Merriam-Webster defines experience as “the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation.” This is what a tasting provides: the ability to participate in sampling something new with the intention of discovery and broadening understanding. During a tasting, visitors learn about style, the wine makers, how the owner’s got started with their vineyard, the location, the grapes, the environment for which that wine was designed to be enjoyed (food pairings, post-meal dessert, chilled versus warmed). The taster gains new knowledge based on their participation in this tasting, the conversations they had, and the ability to understand what it is they’re drinking. This is why the tasting experience is so critical – it can make a person return to a winery, buy a bottle, buy a case, serve a wine at a special event, recommend it to a friend, join a wine club, become life-long patrons… you get the point.
I thought I would share some of my favorite experiences, and what I now look for when I visit a new winery for a tasting:
- Knowledge and passion – I love the opportunity to talk with an owner or a good pourer who likes to share information about the wine they are serving. The passion when they enjoy the wine and are proud to serve it to guests shows. Personally, I enjoy hearing about the harvest, the style of the wine, or the decision to go with certain blends. I love to learn about the grapes grown on property or where the winemaker prefers to buy their grapes and why. I also like hearing about another person’s favorite wine – why do they enjoy that one so much? Is it because it is drinkable or do they prefer a spicy red? Is it because it is their favorite summer-time activity wine or the perfect glass to unwind with by the fire? Oak Crest Vineyard and Winery and Caret Cellars have both offered knowledgeable tastings that stuck with me. At Oak Crest, we had so much fun learning about the different wines from our host, including their personal favorite depending on the time of year, or why they named a wine after a person. We bought wines we never thought we’d enjoy if we saw it on a menu, including a Hot Jazz wine made with 1% jalapeno pepper. Caret Cellars is always an excellent and knowledgeable experience. The owners and wine maker really love what they do, and it is contagious. I love to go back with friends and hear about the latest wines they’re planning to bottle.
- Food – I’m a sucker for food. Seriously, I plan my winery visits around what food I will be bringing in the picnic basket or what restaurants we can stop at along the way. Food pairings during tastings are especially tempting and make my experience oh-so-much better. One winery I especially enjoyed because of the food pairings they offered during tasting was Saude Creek Vineyards. They paired barbecue with one of their wines and chocolate with another. This allowed me to imagine what I would pair the wines with at home and start planning out meals just for that wine; Naturally, I bought the wine and made BBQ later that week.
- Hospitality – Nothing attracts me to a winery more than when I first pull up and they tell me “bring your dogs in the tasting room, we’ve got treats!” In reality, I know not all wineries can offer this, but it is a bonus when they do. One place this experience stuck with me and I continue to tell friends (and here I repeat it again) was Three Fox Vineyards. We pulled up on a fairly chilly winter day with the dogs (initially planning to go to Barrel Oak, but thought we would stop by here first and try something new) and they warmly welcomed us into the tasting room. We had such a fun time and enjoyed the staff and conversation, we decided to spend the rest of our afternoon there at a picnic table enjoying a bottle of wine as the dogs played.
- Special opportunities – Like many people, I am attracted to “limited offer,” “VIP,” or “more bang-for-your-buck” type of special events, including unique partnerships and barrel tastings. This past weekend, I enjoyed two special events like this: a winery-brewery dual tasting with Ingleside Vineyards and Montross Brewery and a barrel tasting at Caret Cellars. The Ingleside-Montross event was a fabulous partnership featuring the release of Ingleside’s Albarino wine and Montross Brewery’s Albarino Ale, which was fermented with the pressed clusters of Ingleside’s Albarino grapes. This offered a unique tasting experience and the opportunity to visit two places in one stop. Caret Cellars offered their barrel tasting, which was a neat way to learn about the aging process, and to smell, taste, and learn from the wine-maker what it was they are looking for in a wine. Barrel tastings offer a great opportunity to try a wine along the aging timeline. And now I’m aware of some great wines to get excited for in the near future, including Caret Cellars’ new Rosato, Merlot, and Sangiovese.
What tasting experiences have stood out for you? Did you discover your new favorite winery because a tasting first grabbed your attention for a special reason? What experiences do you now look for?
I can’t wait for my next tasting experience and to hopefully discover my new favorite wine and place.