Wine geeks share a language of their own. What exactly does it mean when a wine expert describes a wine as crunchy, chunky, or chewy? Okay, you know what chewy means, but … chewy wine? Instead of trying to decipher the qualities of a wine that is muscular or tight, leave it to the sommelier.
What is a sommelier?
Dictionaries describe a sommelier (pronounced suh MUL yay) as a wine steward, but the job is so much more. Put simply, a sommelier is a wine expert.
Usually, you find them in high-end restaurants. Sommeliers are the ones who develop wine lists, train wine servers, and work with chefs to pair the perfect wine with food. They have developed a sensitive palate and are known for their deep training and knowledge about all things wine — vines and vineyards, winemaking regions and methods, how to store and serve wine.
It’s rare to find these experts outside of a 5-star restaurant. That’s why at The Wine Stay we are so excited to offer our Wine Country vacation guests the benefit of our own in-house sommelier.
How to use their service
It’s true that an experienced sommelier is well-versed in wine. But they are also trained in customer service. They are about connecting people with the bottle that’s perfect for that person, with that food, in that moment. A good sommelier is a good people person.
They listen closely to what you like and tap their knowledge and intuition to set you up with a great wine within your budget. And the more information you are able to provide, the better the chance for a heavenly match.
If you’re at a restaurant, know what food you will order before you talk to the wine expert. This will help them home in on the right bottle.
A sommelier’s savvy includes food and wine pairing. Our in-house expert designs custom pairings for our guests, so the more specific input you can provide, the better. Let him know what you like and don’t like — dry/sweet, varietals, light & crisp/rich & velvety, and so on. And don’t be shy about how much you’re comfortable spending.
The best advice for how to take advantage of a sommelier is to ask questions. Tap their knowledge and tasting experience. Ask about their personal favorites.
What it means to be a wine expert
Becoming a certified sommelier can take years of study, grueling exams, and lots of practice developing your palate. (Gee, that part doesn’t sound too tough.)
The payoff is a nice salary, and prestige comes with the well-earned title of sommelier. Today in the U.S. there are only 164 master sommeliers certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers.
If you have the opportunity to tap the knowledge of a sommelier, go for it. When you book one of The Wine Stay’s luxury vacation rentals in Napa or Sonoma County, reserve our in-house sommelier’s service. He can design a tasting tour for you, prepare a wine and food pairing at your vacation home, or plan your private dinner prepared by a 5-star chef — with the perfect vintage. Let us know if we can help. Cheers!
The annual Passport to Dry Creek Valley is a weekend wine extravaganza. And it’s coming up Saturday and Sunday, April 27 and 28. Wineries go all out for Passport Weekend, now in its 30th year. If you love wine, you need to know about this favorite wine event.
Passport Weekend 101
This casual, upscale weekend is about immersing yourself in the good life of Sonoma Wine Country. There are hundreds of world-class wines to taste, including newly released and limited edition wines. But the party just starts there!
Each winery creates its own unique theme for the day, from Americana to baseball to French market. And the wineries celebrate with food, music, and entertainment. Passport Weekend guests get to savor inspired creations prepared by Sonoma County chefs, and enjoy food and wine pairings, and even sit-down meals. Lots of wineries have live bands, playing Mariachi, bluegrass, blues, Beatles hits — there’s something for everyone. It’s a good idea to do your homework about this year’s wines and themesso you’ll know which wineries you want to be sure to visit.
How it works
Purchase your ticket for the entire weekend or Sunday only. Decide which winery will be your first stop because that’s where you’ll collect your wine glass, Passport booklet, and wristband for the event. From there, explore any of the 40+ participating wineries sprinkled throughout Dry Creek Valley in Cloverdale, Geyserville, Healdsburg, and in between.
Beyond wine tasting
In addition to the revelry, $25 will reserve you an enlightening grape-to-glass experience in the vineyards. Learn about vineyard basics, grape varieties, and sustainability from the wine experts themselves — legendary winemakers and owners. Expand your understanding of winemaking as you sample the different personalities and styles of wines made from the vines just within your reach.
Ways to extend your weekend
If you want to visit Wine Country a day or two early, check out the Vintage Soiree on Friday night at the Ranch at Lake Sonoma. Top-rated wines join with Michelin-starred cuisine, spectacular views, live music, and dancing. Or, if you act soon, you may get a spot at the table for an intimate winemaker lunch hosted at one of the wineries.
For a deeper dive into Wine Country, reserve one of The Wine Stay’s luxury vacation rentals. We can help you plan your itinerary for Passport Weekend and set you up with your own, private driver so you can focus on fun. We curate bespoke adventures just the way you want it. Contact us if you want some more ideas for an unforgettable vacation in and around Healdsburg and Calistoga.
Saturday, April 27, 11:00am to 4:30pm
Sunday, April 28, 11:00am to 4:30pm
2-Day Passport: $150 (plus sales tax & ticketing fees)
Don’t miss Wine Road’s 2019 Barrel Tasting event in Sonoma County. This is your chance to sample wines from the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys. But this isn’t like your typical wine tasting experience.
Barrel tasting happens only once a year
Each spring, the grapes that were harvested the prior year, usually late summer through fall, are ready for sampling. Winemakers regularly taste test their barrels during the wine’s maturation, checking for levels of fruit, acidity, and tannins. This essential step in the winemaking process helps winemakers determine the best time to bottle the wine. Sampling also ensures the wine hasn’t gone bad or can help to decide whether the wine may be best used in a blend.
Although wine is sometimes aged in stainless steel, it is the oak barrel that really contributes to distinctive characteristics. Oak “breathes,” and the oxygen affects the wine.
A different wine tasting experience
During Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting in March, wine lovers get to experience young wines just like the winemakers do. Of course, barrel samples don’t taste like the finished wines you’re used to. These wines are still evolving, so you have to look for underlying, less obvious characteristics — hints of a soon-to-be a fine wine.
Ilona Thompson, of PalateExposure, puts it well in her in-depth article: “Barrel tasting [is] a great palate exercise. Discerning what the wine may taste like when the oak resolves itself and recognizing its subtler flavors makes you feel like a wine Jedi.” And it’s the sleuthing that makes barrel tasting so fun. There’s a gamble, and you get to wager on the winners!
Chance to bet on futures
When you find a wine you think has promise, you can buy it in advance at a discount, sometimes a deep discount. You can invest in futures. And for small-batch wines, futures may be your only chance to purchase. The risk comes when you pick up your finished, bottled wine 12 to 18 months later. Did it evolve like you thought it would?
Fortunately, you don’t have to make the decision in a vacuum. Barrel tasting isn’t just a lot of fun, it’s an educational experience. At the wineries, you will have the unique opportunity to talk to the winemakers. Here’s a chance to learn about the winemaking process and find out from the experts how they think a particular wine will evolve.
Discover new wineries
If this sounds like a fun wine tasting adventure, buy your tickets and plan out your route. You can design your tour around wineries that you know you like, but this is also a great opportunity to check out ones you’ve heard good things about. The best approach is be flexible and keep it easy. Figure on about a handful of wineries per day. Each winery offers at least three samples, while some offer twice that many. Each one-ounce sample is measured into your glass using a “wine thief,” the device that draws wine from the barrel.
You can buy your tickets at any participating winery on any day of the event, but if you want to save, pre-purchase your wine tasting pass. Advance ticket sales end February 25.
And if you want to read more about barrel tasting, take a look at one of our previous blog posts.
Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting 2019
Friday, Saturday & Sunday, March 1 – 3 and March 8 – 10
11am – 4 pm
Tickets on sale now
When it’s chilly outside, wine drinkers tend to gravitate toward reds. And Cabernet Sauvignon places first among winter wine. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy whites or some bubbly in winter, but red wine simply has more appeal this time of year. Why?
What is it about red wine in winter?
Winter reds warm us up. They’re served at warmer temperatures, which brings out the fuller flavor of the wine. Plus, they often have a slightly higher alcohol content, providing a natural thermogenic effect. The bigger buzz factor makes it best to enjoy reds with food. And full-bodied reds pair well with hearty cold-weather dishes like stew and chili. Richer, bolder Malbecs, Syrahs, and Zinfandels show up at more dinners in January than July. These wines can hold their own against savory flavors of sharp, aged cheeses, mushrooms, roasted veggies, and meat dishes.
Cabernet Sauvignon boasts a big “personality”
But among all the varieties of red wine, hands down Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular winter wine — and for good reason. These are not simple wines. Just because they’re well known doesn’t mean they’re just for novices. Cabernet Sauvignon is “a thinking person’s wine,” writes Vincent Rendoniat Wine Folly. “It’s layered, complex, and … surprisingly subtle. You never really know Cabernet Sauvignon. You just continuously rediscover it.” Cabs age well in oak, which lends more complexity to the flavor — and more art to winemaking. No wonder people like Cab.
Originally known as Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc whose origin dates back to the 1600s in France. It’s a sturdy grape that’s less susceptible to the elements and disease, making it easier to cultivate. In fact, it’s the most planted wine grape around the world. In the late ‘70s, it took off as a leading California wine grape and Napa and Sonoma placed it indelibly on the California map.
Award-winning Sonoma Cabernet
If you’re looking to warm up with winter wine, you have many choices for Cabernet Sauvignon in Sonoma wine country. So many that it can be hard to choose which tasting rooms to visit. While it’s true that here, in one of the best wine regions in the world, you can’t really go wrong, a good place to start is sampling winning vintages from the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.
Earning a medal at this regional wine competition is a highly sought-after accolade by local winemakers. Entries include wines made exclusively from Sonoma County grapes. Here are a few of the 2018 winners for Cabernet Sauvignon you may want to add to your wine tasting itinerary.
DeLorimier Winery, Geyserville
Outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon won DeLorimier silver, gold, and double gold recognition at the 2018 Harvest Fair. Following traditional French winemaking traditions, DeLormier nurtures its wines to express their unique terroir.
Rodney Strong, Healdsburg
This family-owned winery in the south of Healdsburg took home a few gold medals for their Cabs. Beyond their award-winning wines, their music concert programs and sustainable vineyard practices have put them front and center of the Sonoma County wine scene.
Soda Rock Winery, Healdsburg
Soda Rock’s Cabs didn’t take gold this year, but with several silver medals, they’re worth a visit. You’ll enjoy the beautiful winery and its historic buildings set among the vine-studded rolling hills in the heart of Alexander Valley.
What are the best food and wine pairings for the holiday season? Whether you’re planning on visiting friends and family or nestling in at home this winter — here are a few rules of thumb and classic pairings to make sure your dinners don’t disappoint.
1. In cold weather, go for the bold wines in your cellar.
Cold weather calls for a hearty meal — a creamy soup, a rich stew, or something roasted on the grill. It also makes warmer (that is, higher in alcohol) wines much more pleasant to drink. With typically intense, jammy, and spicy flavors that can stand up to flavorful fare — and alcohol levels topping 15% — Sonoma Zinfandels can be perfect picks for winter warmth. Try them with a pepper-crusted ribeye steak.
2. Traditional pairings are usually traditional for a reason.
Holiday dishes are often associated with specific wines — such as turkey and Pinot Noir, or roasted duck and Merlot. In these common pairings, the intensity or expressiveness of the food’s natural flavors matches the typical intensity of the wine.
Further, the more fat content there is in a meat, the more tannin can be tolerated on the palate. Turkey is among the leanest meats, while Pinot Noir is among the least tannic wines. But most important of all: the specific aromas, flavors, and textures of these foods simply fit with those of the wines. These are combinations resulting from centuries of dinnertime experimentation.
Why not take advantage of what our ancestors have learned and simply enjoy the results? To prove the principle to yourself, try a cool-weather Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir with roasted turkey breast.
3. When experimenting for yourself, match fundamentals — sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol — before aromas.
A pairing novice might assume a cherry pie would go nicely with a wine featuring prominent cherry aromas. While it would be right to find complements among the dominant aromas in foods and wines, doing so would be overlooking more fundamental factors in a successful pairing. In this case, the terrible clash between a dry (that is, non-sweet) wine and a very sweet food.
Pairing is about matching sweetness, acidity, tannin, and alcohol levels properly before it is about matching aromas. Sweet wines go with sweet foods. To see what we mean, try that cherry pie with a nice Port-style dessert wine.
One last tip: This holiday season, remember not only to match your wines with your foods, but also to match your wines with the occasion. Holidays are special occasions for creating memories with the people you care about most. Spend a little extra if needed to make sure the wines show well.
Next time you’re heading to Sonoma Wine Country, enjoy the good life in one of The Wine Stay’s luxury vacation rentals. We can arrange for our in-house sommelier to prepare a wine tour or wine tasting just for you!
You can’t get too far in Sonoma Wine Country or Napa Valley without hearing about a wine’s nose and legs. And, people in the know like to throw around the word terroir. The rest of us may avoid it, not knowing exactly what it means, or even how to pronounce it (say “tare war” like you have a mouth full of marbles). What is terroir, anyway?
Well that, it turns out, is not a simple question.
There’s no doubt among us that wines are distinct.
One bottle of Pinot is not the same as another bottle of Pinot. Although the grape stock may be the same, flavor is distinct. A wine’s unique—je ne sais quoi—quality, stems from terroir.
Terroir encompasses the habitat in which the grape is grown.
Factors like climate, soil, and terrain add up differently. Whether the average temperatures are warm or cool affect flavor. Warmer climates lend to higher sugar levels, and higher alcohol content, and influence taste. And, although it isn’t understood exactly how different soils affect a wine’s flavor, there’s no argument that rock and mineral deposits, soil texture, and soil chemistry do affect the end result. Not only the soil but also the environment in which the grapes are grown matters. Nearby animal and plant life, whether the vines are in a valley or by the sea, the elevation of the land—all these affect flavor.
Winemaking traditions also contribute to terroir.
How winemakers work together with the land is included in the elusive concept of terroir. After generations of cultivating a certain area, a person gets to know and understand their vines. Tending your grapes is a relationship—an intimate knowing.
In the world of wine, science and art are at odds.
Not surprisingly, it turns out that a lot of what we call terroir is invisible to the naked eye. The science of winemaking is pushing aside the art of the craft with new ability to detect and measure the effects of microbial life in the vineyard. Bacteria and fungi play a big role in terroir as well. The microbes live in the grape and, ultimately, the wine. Researchers at UC Davis explain that “‘microbial terroir’ is a determining factor in the regional variations in wine.”
Terroir is not the same thing as appellation.
Wikipedia notes, “The influence of terroir means that wines from a particular region are unique, incapable of being reproduced outside that area, even if the grape variety and winemaking techniques are painstakingly duplicated.” The idea of terroir led to the formation of grape-growing regions into distinct appellations.
An appellation is a clearly defined region on a map—an AVA (American Viticultural Area). Napa Valley was the first designated Californian appellation, which today includes many sub-appellations. Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley are two familiar AVAs of the 17 in Sonoma Wine Country that produce world-famous and highly distinct wines.
Terroir arouses a sense of place and belonging.
Ask any wine buff, though, and they’ll likely tell you that the definition of terroir means more than the region where the grapes are grown. The concept evokes the romantic, old-world art of fine winemaking. Yes, more and more we see the word used by other food producers. Terroir sells because it appeals to people’s senses, conjuring mystery, art, and magic. Perhaps the very allure of terroir is in its unmeasurable sense of place and belonging.
What is it about Pinot that makes it so popular? Even those of us who are white wine devotees will welcome a glass of the alluring red. People are passionate about their Pinot.
It’s French, of course
Pinot Noir — “black pine” in French — hales from the Burgundy region of France, where it’s aptly named Burgundy. These Pinots are considered the top of the line for this varietal. The Côte d’Or is home to some of the oldest Pinot Noir-producing vineyards in the world. These cone-shaped clusters of grapes are artfully crafted in to heady flavors reminiscent of autumn and distinctive to their terroir.
Thought to be more than 2,000 years old, Pinot Noir is the root stock of many grape varieties commonly grown today. It is also a key grape in Champagne. Today the globe is dotted with regions known for their Pinot Noir wine. France and the US are the main producers, with Germany coming in third.
And it’s fussy
Pinot Noir is one of the hardest grapes to grow — perhaps making it all the more enticing. The thin-skinned, tightly bunched grapes are vulnerable to a variety of diseases. While it’s true the grapes and vines are sensitive to wind, rain, and frost, Pinot does need a cooler climate to develop.
But it loves Sonoma County
It’s no surprise that Sonoma County is the leading producer of Pinot Noir in California, with our first vines planted in the 1880s. Sonoma County Pinot Noir has earned a reputation with wine lovers around the world. Our Pinots are dry but known for their more fruit-forward flavor and voluptuous “personality.”
Of course, the actual flavor of a Pinot depends on its vintage and where it’s grown. Sonoma County is home to several cool-climate appellations ideal for the temperamental Pinot Noir grape.
This region extends south from Healdsburg and includes numerous wineries recognized for their Pinots. In fact, The Wine Stay’s in-house sommelier has designed a tasting tour around boutique wineries here that feature Pinot Noir (but more about that later). There are least five microclimates within the Russian River Valley, each with its own distinct flavor profile.
Vineyards here are planted just a few miles in from the Pacific Coast, inside this cool and often foggy microclimate. The Sonoma Coast appellation is the largest licensed American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the US, comprising over 500,000 acres.
This AVA is located in the southernmost parts of the Sonoma and Napa valleys. The nearby San Pablo Bay blows in cool breezes and fog, which affect the region’s terroir and unique Pinot Noir wine.
Our sommelier is passionate about Pinot
Find out more about noteworthy Sonoma County Pinots from The Wine Stay’s in-house sommelier. You see, at The Wine Stay we’re not only about cool vacation properties; we want to elevate the Wine Country vacation experience of our guests. And that includes having our own wine expert! Our sommelier has designed a special wine tasting tour specifically around Pinot Noir. If you’re planning a visit to Healdsburg area, you may want to check out some of our other guest services curated for wine lovers:
- wine tasting tours led by our sommelier and filled with insider information
- personal wine tastings with our sommelier at your Wine Stay vacation home
- wine and food pairings by our sommelier and a 5-star chef prepared for you at your Wine Stay vacation home
The lovers of Pinot abound in Sonoma County, with scores of savvy winemakers dedicated to this sensitive and evocative varietal. Versatile and easy to enjoy with beef, poultry, fish, veggies — Pinot loves food. It’s the ideal wine to choose for a group of people with diverse tastes. Give us heads-up, and we’ll have some waiting for you on your next visit with The Wine Stay.
Luxury home rentals
Luxury vacation rentals experiences. We want your vacation experience to be more than a getaway. Enjoy from wine tasting tours to a personally tailored guided hike. Contact us for more information!
Touring around sunlit backroads, breathing in the fresh country air and stunning vineyard landscape, sipping on your favorite red or white varietal — that’s a great Californian wine tour for you.
Though the journey itself is almost magical, it does take some planning in advance. You need to plan for your wine tour beforehand to book the ideal place to stay and the right reservations to sample the finest vintages California’s winemakers have for you.
Here are some guidelines to help you arrange a memorable journey.
Know your preferences before you plan
No two wineries are the same, which is why you need to know your preferences before you sign up for a wine tasting tour. If you prefer white wines, center your tour around wineries that produce and specialize in them. And while you’re in the Wine Country, go ahead and take a chance. Deviate from your plans, follow the inspiration of the moment, and try out something new if the idea strikes you.
Check up on the specifics
From reservation times to which wines are available for tasting to whether or not the venue has a picnic space, it’s a good idea to know everything about the tasting rooms on your tour. You can find this information on the winery’s website. If you are touring around with a guide, ask them.
Plan a diverse wine tasting tour
When in the Sonoma Wine Country or Napa Valley, tour as true wine connoisseurs do. Plan a wine tasting tour with a mix of old and new establishments, with traditional and contemporary styles, and red and white wines. You can stick to your wine preference back home at your house party or during a dinner out, but here you should take the opportunity to sample a broader range of tastes.
Book a chauffeur service
Have fun, but don’t forget to be safe. When you plan a day full of sampling wines, it’s not uncommon to feel … well … tipsy — not a condition in which you want to drive yourself or find your way around unfamiliar terrain. Bring along a designated driver, or book one. If your vacation rental service offers one on their concierge menu, that’s even better!
Bring an empty box with you
Most people don’t even think about this, but what happens when you need to buy a few bottles of your new favorite wine? You need an empty box to carry these in so they won’t roll around in the back of the car, jostling the contents — and your nerves.
Takes notes and ask questions
Wine tasting tour is more than just discussing the flavors in your glass. It’s about increasing your knowledge about wine itself, from how it’s produced to what foods it should be paired with. Ask all questions that come to your mind to get the most out of your Wine Country adventure!
It pays to have the experts of California Wine Country vacation rental services plan your wine tour. Let us personalize a wine tasting tour just for you, and take you on a memorable adventure through the trails of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Call us today at 707.890.0852 for an exciting “wining” adventure!
A little luck and a lot of art go into winemaking. Myriad factors affect the final product, from climate and weather conditions to pruning and cultivation of the vines. With so many variables, hats off to those wineries that eschew modern farming practices, which include pesticides and chemicals, for a back-to-basics approach to agriculture.
Sonoma County’s biodynamic and organic wineries
Not surprisingly, Sonoma County wineries are at the forefront of the movement to create stellar wines au naturel. The Wine Country is home to several biodynamic and organic wineries. Each stewards a more sustainable agricultural future by growing diverse crops, using compost for fertilizer, and taking a holistic approach to farming.
Well worth a visit for their wines, as well as their ecological farming practices, here are three Dry Creek Valley organic wineries you’ll want to add to your wine-tasting list. They each welcome visitors to take a look around their farms — rural, organic, beautiful. You may want to pick up a bottle or two to enjoy with your dinner back at your vacation home!
Get to know those organic wineries
Certified organic and biodynamic, Preston Farm and Winery is a family-managed ecosystem that produces a variety of crops, including vineyards, vegetables, fruit and olive trees, grain, and pastured livestock. Their approach to farming harks back to the wisdom of earlier times when agriculture was less intrusive and more in tune with natural growing patterns.
Natural winemaking methods
At Preston, they harvest grapes by hand and ferment their wines naturally. And all the grapes that go into their wines are grown on their land. Winemakers handcraft single varietals as well as artful blends, and focus on producing well-balanced wines whose taste reflects the true character of the grape. They believe that the less they do to the grapes, the more true to its inherent nature the wine will be.
Preston wines include Petite Sirah, Grenache, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and other blends. Their signature Madame Preston makes the perfect complement to a summer picnic.
Preston Farm & Winery — 9282 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, California
This certified biodynamic ecosystem began in 1990 as an olive orchard, with trees imported from Tuscany. Though still known today for its world-renown olive oils, DaVero has also made a name for itself as winemaker, specializing in Italian varietals.
Old-world farming practices
DaVero practices farming methods that foster thriving, healthy soil and renewing the land. They raise grapes, olive and fruit trees, lavender, and chickens, pigs, and sheep.
Wines are fermented naturally, relying on yeasts naturally found on the grapes instead of adding commercial yeasts. And wines are aged in seasoned, non-oak barrels. Their style of winemaking is old world — a bit of the Italian countryside here in its sister terroir of Sonoma Wine Country.
DaVero happily gives tours of its farm and winery. Call ahead to make plans, learn what biodynamic farming means and how it’s important, and taste great wines. Special Italian varietals include Carignano, Primitivo, and Vermentino.
DavVero Farms & Winery — 766 Westside Road, Healdsburg, California
For years, Quivira has been committed to preserving the health of the land through holistic and sustainable farming practices. They rely on biodynamic principles to create a self-sustaining environment in the vineyards and gardens. They also make their own compost and use cover crops to keep the land naturally fertile.
“The vineyard is only as healthy as the compost that nourishes it”: Quivira believes biodiverse farming makes for better wine, as well as a better eco-environment. The winery estate is home to beehives, pigs, cows, chickens — they even generate their own electricity.
Visit their tasting room to sample Zinfandel, Rhone varietals, Sauvignon Blanc, and other distinctive handcrafted wines. They also have a lovely outdoor seating area. Buy a bottle to go with your picnic and enjoy the good life of Sonoma Wine Country!
Quivira Vineyards — 4900 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, California