The annual Wine Road Barrel Tasting is just days away, and attendees always seek the ultimate Barrel Tasting experience. Here are some tips to help you create that ultimate Barrel Tasting experience.

Barrel Tasting Ahead sign

Let’s Start with Some Details

  • The focus is to taste newbie wines directly from the barrel before they are bottled, meet the winemakers who produce these wines, and if you like what you taste, you can buy the barrel sample wines as futures and pick them up when they’re bottled and released. Some wineries will also be pouring some of their current wines.
  • This is the 43rd annual Barrel Tasting, and it continues to be a favorite of so many wine lovers. This event has been successful for over four decades, so if you haven’t attended or attended recently, this might be the time to check it out. There are so many reasons this is a perennial favorite.
  • The event is for three days—Friday thru Sunday—over two weekends, March 6-8 and March 13-15, 2020, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Tickets are on sale now. They will also be available at the door, but at a slightly higher price.
  • All Barrel Tasting ticket holders receive a wine glass to use for the entire weekend, and then take home to sip all the great wine finds.
Barrel Tasting 2020 poster for March 6-8 and March 13-15

Barrel Tasting Planning

Once you’ve decided to attend, and are ready to buy your tickets, the first thing you need to do is decide where you want to start. How do you do that with so many wineries participating?

If you don’t have a favorite winery to select as your starting winery, here is where planning begins. The Wine Road website has all the tools you’ll need to help you out. One option is to review the Barrel Tasting Program, which lists the varietals or blends being sampled at each participating winery. How does this help?

Check in Here sign at Benovia Winery

If you love Zinfandel, then we recommend you start at a winery that is offering one or more barrel samples of Zinfandel. The same is true if Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon is your favorite varietal. Maybe you want to branch out during barrel tasting and focus on a varietal you know less about, like Syrah, but you also love Zinfandel. In reviewing the program, you see ACORN Winery will be pouring barrel samples of both Syrah and Zinfandel, making them your perfect starting winery.

The Barrel Tasting Program will be posted online by February 15th, so be sure to check it out.

Taste by Varietal or by Valley

As part of your planning, thinking about what you enjoy tasting helps determine your tasting path. If you love Zinfandel, you’re sure to find a high concentration of Zinfandel barrel samples in Dry Creek Valley, just as you’ll find more Cabernet Sauvignon barrel samples in Alexander Valley, and more Pinot Noir in Russian River Valley.

K Squared Cellars Winemaker and Owner Andrew Moore shares a barrel sample
K Squared Cellars winemaker and owner Andrew Moore shares a barrel sample

Or if your goal is to taste as many Italian or Bordeaux varietals as possible, be sure to check out the program after it is posted online on February 15th. Colagrossi Wines, located in Windsor, will be featuring barrel samples of Sangiovese, Barbera, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the perfect stop for wine lovers seeking Italian varietals with a bonus Bordeaux varietal in the mix.

Meet the Winemakers

At many of the wineries, the person poised behind the barrel with wine thief in hand is the winemaker, winery owner, assistant winemaker, or one of the cellar crew. These are the people in the who know where the grapes are grown, how the wine is made, who can describe what you are tasting, and tell you when it will be bottled and released. Be ready to ask questions and find out all sorts of fun details about wine and winemaking.

Benovia's winemaker and co-owner Mike Sullivan pouring wine from a barrel of Pinot Noir using a wine thief.
Winemaker and co-owner Mike Sullivan is sharing his Pinot Noir during Barrel Tasting at Benovia Winery.

Also, each Saturday morning during the two weekends, the Wine Road will be hosting a Q&A with the Winemakers Breakfast. On Saturday, March 7th, join winemakers Ashley Herzberg from Cast Wines and Susie Selby from Selby Winery. On Saturday, March 14th, enjoy breakfast with winemakers Jonathan Bomberg from Merriam Vineyards, Carol Shelton from Carol Shelton Wines, and Brandon Lapides from Armida Winery.

Tickets for breakfast can be purchased when you buy your Barrel Tasting tickets, and are very limited. Be sure to purchase your breakfast tickets soon. They sell out quickly.

Making the Most of It All

Here are some basic guidelines to make your wine tasting experience more enjoyable:

1) Have a designated driver, or hire a driver for the day or weekend.
Pure Luxury Transportation is the Wine Road’s premier transportation partner, and a great choice when looking for a driver. Please keep in mind that many smaller wineries don’t allow groups of eight or more during Barrel Tasting due to their space constraints. If you want to review some additional driver options, visit the Wine Road’s Transportation page.

2) Stay hydrated. Water is every wine taster’s best friend. Tasting barrel samples can quickly cause palate fatigue, which will lessen your enjoyment as the day goes on.
Water is the perfect solution to avoid palate fatigue. Best practice is to drink a glass of water at the end of each winery visit. If you use your wine glass, you’ll also rinse it out before your next tasting stop. You’ll find that every winery participating in the Barrel Tasting weekends will have water available.
Staying hydrated can make all the difference between a less than stellar weekend vs. having the ultimate Barrel Tasting experience.

3) Bring along snacks or a picnic. This isn’t a food event. At a minimum, have some bread or crackers along, plus having some protein (cheese, meat, nuts) to snack on will help you go the distance without fading as the day progresses. Even if you swish and spit, alcohol is absorbed into your blood stream, which is why hydrating and eating can be your best asset during a day of wine tasting.
Many of the wineries are miles from a town or store, so be sure to plan ahead to bring some food with you.

4) Mark your wine glasses. Unless you are traveling solo, it is helpful to either put wine charms on your tasting glasses or write your name on your glass. We use wine charms, and also bring along an empty wine box to house the wine glasses in between each stop. We use the same box to fill with our wine purchases throughout the day.

Wine Road wine glass with a wine charm on it sitting among bottles of Jigar wines.
Don’t forget to bring along wine charms. You’ll never lose your glass if you do.

Take Notes

Wine tasting is always so much fun, but it’s often tough to remember favorite wines and wineries. After each stop, we talk about what we like, and those of us who aren’t driving will jot down a few notes on the Barrel Tasting Program. Of course, snapping a photo of a favorite wine works too, but doing both notes and photos helps me remember and makes planning the following year’s Barrel Tasting path much easier.

Instagram post of a Sign that reads "Help Wine Trapped in Barrels Needs to be Rescued"

Post Away

Gathering memories and sharing them with friends is a great way to enhance your Barrel Tasting weekend. Be sure to tag your post with #BarrelTasting2020 to help others find your favorite wineries and wine, so they too can have the ultimate Barrel Tasting experience.

Happy Sipping!

@TheWineRoad #AlongTheWineRoad #BarrelTasting2020 #SipSonoma #GatherInSonoma #WineRoadLife

Char Vale Vineyards & Winery's winemaker Tim sharing a barrel sample of Pinot Noir.
Char Vale Vineyards & Winery’s winemaker Tim sharing a barrel sample of Pinot Noir.

Posted by Rebecca Germolus

Rebecca Germolus, co-owner of Maximum Value Marketing, loves Sonoma County and playing along the Wine Road. Rebecca daily immerses herself in wine country by providing cost-effective marketing and writing solutions to wineries and restaurants.

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