The Good Stuff

The reason to go wine tasting is, of course, to taste wine.  That rather unextraordinary statement obviously needs some refinement.

The main reason we go wine tasting is to educate our palates and increase our understanding by sampling the finest wines we can, in whatever region we are visiting.  We realize that there are some people, usually those living nearby, who are simply enjoying a day in the country along with some nice beverages to enhance the pleasure.  For them, lingering over a rare and expensive Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay just isn’t a part of the game plan.  If you are one of those people, the rest of what follows really isn’t for you.

So now that it’s just us serious tasters, we’d like to ask a question: If you’ve come all this way to France or California or Italy or Australia or…why would you want to spend your time and tolerance for alcohol on anything other than the best wines?  (There are actually a few good reasons and we’ll get to those later.)  But for now, please take our advice and when you enter a tasting room, scan the wines offered and select the best available.

How do you know which are the best?  One way, of course, is that there’s a special list with the best wines on it, often called the Reserve or the Library selection.  If there isn’t such a list, there will be some wines that are more expensive than the others.  It is highly likely that those are the wines the proprietor considers the best.

Not only will you taste better wines this way but you will have a better experience.  Sometimes, the glasses will often be larger and thinner.  You will probably get a better explanation of what is being offered to you, especially if you are tasting on a weekday.  You may very well be in a special, more elegant tasting room as is the case, for instance, at Beaulieu Vineyards and at Cakebread in Rutherford.

Naturally, these better wines cost more to sample.  For example, at the two aforementioned wineries the cost of a regular tasting at Beaulieu Vineyards is $20 and $35 for the Reserve tasting.  At Cakebread  it’s as little as $15 for a selection of current releases and $40 for the Reserves.  We always choose the Reserve lists.

Now, we understand that the higher price may be a deterrent for some people.  That’s one of the good reasons mentioned above for choosing the lesser quality tasting list.  Another might be that there are wines that are on the regular list that you’d especially like to try.  A particular winery might not have a reserve Merlot, for instance, and you’d like to know what their Merlots are like.  There’s also the fact that you might want to taste wines that you are more likely to buy when you get back home.

Here are a few tips that might make tasting the good stuff more affordable.  We two almost always share a tasting.  Remember that the idea is to taste, not drink, so a shared glass gives both of us enough of an idea of what we want to know.  Moreover, we have sometimes found that the server will pour a bit more into a shared glass than to a single taster’s.   If, in addition, you want to try something on the lower priced list, the server will almost always accommodate you if you purchase the more expensive tasting (although often not the other way around).  In fact, it is often a very good idea to taste both the regular and the Reserve wines side by side.  (Just ask for an additional glass.)  You may well find that the regular wine is more to your liking than some of the pricier ones.

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