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
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Tasting wine from Healdsburg-area vineyards makes for an enjoyable adventure any time of year, but in spring things really liven up. If you’ve never experienced wine straight from the barrel, Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. This hugely popular event extends for two weekends in March and includes over 100 wineries throughout the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys.
To sample these young wines, you get to go behind the scenes into chilly, musty-smelling cellars where wine is siphoned into a glass for you to taste. Be warned: these young wines won’t be what you expect. They’re still going to be aged for more than a year. But tasting wines before they’re barreled is a fun way to get an insider’s view of the wine industry. Plus it allows you to preview the season’s vintage.
Bet on your favorites by buying cases of “futures,” often at a discount. It is a gamble. Once the wines are bottled 12 or 18 months later, the balance may have shifted. Still, there’s no question that you can snag some extraordinary wines and limited releases. Tasting straight from the barrel is often the only way to sample wines that are in such limited production that you’ll never see them on the shelf anywhere — they’ll be sold out by the end of the second weekend.
Barrel Tasting in March can get pretty intense at times, with so many people seeking out sips of some of the best. Go on Friday for a calmer experience. Take your time to savor the flavor and learn from the tasting room staff. Tickets will go on sale January 17, so mark your calendar. People in the know are reserving their lodging now. Rooms fill up fast, so it’s wise to lock in your Healdsburg digs so you won’t miss out on the fun.
Wine Road Barrel Tasting
Friday, Saturday & Sunday, March 3—5 and March 10—12
Tickets on sale January 17