Top 10 Tips to Explore Wine Tasting Rooms Successfully

By Dawnie March 26, 2012

Wine, Wine, Wine! (by Bethany Woy)

It used to be quite a process to organize a trip to Wine Country, plan out which wineries you wanted to try, find someone willing to be your designated driver and check times and availability at each winery. With the growing trend of wine tasting happening not only in California but also all over the United States, tasting rooms have been popping up all over the place. A typical tasting room is operated by a winery (usually in a vineyard) where bottling, production and shipping take place.  Some wineries operate multiple tasting rooms in different cities. Sometimes smaller wineries join together in a single tasting room so they may showcase their product.
If you’ve never attended a wine tasting at a tasting room: Please do. It’s an amazing experience. I know wine tasting can be an overwhelming thing and sometimes wine gets a bad wrap because people think it can be pretentious. I promise you it’s not. Make it a hobby! It’s fascinating the amount of time the wine making process is and it’s a beautiful science. You can so quickly get in touch with your palette and food will start tasting different! And desserts! Pairing wine and food can be so much fun!

What should you be looking for in a wine while you are tasting?  Here are the basics:

Look: Check out the color and clarity- Tilt the poured glass of wine away from you and notice the color. Look beyond whether it is red or white or blush. Is the red wine a purple, ruby, brick color or brownish? Is the white a light green, amber, gold or clear color? Now tilt your glass or swirl it. Does the red have sediment? Can you see if the wine is watery or cloudy? Make your own judgment!
Smell: Now swirl your glass for 10 seconds (this helps the wine’s alcohol to release some natural aromas!) and inhale deeply through your nose (with your mouth open). What do you smell? What are your first impressions? Berry? Vanilla? Oak? First impressions are key.
Taste: (most important) Take a small sip and roll it around in your mouth. Do you get a bitter taste? Sweet? Sour? Did you think it was to acidic? Do you think it would pair well with a cheese or maybe a meat dish. This is the most important part of wine tasting. Do you LIKE the wine? Could you see yourself drinking more than a few sips? Keep that in mind when purchasing wine. LIKE what you are purchasing. Don’t just buy a wine because someone told you it was a good year or a great varietal. You are the one drinking it. Make sure you like what you are drinking. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of blush- but I have friends that LOVE it. I admire that they don’t just follow suit and drink Pinots like me. They drink what the LIKE.

Now that you know HOW to taste I’ve taken the liberty of writing up some tips, advice and rules that one should know before attending a tasting room:

  • Usually, wineries and tasting rooms charge for tasting. This fee is often waived if you are to purchase bottles of wine. Ask before you begin your tasting.
  • White wines are tasted first, followed by reds and then dessert wines
  • It is okay to skip a wine on a tasting list. Do not feel obligated to try each one. (though you may want to because you’ll never know if you like something if you don’t try it!)
  • Taste each wine carefully and savor each drop.
  • Generally, you should not ask for a second tasting of one wine unless you are interested in purchasing a bottle of it.
  • Most wineries or tasting rooms provide paper and pens so you are able to take notes on each wine. Utilize these! Write down what you smell, taste and the appearance of the wine. It will help you in remembering which one you like the most when you are ready to purchase a bottle!
  • If you do not like a tasting- you don’t have to finish the wine! There are dump buckets provided to tasters. Just throw it out!
  • Don’t pretend you know more than you do about wine. (It can be annoying!) Workers and owners of wineries and tasting rooms are experts in wine. But DO ask questions. Employees are passionate about wine and tastings so ask away!
  • If you choose to bring a picnic lunch to a winery, make sure you only bring wine from that specific winery. It’s polite.
  • A VERY important rule: Do not show up to a tasting intoxicated. State law prohibits tasting room attendants from serving you. (Even if it is just a tasting!) Be on your best behavior. Eat a large meal before tasting. Make sure you aren’t too rowdy. You will be asked to leave the tasting if you or anyone in your group gets too loud. It ruins the atmosphere of the room. Remember it is a business and act accordingly.
  • Don’t feel obligated to purchase a bottle of wine. Only buy if you like the wine!

Below are a few wineries that offer a wine tasting room very close to Sacramento that would be a perfect place to start your wine tasting adventure!

Nevada City Winery
321 Spring Street, Nevada City, CA 95959
(530) 265-9463

A winery in the northern Sierra Foothills that has been producing award winning wines since 1980 that has been in Nevada City since 1880. Now located in the historic Miners Foundry Garage, the winery has been churning out some tasty and delicious wines that would make any wine lovers mouth drool.  Their award winning Cabernet Franc (so many awards I can’t even list them all) is filled with flavors of red berries, spices and violets. Yes please. Or maybe you like white a little more?  The 2006 Sauvignon Blanc was the first wine to ever be bottled with a screw top. (many people in the wine business think screw tops are controversial- but I love them. No cork taste and the bottles are so much easier to open!) This Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and fruity and with blends of grapefruit, citrus and lime. Delicious with a seafood dish, chicken or pasta. Absolutely delicious. Head out to Nevada City today and stop by this adorable little winery with some amazing bottles!

Val du Vino Winery
634 French Gulch Road, Murphys, CA 95247
(209) 728-9911

Located in the historic town of Murphys, (Calaveras County) Val du Vino Winery is located at the west end of Main Street. It is the only working winery on Main Street. The winery itself is housed in a barn that dates back to the early 1920’s and has been in business for over 30 years. Owners Jeannine Hebel and Johnathan Phillips are passionate about what they do. Johnathan is the hands on winemaker while Hebel is a classically French trained chef that uses her knowledge of food to pair wine with meals at the barn. What more could you ask for? May I suggest their 2009 Sangiovese? A classic Italian chianti with aromas of cherry, cedar and orange peel. Pair it with any Italian dish from pizza to gnocchi! Yum yum! Or possibly a Viognier… A light grapefruit and honeysuckle scented wine with tastes of peaches, apples and pears. I would pair this with a fruit tart of even an apple pie… <mouth watering>

Newsome Harlow Wines
403 Main Street, Murphys, CA 95247

Scott and Melanie Klann share a love for great wine and great food, so at Newsome- Harlow, the two are married . . . both philosophically and literally.  The interplay between food and wine is supremely important to both partners — Scott focusing on the grapes and Melanie on the gastronomy. After two decades in the winery business, dedicated to sustainable practices and their respective crafts, the couple has helped put Calaveras County on the map with Melanie’s culinary creativity and Scott’s expertly crafted artisan wines.

Together, the couple’s talents come together in a sensual, symbiotic pairing that embodies Bacchanalian hedonism at its finest — the kind that brings together wine, food, friends and copious amounts of laughter.  In this spirit, the pair began their own label, Newsome-Harlow, in 2000 with a couple of partners and a small batch of wines crafted from premium Calaveras County grapes. Their 2009 Zinfandel line up has been so popular they are sold out…if that’s not enough of a testimony about their incredible wine line up, I don’t know what is! My fav…their 2009 Syrah – Blackberry and plum aromas combined with flavors of deep fruit, tons of clove spice and some anise. A HUGE wine where a very soft but full-bodied mouth feel provides the foundation for the complex flavors and aromas. Finishes long and spicy with flavors of deep dark blackberries. “Que Syrah, syrah”!

It has been said on more than one occasion that they throw the best parties around! And that is why they offer more than just a “wine members club”.  They have fun with their wines and offer anyone to join The Party! Party Members are invited to a lot of fun events, some free, some at a special price.

The Party benefits:

  • Choose between 4 fabulous wine club options
  • 25% savings on everything…all the time!
  • No tasting fees for you or your guests…EVER!
  • Fabulous recipes from Chef Melly
  • Invitations to the hippest parties in Murphys



BellaGrace Vineyards
22715 Upton Road, Plymouth, CA
(209) 681-2103

BellaGrace Vineyards is located in the beautiful town of Plymouth. The warm, inland climate of the Sierra Foothills creates a perfect environment for Zinfandel, Primitivo and various Rhone wine grapes. My favorite? The 2009 Barbera. A beautiful, deep plum and violet wine with soft tannins and an earthy taste. Oak, cherry and a bit of vanilla. Everything you’d ask for in a Barbera. A perfect bottle of wine to bring to a party as a gift or one to crack open after a long day of work. Delicious flavors. For white drinkers? Try the 2010 reserve Chardonnay. Beautifully golden wine with aromas of pineapple, pear vanilla and peach. Delicious. A bottle you could definitely drink easily. Did I mention they also bottle and sell their own Extra Virgin Olive Oil? (yay! Perfect gift!)
BellaGrace Vineyards is in the process of building its own tasting room but offers two locations to try the wine. In the garden of the estate in Plymouth and now on Fridays and Saturdays in Sutter Creek on Main Street.  The tasting room located in a Victorian home from the 1860’s and is called 73 Main Street. Check their website for location and times. You won’t be sorry!!