Yikes. There are 43, count them 43 wineries in the county we plan to explore next month. So far, I have been to one. The wines are not readily available in retail stores. This, if you didn’t know, makes me NOT an expert, but that will not stop me from getting the most out of wine tasting experience because I have a plan. Use the same steps and you can devise your own successful wine tasting day.
Map Out Your Wine Tasting Tour
A quick trip to the area winemakers’ association and I find the map and winery list. Winemakers’ Associations represent all the or at least most of the wineries in a given region. Klaus and I are considering a trip to Amador wine country. The winemaker association for Amador County can be found here. Bing bang boom, I print out the map, but it’s too small for these middle-aged eyes to read, so on my Mac, I change the printing to fill the page, and Bob’s your uncle, I have a map I can read and take notes on. Pretty much all wine regions have an association that produces these guides. Don’t expect too much help on which wineries to visit though. These are unbiased sources, they should and do represent all the wineries in their membership. This is no place for favorites!
Next, black out all wineries that are not in the geographic area you intend to visit. Remember, the name of the game right now is to narrow down your choices.
Ask Friends about their Favorite Winery
If any of your wine tasting friends have given you a recommendation in the past, place a star next to the winery name. We met a staffer in Murphys who loved the wine region we were planning to visit. She loved it so much, she jotted down her favorite restaurants and wineries.
Timing is Everything when Wine Tasting
Cross off all wineries that are not open when you’re visiting or those that are by appointment only. It’s just my opinion, but I like tasting rooms with other people in them. It makes for a better time! But, if special treatment is your thing, go ahead and organize an appointment. It is, after all, your tour.
Just a quick note on opening hours – wineries that are open daily tend to have bigger budgets, bigger tasting rooms and more stuff going on than ones open only on weekends. While it’s not always the case, I think you have a better chance of meeting the winemaker at the wineries with more limited hours. These are usually small operations where the winemaker must wear many hats, including wine pourer. Planning on tasting until the late afternoon, mark those wineries with the notation “LC” for late close.
On your map, you need a key for taking notes. Scribbles just won’t do, so you need to figure out what’s important to YOU. Dog-Friendly – write DF near the winery name, Kid Friendly – KF, Food Availability – FA you get the picture. When you come across a review or website you can quickly add these items next to the name of the winery. What is important to you when you visit a winery? Let me know in the comments below. It may help someone else plan their day or inspire me to write a blog post on the subject.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to add something to every winery (unless you are OCD), just some notes to help narrow down your options later.
Now it’s time to do the research. Google “wine tasting in Plymouth Amador County” or wherever your wine tasting adventure is taking you. Newspapers articles and blogs are all good. Read away. Jot down your notes. I’m after Barberas for this trip but wait, there is a winery that has a Nebbiolo and I’m a big fan of the grape from Piedmont. Whoa, one winery has grappa. My husband loves grappa. You get the idea, see how many boxes you can tick off, until, you’re tired of research. As you read reviews add your key abbreviations next to the winery name.
I’d like to say a few things about Trip Advisor and Yelp as your source. My husband and I were on a wine tasting trip in Eastern Washington. He was doing his due diligence and used Yelp as a guide planning our day. I was a little skeptical of using this as our only source for advice, so I did a quick search for the best wineries in Livermore. This is a wine area that we know VERY well. To our surprise, one-half of the list was comprised of wineries we actually love, and the other half was made up of wineries we don’t care for much. So don’t use these as your sole source for picking your route. Instead, read the reviews, did people love the fantastic view or the friendly and helpful staff? Was the wine good or were the pours big? What is important to you?
Narrow It Down
Now take a look at your list. You should have a pretty good idea of where you’d like to go. The more notes next to the winery name, the better. Choose three or four as your base day. You’re done, right? Nope! You have some game day plans.
Go with the Flow
Near the end of a wine tasting, if you like your pourer or perhaps you’ve struck up a lovely conversation with local wine aficionado, ask them where they would recommend as your next stop. You may find that your day changes or, you may find that your new advisor confirms your research. In which case, great job.
Often times your new friends have the name of the winemaker or a staff person whom you can mention at the next winery for more attentive service.
Now, you have a plan you that gets you started, but is flexible. Go forth and taste!