Discover the Best Ways to Go Wine Tasting at Wineries & Vineyards
Whether you’re embarking on a lengthy tour throughout an Old World wine region, or you’re simply taking a day trip through Santa Barbara County, wineries and tasting rooms often have various options for how you can go about trying their wines.
Wine tasting is a subjective experience on a couple of different levels. For one, tasting the wine itself is a very personal experience. Individual taste preferences and experiences can vary depending on the style of wine(s) you end up sampling. In addition, the setting itself can have a dramatic impact on how your mind interprets the overall experience.
Below, we’ll highlight the 6 main ways to go wine tasting at a winery and or vineyard so you can be prepared and better plan your next wine vacation. Note that these methods vary by winery, and every option we mention may not be available depending on the property. That being said, be sure to do your research ahead of time. It’s ideal to get in contact with the winery prior to your visit so you know exactly what to expect.
6 Wine Tasting Experiences Every Wine Enthusiast Should Try
Every winery scattered throughout the world offers a different experience. Whether they are differentiated by grape varieties grown, outdoor & indoor aesthetics, architecture, landscape, cuisine or tour experience — it’s ideal to visit several wineries throughout a wine tour so you have the opportunity to be exposed to all of these variations for a more fulfilling experience.
The Barrel Room Tasting
For the wine enthusiast with an extensive curiosity into how wine is both produced and aged, the barrel room tasting offers the unique experience of tasting a wine before it’s bottled and typically prior to when it has reached its full maturity / potential.
In this kind of wine tasting experience, typically a senior member of the wine making team will accompany you to the the Vintner’s barrel room, where wines are stored in oak until they are mature enough to be bottled. During this tasting, a winery employee will often utilize a “wine thief” tasting tool — which is similar in appearance to a straw — in an effort to extract a small amount of wine from the top of the barrel. This sample is then tasted in order to gauge how far along the wine is in the maturation process.
The Wine Bar
Most wineries around the world, both large and small that offer wine tasting experiences will house a wine bar. In this often casual setting, winery visitors are encouraged to walk up to the bar as if it were any local watering hole. Customers can often order wine flights — typically 5-6 one-ounce pours of wine — in an effort to taste a number of wine offerings in one sitting. More often than not, once you’ve tried a flight of wine, you can then purchase a full glass of whichever wine(s) you liked best. At this point, wineries may try to sway you to purchase a bottle of your favorite wine to bring home with you. Note that cheeses, meats and small plates of food are sometimes served at the wine bar to pair alongside your samples.
This is by far the most common kind of wine tasting experience you can expect when traveling from winery to winery, and they usually do not require an appointment.
The Vineyard Tasting
My personal favorite style of wine tasting. For a vineyard tasting, a vintner will typically greet you at their winery facility and then escort you out to the vineyard property where the grapes are grown. Once there, the winery employee will often open up a variety of wine styles produced on the property for you to sample between the vines.
To me, this is the most immersive and memorable kind of wine tasting. Not only are you standing on the Terroir that the wine you’re drinking was grown on, being outdoors, experiencing the landscape and the sun on your face while listening to the story of the grape’s journey will make you want to return again and again. Keep in mind that these wine tasting experiences typically require an appointment.
The High-top Tasting
Not unlike the Wine Bar tasting, a high-top wine tasting, or table-top tasting typically occurs not far from the bar at a wine producing facility. The main difference here is that you would typically order the wine(s) to be delivered to your table while you and your party can enjoy and talk amongst yourselves. Flights and individual glasses and bottles of wine are typically available for purchase and or sampling. Again, small plates may also be served in this setting to pair with the wine.
High-top wine tastings usually do not require an appointment, but if you are planning on visiting a popular winery on a weekend or at peak time, it may make sense to try to reserve a table if possible.
The Seated “Formal” Tasting
Certain wine production facilities have special rooms designed for more formal tastings and or meetings. At these facilities, the vintner will often escort you and your guests into a private room where a number of bottles of wine will be opened and sampled. As you sip, the vintner will typically walk you through how to taste their wines, in addition to discussing the production processes employed for making the wine. In some cases, you may be served a number of small plates, or even full meals that are designed to be paired with specific wines throughout the experience.
These experiences are often very unique and can vary greatly in terms of aesthetics from winery to winery. They are more intimate, in-depth wine tastings, typically geared towards the wine connoisseur or professional. Note that more often than not these also require appointments, so be sure to contact your preferred wineries in advance if this is the sort of experience you’re looking for.
The “Complete” Wine Tour
For the wine enthusiast who’s looking to get a feel for the landscape, the production process and all of the wines offered at a particular facility, the complete wine tour may be for you. In some instances, this style of tour may encompass all of the ones we’ve already mentioned above. These tours can be as short as 30 minutes or last as long as 3 hours depending on the size of the facility and what the property has to offer. In some cases, you may visit the vineyard, the vinification facility, the barrel room, the tasting room and also be served a 3-course meal with a range of wines.
These wine tours are typically a bit more pricey and almost always require a reservation.
What’s The Right Wine Tasting Experience For Me?
Again, wine tasting is a subjective thing. If you’re not sure which one of the above experiences is best suited for you, consider plotting a wine tasting tour and visiting several vineyards. As you traverse your route, consider mixing up the experiences along the way. I tend to hit the wine bar at one location, do a vineyard tasting at another, and then perhaps splurge on a full tour if I know the winery I’m visiting is especially unique, beautiful or famous.
At the end of the day, chances are you won’t go wrong with whatever you choose so try not to over think it and just enjoy the moment!
All images in this article courtesy my good friend Giovanni Lauricella on his recent tasting in Priorat, Catalunya, Spain.