can once again smell the maritime breezes, even in a restaurant near home.  The sky becomes bright blue and we can see the flats where sea salt was drying.  (By the way, the wine was Donnafugata Anthilia.)  There are many other examples we could cite, but they all have the same theme: wines, the good ones at least, imprint themselves on our minds not only for their smells and tastes but also for the circumstances in which we tasted them.

That is one of the prime reasons to make wine tasting a part of our travel plans.  If we could find them, we could taste all those wines in our own homes, but having them there is even better.  Power Tasting is all about the experience of wine tasting and at wineries, but elsewhere as well.  Wine has the power to refresh memories of wonderful times past, not just of the wine in question but also the region, the particular place it was tasted, the time of year and the people who we met along the way to that glass.

Why wine in particular?  Why not chocolate bars?  Pickles?  Steaks?  We might remember one particular steak as being the best we had ever eaten, but one steak is not that differentiated from another.  Wine is different, at least for enthusiasts such as ourselves and, we presume, our readers.  We bring a level of concentration to tasting wine, thinking about what we smell, what we taste, what it reminds us of, how long we can taste it.  That very particularity brings with it mental souvenirs that encompass where we are and what we are doing at the time.  A simple sip can recreate the entire experience.

So when you next order a glass or a bottle in some out of the way spot, on a glorious afternoon in a piazza or a château or even at a picnic, drink it all in – the wine and the smells and the sunlight too.  You may enjoy it all again out of another glass in the future.

Wine Tasting Dinners

We have attended a variety of wine tasting dinners.  Some of them were associated with wine clubs of which we were members.  Others, also related to our clubs, were hosted by a wine distributor who showed off the top offerings of several wineries.  We often attend dinners given by a wine society.  Most recently, our university alumni association has been sponsoring dinners that have featured winemakers who graduated from the college.

In general, we have had the opportunity to taste a half dozen or more of what the producers believe are their best wines.  In some cases where more than one winery is represented, there can be twenty or more wines available for tasting.  Sometimes, we have been served tasting portions only; in others, the bar was essentially open.

A dinner at the Etude winery.  Winemaker Jon Priest is speaking.

With all that alcohol, there had better be some food served.  Occasionally, we have been disappointed to be offered no more than hors d’oeuvres that were passed around.  At the same event the following year, we made sure to eat heartily before drinking, only to find that they had laid out enough food, buffet style, for two meals (that we barely touched).

At the recent university affair, Rhône wines were poured to accompany a Chinese banquet, with 16 dishes.  With so many food choices, appropriate pairings are nearly impossible.  Sure, if they are carving roast beef, we’ll stick with Cabernet Sauvignon or Châteauneuf du Pape.  (One dinner put on by a winery that specializes in sparkling wines served short ribs.  How did it work?  Poorly.)  And there is no Rhône wine ever made to go with tofu in a spicy sauce.

One of the attractions of these sorts of occasions is the opportunity to speak with representatives of the wineries or in some cases the winemakers themselves.  This provides a chance to really understand the background of whatever we were tasting.  We have learned about terroir, climate, farming techniques, trellising, pressing and barreling from the people who were in a position to know what they were talking about.  For the most part, they seemed happy to discuss their products and field questions from avid – but not always knowledgeable – amateurs.

We usually meet nice people at these events, with a range of backgrounds and interests.  Of course, we were all united in being interested in the wines being served.  (We don’t remember ever encountering anyone who was there just to get drunk.)  We have met young people just getting to learn about wine and oldsters whose cellars are as deep as their wine knowledge.  Yes, there is a fair amount of wine snobbery and one-upmanship, but for the most part the talk have been convivial.

At a seated dinner, we have always been at a table with strangers.  As the meal has gone along – and the wine has flowed – conversations have become livelier.  (Perhaps the wine was a factor?)  We always find it interesting to hear how others have come to appreciate the wineries that are the stars of the show and compare their experiences with ours.

One caveat: the wine tasting dinners are set up by people who sell wine for a living.  There will always be a sales pitch and the opportunity to buy the wines that accompanied the dinners.  We’ve frequently taken advantage of some real bargains, but more often walked away without buying.