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How to Enjoy a Wine Tour

How to Enjoy a Wine Tour

When you decide to go wine-tasting, it's easy enough to just grab your significant other, a couple friends, hop in the designated driver's car, and go! You'll head out, stop at a couple favorite vineyards, maybe be adventurous and hit another new one on the way.

Oops, the first one is closed for a private event. And the second one has a bachelorette party running around asking everyone if they wear boxers or briefs and screaming "Woooo!" every few seconds. The last one closes in twenty minutes... Think we can make it? And I haven't eaten all day, where's the closest fast food place? We can make it there in five minutes, right? Oh wait, this is a single lane highway and everyone's heading home now, there's no way we can get that last stop in.

I've dealt with that scenario (and other logistics issues) more times than necessary. It doesn't seem like going on a wine tour should take that much forethought and planning, right? Now I'm well-versed in planning out a wine tour, whether it's for me and my boyfriend or me and twenty of my closest friends on a charter bus, but it takes some practice in order to have the best time on your day of wine tasting.

First, call every winery you plan to visit ahead of time! Let them know how many people you will have in your party, and ask if there's anything special going on that particular day. I try to call a week ahead of time if I'm going with a group of four or fewer, but I'll call a month ahead to schedule a tasting for a group larger than that. Not all tasting rooms can accommodate a group of more than eight or ten people, and they need to know if a big group is coming so they can have adequate staff, samples, and seating for the group. Nothing will turn the tasting room staff against you faster than showing up with a large group unannounced. The day of your trip, call the tasting room again if anything has changed--number of guests or time you will arrive, in particular--so they have time to properly accommodate your party.

It's also a good idea to inquire if there are any special tours or experiences you should take advantage of when at the winery. Is there a barrel tasting or blend-your-own-wine workshop? What about a tour of the vineyards, facility, or wine caves? Will you be able to meet the wine maker? It's not necessary at every winery, but it's an easy way to break up the tastings and make the stop special.

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Coffee and Wine: A Parallel Discovery

I used to stick to sweet drinks; hot chocolate and chai tea lattes (and the occasional apple cider with caramel sauce) were my go-to beverages when I went to "grab a coffee" with my friends. I didn't like the bitterness of coffee, and even when that was my only option, I would put so much milk and sugar in that the drink basically became a slightly tan milkshake. But that began to change about two years ago, when I moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. My uncle, who I stayed with when I moved up here, goes to Hawaii on a fairly regular basis, and always brings back bags upon bags of Kona beans. And the man makes a killer cappuccino to boot. Living with him meant dark, milky coffee became a staple in my morning routine, though I would still prefer hot chocolate or chai lattes when grabbing coffee at a shop.

I realized, however, that the reason I disliked coffee was the same reason I didn't initially like the taste of wine. Neither wine nor coffee is sweet, and as a child I became so accustomed to sweetness in my drinks that I was not a fan of anything that didn't fulfill that requirement. I didn't drink a lot of soda growing up, but I love milk and orange juice, which I drank daily during my childhood. Even water was too bland for me; I needed that sweetness in my drink.

There are a lot of people who never get over that need for sweet drinks (and that's not necessarily a vice, as long as you can keep your Diet Coke addiction under control). This preference can be detrimental to their ability to enjoy wine and coffee, however. There's a reason cheap bottles of Moscato, White Zinfandel, Riesling, and half-fermented grape juice like Stella Rosa is so popular--the sugar content is higher in these wines, so people drink them like they're soda. For the same reason, we wolf down pumpkin spice lattes and chocolate-strawberry-double-fudge-caramel macchiatos rather than sitting down to a freshly brewed black coffee. We want that sweetness, and we want it now. The sugar amps up the energy burst we feel 15 minutes after the liquid passes our lips--but man, do we want a refill an hour later!

The biggest hurdle for me in learning to like coffee was the same hurdle I encountered when I started tasting wine. The first wine I ever loved was a fruity Barbera from a winery in Amador County, and though it didn't have the sugary sweetness I craved, it was full of dark chocolate and blackberry flavors, and didn't have the spiky tannins that had made me dislike the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that I'd already tasted. The wine's flavors took center stage in the absence of sweetness, and I was able to enjoy it for the first time. A similar revelation occurred when my friend had me try a fresh cup of Turkish coffee. I had gotten used to Kona coffee, but was still dousing it with milk, and I was not prepared for the acidity, fruitiness, and depth of the dark, gritty coffee coming out of the moka pot.

In retrospect, it's silly that I disliked coffee for so long while my career was focused on a similarly complex, unsweetened beverage. I had learned to appreciate wine for its earthiness, minerality, acidity, and astringent texture, but couldn't see that the same characteristics exist in coffee. With the Turkish coffee, however, I was hooked. Instead of my usual Starbucks chai tea latte, I get a black coffee or espresso from a local shop that carries single origin beans that they've roasted in the last 10 days. I retired my drip machine and have a french press and a hand grinder for the whole beans I now buy regularly. I enjoy the tobacco and caramel and peach and dark berry notes that I smell coming off a fresh cup, and I love checking out the amazing shops that have started popping up around the city. Yes, the caffeine boost is nice, but I now drink coffee for the taste.

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Wine "Snobs" at Beer Week

A lot of people who “don’t like wine” have the idea that wine is for old, rich snobs, not an everyday drink. I talked about this a little in my February 1 article about drinking wine during the Superbowl—wine is just as fitting for casual settings as beer and mixed drinks. However, I’ve noticed that the prejudice goes the other way, too. Wine drinkers, when put in a setting where beer is more prevalent, can have a tendency to turn up their noses at the selection.

I can’t have that happen! Sure, it’d be great if every restaurant and bar had an unlimited budget and a full liquor license and a Master Sommelier and a Cicerone and all that, but that’s not reasonable for 99.99% of venues. But restaurants choose their drink menus to fit a certain atmosphere and attract certain clientele. If you frequent a restaurant that is more of a beer-centered drinks list, you shouldn’t turn up your nose at the paltry wine selections; you should find a beer that works for you!

The Bay Area kicks off Beer Week (February 7-16th this year) tonight, and although I’m a wine drinker by trade, I plan on indulging in the festivities as much as possible. I can’t wait to go up to Russian River Brewing Company to taste Pliny the Younger—this will be my third year doing so! I will be heading to as many of the Beer Week events showcasing sour beers (my personal favorite beer style) as I can, and I’d love to see a ton of wine-drinkers there. It’s something of a personal mission of mine to help spread the idea that we wine lovers aren’t snobs, and we can enjoy trying new beers just as we enjoy trying new wines. If something isn’t your style, try another. Like wine, there’s enough variety in beer so that everyone can find a type or a brewer that suits their taste.

So please, help me change that stereotype, and join me at the SF Beer Week! Here are some of the events that I'm looking forward to:

-Almanac Beer Donuts at Dynamo Donuts (www.dynamodonut.com)

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Football & Wine: A Perfect Pairing

Happy February!

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl, also known as the Biggest Beer Holiday of the Year. More beer is consumed on Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day of the year, including St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Fourth of July.

But why beer?

Beer, and especially “cheap beer” such as Coors and Bud Light, projects the message that the drinkers are there to enjoy the game and maybe get a little bit tipsy. People watching the game don’t want to concentrate on the beverage they’re drinking and how well it pairs with the pizza, hot wings, and burgers they’re noshing on. Beer is cool and refreshing. It’s the “everyman’s” choice. And, for those of us who also enjoy the commercials, the Budweiser Clydesdales are always good value.

Wine gets largely forgotten on Super Bowl Sunday. Again, why?

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To ask or not to ask

Recently, a "mystery" shopper was set loose upon a Bay Area wine country with $1200.00 to spend on wine from the various winery tasting rooms. The shopper could only buy wine if they were asked by the tasting room staff to purchase.  After a weekend of many winery tasting rooms only $200.00 of $1200.00 was spent.Ask for the order

Do you expect to purchase wine at each of the winery tasting rooms that you visit? Do you expect to be asked to purchase wine or would that turn you off? The art of the "ask" seems to me to be essential for a successful tasting room. Regardless of all the wine tasting etiquette rules, which we list later in another article, the tasting room is the primary direct-to-wine consumer outlet.Buy the case

The tasting room supplies the wine lover and adventurer a place to experience the winery's wines, hospitality and story.  And who doesn't love a good story.  Wine lovers use review sites to share their experiences and to read about the experiences of others. Thus, the tasting room becomes the single most important sales and marketing direct-to-wine lover opportunity that a winery possesses.  I appreciate it when the hospitality staff invites me to purchase or to join their wine club. And yet in my experience I am surprised how many winery tasting room staff fail to not only ask me to purchase their wine but fail to even mention their wine club. win win

I understand the reluctance of some people to want to avoid being pushy, however I would encourage winery owners to attempt to measure their success in selling wine to their guests. Wine lovers come to the tasting room for the experience and to purchase wine because of the relationship they form with the winery.  When a guest visits a winery they are looking for wine to purchase. The question is will they purchase from your tasting room or the winery down the road? And in my opinion, if you and the tasting room staff have entertained your guests, simply ask for the wine order, and you will in most cases obtain a sale.  A sale in your tasting room is a win-win for you and the guest.
 

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