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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
https://www.wineroad.com/events/barrel-tasting/

Wine bottles come in many shapes and sizes. When you’re at the wine shop looking for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, naturally you scan the shelves to find the clear bottles of white wine. What you might not realize is that you are also looking for a certain type of bottle. Each wine varietal can be identified by the shape of its bottle.

There are at least 12 different wine bottle shapes, each particular to a varietal and its origin. These bottle types originated back in 18th century Europe. Each wine-making region was identified by its own distinctive type of bottle. Today these bottle shapes are used for wines from around the world and have nothing to do with the original European regions. But tradition reigns on.

When we talk about the shape of a bottle, we refer to its neck, shoulders, and body —s lender or squat, sloped shoulders or square. The shape doesn’t affect the quality or flavor of wine. Although the shape may have played a role in catching sediment of unfiltered wines of the past.

Glass color varies too. The bottle may be dark or light, usually with dark green glass for reds and clear or light glass for whites. The punt is what you call the dimple in the bottom of the bottle. It is a vestige of old-world bottles whose glass was blown by hand. The history is unclear, but one thing is agreed upon, the punt is for decoration only today. Some think that a punt denotes quality and that flat-bottomed bottles are just for the cheap labels, but that’s only a myth. Chances are that the punt was more practical than aesthetic, helping to keep imperfect bottles upright.

Wine bottle shapes in California

Bourdeaux (France)
The typical Bourdeaux bottle is straight and tall with squared-off shoulders. You’ll find it used for Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Burgundy (France)
Similar to Bourdeaux but with sloping shoulders and a bit fatter bottom, this familiar shape is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Mosel or Alsace (Germany and northern France)
Rieslings and Gewurtztraminers will be found is this distinctly tall, slender bottle with a very long neck and no shoulders.

And, of course, size matters. Bring a split to enjoy with your sandwich or break out a magnum for a special dinner at your home with friends. Large wine bottles are unexpected and announce celebration.

But bottle size also influences the flavor of wine. The neck is small, no matter how much wine the bottle holds. This means that the effect of the oxygen in the neck of the bottle will be less on a larger volume of wine. The bigger the bottle, the slower it ages—and the longer it keeps. That’s one reason you typically find a few large-format bottles in a serious wine lover’s collection.

Don’t think by buying volume you’re getting more for your buck. Just the opposite. Large bottles cost more. They’re snazzy and fun, but you’ll want to be sure you will be able to drink it all once it’s opened.

Piccolo or split¼ bottle187.5 mL
Demi or half½ bottle375 mL
Standard1 bottle750 mL
Magnum2 bottles1.5 L
Jeroboam4 bottles3 L
Methuselah or Imperial8 bottles6 L
Salmanazar12 bottles9 L
Balthazar16 bottles12 L
Nabuchadnezzar20 bottles15 L

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!

We’re used to recognizing local wines and beers on the menu at our favorite restaurant. A few years ago another option began appearing — hard cider. A revival had begun.

Nearby Sebastopol has a long history as an apple-farming community. The area is known for the Gravenstein, a tart apple widely used for cooking and sauce. Over time, trees were replaced with grapevines. We have less than half the acreage in apple orchards that we did just fifty years ago. Yet, Sonoma County agriculture has pockets of orchards that have persisted, and today aficionados have taken apples to a new level.

We’re not just talking fermented apples; we’re talking craft. Apples are pressed and fermented, similarly to wine. They may sit for weeks to many months. Hard cider typically has less alcohol than wine, or even beer, often around 4 to 6 percent. Refreshing and easy to drink, each hard cider is as distinct as the maker.

Some story of the cider

The original SoCo cider came from Ace Cider, which in 1993 became the first cider pub in the county. You can taste their award-winning cider on Fridays, from 1:00 to 5:00, in their tasting room in Sebastopol (http://www.acecider.com/)

Today as hard cider makes a comeback (it was the drink of choice back in the New World of the 1770s), you can find most of California’s apple cider makers located in Sonoma County. The climate is right, as is our micro-culture of artisanal food and drink and a slow-food approach to dining. Like wine and beer, hard cider depends on terroir, aging, sugar levels, and craftsmanship.

Next time you’re in town, make time to visit some of the local cideries that pride themselves on their small-batch, hand-crafted, and award-winning elevation of the apple. Or visit their websites to learn where you can try and buy these remarkable labels. Also look for other local hard cider winners — Devoto Orchards Cider and Troy Cider.

Horse & Plow
First known as a winery, Horse & Plow is making a big dent in the hard cider market. Their approach is all natural and their fruit organic. Visit them in Sebastopol.
Tasting Barn open Thursday — Monday, 11–5pm
https://www.horseandplow.com/

Tilted Shed Ciderworks
Their cider is made with only local, organic fruit and is dry-farmed, which means no irrigation. The result: distinctive ciders that vary with the climate and growing conditions of a given year.
Visit their cidery in Windsor: Saturdays, 11–4pm (closed for renovation until Jan. 28)
https://www.tiltedshed.com/our-ciders/

Sonoma Cider
Since 2013, Healdsburg claims its own cider makers, a father and son team with a taste for excellence. Their 7,000-plus square feet fermentation facility and tap room is located just a block south of the downtown plaza.
Tasting Room is open Wednesday — Sunday, 11–9pm
http://sonomacider.com/

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!

Don’t miss the beautiful colors, tastes and atmosphere of the Healdsburg Wine Country this fall. Plan a carefree, cut-loose weekend. Bring your friends, check out wine events, and jumpstart your holiday shopping!

Events in Healdsburg

Wine and Food Affair
Saturday & Sunday, November 5 & 6, 11:00 – 4:00

Participating wineries in Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys welcome you to sample some of their best vintages paired with favorite recipes for an out-of-this-world wine-tasting experience. Get your tickets early; this event does sell out! Find out more
https://www.wineroad.com/events/wine-food-affair/

November Craft Fair
Saturday, November 5, 12, 19 & 26, 9:00 – noon

The open-air Healdsburg Farmers’ Market attracts locals and visitors alike. With loads of fresh produce and delectables, it’s always the place to pick up the right ingredients for a delicious meal. But for the month of November, the market expands to include artisans and crafters. There’s live music, food vendors and casual camaraderie, making it a fun, low-key way to get a jump on your holiday shopping.
http://www.healdsburgfarmersmarket.org/

Alexander Valley Holiday Open House
Friday, November 25, 11:00 – 4:00

What sounds better than a day in the Healdsburg Wine Country enjoying yummy nibbles paired with award-winning wines? For this special event, eight wineries open their doors to guests and kick off the holiday season. Browse gifts and find something unique for your friends and family.
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/alexander-valley-holiday-open-house-black-friday-tickets-28240776924?aff=es2

Tree Lighting in the Plaza
Saturday, December 3, 5:00 – 6:00

If you’ve never been to a small-town tree lighting, now’s the time to check it out. Bring the kids and share their wonder as the plaza lights up. Join in the holiday spirit! Music, refreshments and fun, plus it’s FREE! Check out the holiday calendar for more ideas for the whole family.

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!

Scopa
Hands down, this is our favorite spot in town for atmosphere and knockout Italian food. It’s very small and intimate, yet the bistro atmosphere is lively and electric. It’s right downtown on the plaza and always packed, but the food and ambience transport you into your own private world. Try the Tomasso’s Suga Calebrese for an amazing taste experience. Truth is we’ve never had a bad dish here; it’s impossible to go wrong. The food is simple but perfectly prepared every time. The staff is fantastic as well! Be sure to make reservations at least a couple weeks in advance. And if you can, check out Winemaker Wednesdays where local winemakers not only bring their best bottles, they actually serve you. It’s great fun!

http://www.scopahealdsburg.com
Check out the Zagat review: https://www.zagat.com/r/scopa-healdsburg

Chalkboard
This downtown eatery specializes in small plates inspired by what’s fresh on its three-acre organic garden located at Chalk Hill Winery. The stylish atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Everything on the menu comes a la carte. I ordered the steak on special that night, and when my plate arrived we were stunned to see a mere six bites of meat. But when Iwe took the first bite, it melted in our mouth. It was like nothing we’ve ever tasted before. Imagine smoky velvet — pure sensual delight! In a way, the small portion invited me to thoroughly enjoy each morsel. They have a terrific wine list and original cocktails too.

http://chalkboardhealdsburg.com/
Check out the Zagat review: https://www.zagat.com/r/chalkboard-bistro-wine-bar-healdsburg

Barndiva
Just off the square in downtown Healdsburg, Barndiva’s rustic décor and good vibe make for a perfect dinner for two. It’s a wine bar, cocktail lounge, art gallery and bistro all in one. If you can, get a table in the garden where the fountains and twinkling overhead lights create a charming atmosphere as evening settles. The food is out of this world. we strongly recommend the wine-pairing menu. The wines may have stood fine on their own, but it was the way they complemented the food that was so exquisite. The staff really knows their wine and food, so take their suggestions! The pours were generous, service excellent and the food fantastic.

http://www.barndiva.com
Check out the Zagat review: https://www.zagat.com/r/barndiva-healdsburg