A lot of locals avoid barrel tasting, but if you can handle the crowds and grab a sitter, you should definitely go! You will enjoy steep discounts on local wine, connect with winemakers, and get insight into how the wine you’re pairing with that tri-tip from Oliver’s Market is made.
Our wonderful industry insiders are providing you with the perfect questions to ask the winemaker while you’re sipping Sonoma County’s favorite juice straight out of the barrel.
Barrel Tasting (off the) 101:
What’s your wine-making philosophy?
For the uninitiated, this may seem like a strange question, after all, doesn’t all wine follow the same process? In reality, every winemaker has a different personal philosophy about wine, and as you discover what you do and do not love, you’ll find yourself aligning with certain types of winemakers. This question also allows you the opportunity to let them gush about their personal passion.
Where are the vineyards located?
Wine tasting is a great way to become familiar with wines produced from the different growing areas (also known as AVAs , of which Sonoma County has 17). Remember your favorite regions- this will be a big help the next time you are tasked with ordering wine at dinner yet are unfamiliar with the wineries listed.
How long has this wine been in the barrel?
Think of wine in a barrel like water in contact with tea, the longer the tea bag is steeped in the water, the stronger the cup of tea. Barrel aged wine (versus stainless steel or concrete) will generally have a richer, rounder mouth feel.
How much new oak is used in this wine?
Sticking with the tea analogy, using the same tea bag again will not produce the same strength of flavor the second time around. New barrels will impart more influence on the wine- making the wine taste stronger or more tannic. This question will help you determine whether it will be elegant and balanced upon release or big and bold, thus needing a few years in the cellar before decanting.
Will this wine be blended or are we tasting the final blend?
Some wineries prefer to age parts of a blend separately (this can be another varietal, clone or vineyard site) before bottling while other winemakers prefer to age the components of the wine’s blend together in the barrel so they have a longer time to integrate before bottling.
How many cases of wine do you make each year?
So you know you like the wine, but you’re now trying to determine if you should plunk down a chunk of change on a case-or half-case. Discovering their distribution helps you determine whether you’re going to find it on a Target aisle next year. (Pro-tip: that’s unlikely on our wine road.) Any wine under 500 cases will have little to no distribution, and wines under 1,000 cases are also worth the haul home.
When will this wine be bottled?
This will give you an idea of how close the wine you are enjoying is from being finished and when you should plan your next visit back to pick up that bottle!
How Long Should We Hold On To The Bottle?
Many winemakers will recommend a “best to open by” window, that can sometimes be a year or more from the date you pick it up! Knowing this may impact how much wine you buy, and of which varietal, so you can be well-stocked into the future.