“Either give me more wine or leave me alone.” – Rumi
Dearest Rumi, I don’t think I could have said it any better.
I’m currently in Europe where wine is like a religion. Not only can it be found, quite literally, everywhere, but good wine is so ridiculously affordable that I drink the good stuff as if it were tea, or water, or life saving medicine.
Oh yes, good wine is a beautiful thing.
I’m a few glasses into a smooth-AF, Spanish Sauvignon Blanc when I am reminded of a trip I took to Napa Valley a few years ago. An hour and a half north of San Francisco one finds acres upon acres of lush vineyards. One of America’s front-running wine regions, Napa has award winning Pinot Noirs, plucky Sauvignons and Zinfandel hybrids that make grown men cry.
When faced with all the choice a valley like Napa offers bacchanal ensues. Should you visit Napa (or any plentiful wine region for that matter) you need to sit down and draft a plan. It is essential to factor in: a) time (to visit the wineries), b) down time (to let your body deal with the influx of wine) and c) money. This needs to be done because, I promise, you will spend more time than initially expected drinking and trying to avoid getting drunk.
Now, whether it is Napa, Bordeaux or the Okanagan Valley, here are 10 tasting tips to keep in mind:
- Take/rent a car and (unless someone is a teetotaler) rotate the designated driver. By doing this you’ll be able to make your own schedule and won’t have wait for 16 other people who may be hell bent on downing every last drop they can get their hands on before getting back onto the bus.
- Make a list of the types of wines you want to and/or are interested in trying and do some research on some of the best places where you can taste for a reasonable price. Ask people for their opinion. Google for suggestions. Create a map of places to try and ask around again. Repeat two or three times and consult with those you are travelling with. By spending a few hours on the Internet in the weeks leading up to my Napa trip and asking around I was able to get a cross-section of five vineyards that were given the label: must visit places.
- If you’re only tasting, plan for two to three days in Napa Valley. One day isn’t enough, though if you hit four days or more you start entering Sideways territory. Note: you do not want to go there.
- As for the frequency of tastings: three wineries in one day is perfection. Four is great if you’ve had a lot of water to drink. Five is pushing it, while six or more is asking to be pushed off the edge of a cliff. Indulge in the drink of the Gods, but be wise about it.
- Start early, like 10:00am early. The big wineries get busy from noon onwards and because you need to pace yourself throughout the day it’s best to start on the early side so you’re not completely sloshed by sundown.
- (An aside: If you feel awkward about consuming wine so early in the day repeat the following, “it’s #fiveoclocksomewhere.”)
- That said, drink lots of water throughout the day. This is a no-brainer, but easy to forget.
- Swirl, sip and take your time. We noticed that most places (unlike in Europe) don’t have spittoons. Perhaps it’s not culturally correct to spit out your wine in California? I don’t know but in adjusting our tasting methods we sometimes spent twice as long at a vineyard to make up for the fact that we were each drinking half a carafe of wine.
- Try to get off the beaten track. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the big names with the best PR machines. One of my best wine tastings in Napa was at a small-family run vineyard that produced killer Chardonnay. I mean, the Chardonnay was so good I nearly threw an elbow in my partner’s face in order to steal his glass. It sounds crazy but don’t judge. I guarantee you’d have done the same.
- Eat. Sweet mother, hit a restaurant since there are so many delicious places worth blowing your cash on. Also, remember the cardinal rule: eat regularly during the day. There are plenty of places to stop and pick up some tapas or small bites. Use it as an opportunity to have an impromptu picnic with that bottle of Pinot you snagged from the winery down the road.
- Allow room for change and be flexible. It will happen, trust me. You will come across an additional winery you must try or a restaurant to splurge at. Or you may find you’ve had enough after two days of guzzling wine like juice and it is time to start your detox.
That’s it. There’s nothing more to it. Easy as pie. But I’ll bring this wine frenzy to a close with the words of another great poet:
“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you chose. But get drunk.” – Charles Baudelaire
Thank you Monsieur Baudelaire. I’ll raise my glass to that.