What’s a wine tasting like?
If you’re going to the San Francisco/Napa/Sonoma/Bay area you will find countless opportunities for a wine tasting experience. Literally, they’re on every corner, country road and patio.
Your hotel or tour brochure will tell you whether a specific winery accepts walk-ins, or is by appointment only. If you’re on an organized tour, you’re good to go! Everything will be pre-arranged & effortless.
If you’re doing it as a do-it-yourself experience, watch for highway clues and big parking lots. “Visitors welcome” plus business hours, or “by appointment only” notes are common on property signs or gates.
In Sonoma, there is a “staging area” (aka Visitor/Tourist Centre) off the highway just before you get to town, (and the highway junction to Napa) that will give you maps, instructions & even discount passes. (Like 2 for 1 stickers/coupons). This staging area also has 4 wineries for tasting, a gin/spirits distillery/tasting room, a restaurant, gorgeous garden areas, expensive shops and a clean, modern washroom.
The tasting experience itself is generally a stand-up counter. A sommelier will offer you a list to choose from. Then you will select a “flight” of 3-5 wines. The menu will have a brief description of each, but your host will provide more details (and even suggested food pairings) with each. Ask questions if you have any. The host is the expert and eager to tell you what makes their wine special.
Each tasting glass of wine is about 2 oz. If you are switching from white to red, or vice versa, expect to receive a new glass. Otherwise you’ll be drinking all your samples from the same glass.
What happens if you don’t like, or can’t finish your sample? There will be a pour bucket at your counter/table/ station where you can discreetly empty your glass.
While I LOVED the wines of Italy, (when I was in Italy, not this recent Napa trip) the pours were more generous on our tour, and the wines were strong. By the time we visited the 3rd winery and 8th or 9th sample, I could barely take 2 sips before having to pour it out into the slosh bucket. I had reached my comfortable limit.
Here’s a pro-tip: crackers. Have crackers and a bottle water in your purse for in between snacking, as you travel winery to winery.
Above all else, stay sober if you’re driving. Accompany your friends and drive if there’s no bus tour available, so they stay safe too. Then buy yourself a bottle for home/hotel use later with dinner.