Tips For Visiting A Winery Tasting Room

Touring wine country and visiting wineries is a memorable way to spend an afternoon — or a whole vacation, for that matter! The views, the relaxed pace, the friends or family you’re with… it all makes for an enjoyable experience, even before your first sip of wine.

But the moment you approach the tasting room bar, it’s time to get a little more serious. That’s because you visit the tasting room not to drink wine, but to taste wine — that is, to sip, savor, contemplate, and learn. That balance of simultaneously evaluating, learning, and having fun takes some practice.

As you prepare to make the most of your tasting experience, you’ll need the following: a clear nose, a clean palate and a clear mind.

First, in fairness to the wine, your ability to smell and taste wine should not be compromised. This means you shouldn’t wear a strong perfume or cologne that will interfere with the aroma of wine. Secondly, a clean palate means not having residue of a flavorful food, beverage or candy in your mouth. Even a sip of beer or spirit prior to tasting will make a wine taste awkward. Finally, and perhaps most important, is your mood. If your mind isn’t free and clear of stress, there’s only a slim chance you’ll award any wine a favorable review.

With the above “ground rules” in mind, here are five quick tips to getting more out of your tasting room experience:

1. Apply your senses of sight, smell and touch — in that order
Never taste a wine without first observing its color, clarity and intensity. It’s all part of registering a grape varietal’s physical characteristics in your mental database of wine. You’ll do the same for aroma and flavor, which will help you identify faulty wines.

Bear in mind that color changes differently in white wines than they do in red wines as they age. If you see a deep gold in a white wine, for example, it can indicate either old age or oxidation (a flaw). Therefore, most young white wines are more straw yellow than gold. In contrast, a red wine loses color intensity over time and eventually takes on a brown tinge around the rim. A young red wine with a tint of brown likely indicates oxidation.

Take a few sniffs of the wine before swirling your glass, then again after swirling to help mix the wine with air. The difference can be jarring in some wines, which show off their best fragrance (or “nose”) after aeration. After smelling the wine, think what that comes to mind from the aroma. Your impressions can range from the obvious — such as berries — to the unexpected or bizarre — such as vegetables, herbs, spices, animal, damp basement or wet cardboard! Positive or negative, all impressions are open for discussion.

Before your first sip, categorize the texture and weight of the wine. Often referred to as “mouthfeel,” your evaluation of this characteristic leads to tip number two.

2. Think of milk weights
The common three milk categories of non-fat, low-fat and whole create three different weights on the palate: non-fat skim milk tends to have a thin, almost watery feel in the mouth while whole milk can feel rounder, creamy and heavy. Somewhere in the middle is low-fat milk with a medium-body feel.

Think of wine weight and body the same way: If it feels thin and crisp, call it light-bodied; Tastes heavy, like a blanket around the palate? Call it full-bodied. Most wines fall in the middle, appropriately identified as medium-bodied wines.

3. Remember that a big nose does not portend a big body
Even a wine that has little to offer aromatically can be bold. Some wines with a faint “nose” can be misleading and still pack a punch on the palate. Similarly, a wine that shows off with a bold, fragrant nose might wimp out with weak or mild impact in the mouth. Walk through all steps of the tasting process to understand the true personality of each wine.

4. Ignore the tasting notes
You’ll most likely be offered a sheet showing the list of wines pouring that day, which will include descriptions of each wine and will list all the aromas and flavors you’re supposed to smell and taste.

If you read the tasting notes before you taste, you’re taking a bit of fun out of the discovery process. Instead of being told what to taste, explore each wine and try to recognize the flavors. Ditch the winery’s tasting notes and make your own as you go.

5. Decide which wines to bring home
When you taste many wines, at the end of the day it may not be so easy to decide how much you like or dislike a wine.

A good way to be discriminating in your wine opinions is to make your judgment based upon whether you would recommend a particular wine to friends. Would you post your favorable impression online? Keeping this rule in mind will help you reserve the most impressionable wines for the winners of the day.

Tips For Starting A Wine Collection

Len in wine cellar

Many collectors grow their wine collections without purpose, buying the wines they know and love until they run out of space. Unfortunately, this approach may result in disappointment as lifestyles change and tastes evolve over the long term. A better approach is to create and follow a plan that will serve your wine lifestyle, answer unplanned demands and maintain a “steady-state” of replacement wines. Wine Bottles on a Storage Rack Whether you’re just beginning to build your cellar or have been into it for years, your wine collection is an investment in money and time and deserves attention in proportion to its costs. Develop an objective for building your collection and you will enjoy great satisfaction in the pursuit of its fulfillment. Here are some tips to making the most of the experience:

1. Secure your space
If you can devote a walk-in room for wine. Assuming that your space does not naturally maintain constant temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees, and humidity in the range of 55 to 70 percent, you must prepare it for proper storage temperature and humidity control, low light and functional storage racks. If you plan to invest in temperature-controlled wine cooler or wine cabinet, avoid installing your storage unit near a heat source such as direct sunlight, a furnace or heating vent. If the cooler comes with sliding shelves, make sure that the shelves can hold bottles of any shape without touching each other or scraping the label as you pull out the shelf. If the racks are stationary, make sure that each opening can accommodate not only standard-size Bordeaux bottles, but also increasingly popular large bottles like those used for Burgundy and Champagne.

2. Determine your spending strategy
Just as with every hobby, it’s easy to overspend on collecting wine. Set a monthly budget for wine expenses, which will actually make the pursuit of wine a fun challenge. Devote the bulk of your month’s budget to wines priced at a level comfortable to you, then invest the rest on a few extraordinary wines to keep long-term and on hand for a special occasion. A glance now and then at these gems raises the heartbeat in anticipation of the day when the singular greatness of one of them will pair perfectly with a memorable occasion.

3. Prioritize your preferences
Every wine lover has his or her favorite wines or wine styles. Decide on the types of wines that will dominate the collection and choose the top three. For example, if you love Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux reds and Meritage wines, determine what percentage of your cellar you want to dedicate to those styles. I suggest staying somewhere near 50 percent so you can leave room for a relatively balanced collection of styles.

4. Keep an open mind
You never know if or when your tastes will change. Don’t go too heavy on a current fad wine, which you may not like in a few years. You may try a new wine while visiting wine country or traveling the world and decide you’ve found your new favorite style. Make a point of purchasing at least two quality bottles of a new varietal every time you invest in a case of your favorite wine.

5. Consider your wine lifestyle, and think ahead
Consider your frequency of dining with wine, your preferred cuisines and your frequency of entertaining at home when choosing wines for your cellar. Also think about the people you entertain most often, and the kinds of wines they prefer. Perhaps more important, think about how your wine preferences change each season. Stock up on more white wines, Rosés and barbeque-friendly wines as warm weather approaches and more bold reds and Ports in preparation for winter.

6. Stock “safe” wines
Some wines are more universally liked and food-friendly than others. Examples include Bordeaux, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah.

7. Follow the rule of threes
Buying and storing a single bottle of a wine for your cellar can be both a tease and a risk. A single bottle will likely be saved for some special occasion, which may be too late in coming relative to the wine’s peak performance. And when you finally do open that special bottle, you may love it so much that you wish you had gotten more. On the other hand, if your only bottle is a badly corked wine, you will also wish you had another to open immediately. I suggest a minimum of three bottles per purchase.

8. Keep an eye on flash sales
Take advantage of the various flash wine sales websites to swoop up great wines at discount prices. But you have to act fast — they usually sell out the same day deals are announced by email.

9. Remember the sparklers
An unexpected celebration demands a sparkling wine, so don’t forget to keep a few bottles on hand for those surprise moments.

10. Review and replace monthly
Keep a written inventory of your wines and stay on top of replenishing your cellar. Make it a goal to keep it stocked at 80-100 percent capacity all the time.

Love This Chardonnay



I received a sample of Oro Bello Chardonnay, a brand new label from a new wine producer, Concept Wine Group, based in Napa Valley. If this first wine is an indication of what we can expect in their wines to come later, they definitely have a bright future ahead.

The Chardoannay is vintage 2013, balanced beautifully between lively, acid-rich citrus fruit and a light touch of French oak. But the oak component comes quietly after the fruity opening, creating a pleasant, round middle that surprises. Thankfully, the oak doesn’t mask the sweet inviting floral aromas on the nose. Perhaps best, the finish lacks the usual overly-sweet impact that comes from too many Chardonnays in this price range, but instead ends dry and refreshingly clean. This Chardonnay is not creamy and rich, and not a lean, crisp stainless-steel fermented wine either. I think it will please lovers of both  oaked and un-oaked Chardonnays  equally.

Oro Bello wine is a real value at just $19.00. Look for it to be available some time this year, once they get distribution in place. In the meantime, you can find out more at Concept Wine Group.

Nose, Legs, Body! Earns Third Book Award

First award given to Nose, Legs, Body! was the Benjamin Franklin Digital Silver Award, from the independent Book Publishers Association. Next, a QED “Seal of Approval” was earned from the Digital Book Awards. Today, I thank the Non-Fiction Authors Association for giving Nose, Legs, Body! a Gold Award!!

Nonfiction-Award-04.2.3-Gold-150Here are excerpts from three reviewers who evaluated Nose, Legs, Body! Know Wine Like The Back of Your Hand:

~The format of the book is advantageous to the non-wine drinker, because it basically answers questions asked by other wine novices. Each questions is answered with a brief summary, followed by a more in-depth and expanded definition. Answers are then followed by an application to action, or specific vintage recommendations to reinforce the concepts explained therein. Terms that may be new to people in the wine arena are helpfully bolded for easy reference, and the entire book is written in a very conversational style. Napolitano defines unfamiliar terms in a way that is open to understanding, making you feel that he truly wants people to learn about wine, not just show off his own wine knowledge. Especially helpful are the glossary and appendices, which make for quick reference when standing at the liquor store in front of hundreds of intimidating choices.

~Written in Q&A format, this isn’t a book that will collect dust on the shelf for want of time to read page after page. It will be utilized immediately, regardless of the level of knowledge of the reader; in fact, the chapters indicate varying wine personalities and affinity for wine. A quick peek at the label—the Table of Contents—does plenty to reveal what this book has to offer. From terminology to table service, it is bound to romance the wine lover and rekindle a relationship with those who prefer other spirits. Buy a couple and give it instead of a bottle next time you go to a party of someone who already has a corked collection.

~If you’re not a wine ‘expert’, Len Napolitano will make you one.  Even if you think you know all there is to know about the subject, this book will surprise you. Not a drinker myself, I thought “why would I want to read a book about wine?” Wrong. This little book is jam-packed with down-to-earth advice (“How important is the pairing of wine with food?”) to how to navigate the complex world of wine grapes and styles, how to make the most of a wine tasting, the proper way to open and serve sparkling wine (I had no idea!) and more. Written with humor and charm, this book would be a great addition to any wine lover’s book collection.

Thank you Non-Fiction Authors Association!

Also earned…

BFDA_Awards_Seals_SILVER_web copy       QED Seal


Taste California Travel Posts Review of Nose, Legs, Body!

–Reviewed by Dan Clarke http://tastecaliforniatravel.com

Cover Nose, Legs, Body!

It’s a shame that their perceived lack of expertise keeps so many folks from enjoying wine. While it’s true you can spend a lifetime in wine and not know everything about it, a basic grounding in the subject isn’t all that hard to come by.

Nose, Legs, Body! is a great introduction to the subject. It provides a comfort level that will blunt the apprehension a novice may feel and take him in directions that will more quickly lead to happy experiences. The author has given a nod to three general categories of wine observation (nose, legs and body) and incorporates another body part in his subtitle, “know wine like the back of your hand,” a recurring definition to the summaries concluding each chapter of the book. The lessons are simple (without talking down to the reader) and convey a lot of information in an easy-reading style. People in the wine business may forget how many bits of knowledge they take for granted that may flummox newcomers (how many people have purchased a bottle of wine that is said to show aspects of berries, plums, cedar and even “cigar boxes” and wondered, “but I thought wine was made from grapes?”). Len Napolitano is a wine writer and wine educator and has been a fixture on TV’s Fine Living Network. Like all good teachers, he respects his audience and would rather invite them to the party, than to intimidate them.

A quick read will do much to raise the confidence of fledgling wine fans and the glossary and appendices will be valuable for those questions that come up later.


Suggestions for Giving Wine as a Gift.


First, match the recipient’s lifestyle to a wine style; then choose a
wine from a small, maybe even a local, producer. Quality generally
increases with price, but differences become noticeable beyond a 20%
price spread.

With wine, generally you will get a higher quality as you pay
more, but the jump in price has to be significant, say, more than
20%. Prices differences within 20% of each other will probably
not make noticeable differences in quality. If you know little or
nothing about the gift recipient’s specific wine preferences, try
choosing a wine based on his or her personality or lifestyle. Here
are some ideas:

• Champagne and Sparkling Wines: Safe as a gift at any
time. They symbolize celebration, happiness, good times,
and also serve as a pre-dinner beverage. The original
sparkling wine, French Champagne, tends to be the most
expensive sparkling wine (major brands start at around
$25) while American sparkling wines made in the French
traditional method are more affordable—and many
are just as good. If you prefer to give a more affordable
imported sparkling wine, look for Italian Prosecco or
Spanish Cava—they usually come at lower prices than
French Champagne.

• Pinot Noir: An extremely nuanced wine, but also a
versatile wine that is appreciated by devotees of both red
and white wines. Pinot noir tends to cost a little more,
on average, than other varietal wines, so expect to spend
more than $25 if you want something of quality and true
varietal character. Choose a wine from a small AVA in
either California or Oregon, or from New Zealand.
• Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot: Two classic, medium-to
full-bodied, single-varietal wines appropriate for
someone who tends to be more traditional in their
food selections—perfect for the meat-eater. Choose a
sub-appellation of either Napa or Sonoma Valley in
California, from the Columbia Valley in Washington, or
the Coonwarra region of Australia. American Meritage
blends are also good options. Expect to pay $20 and up
for Meritage or single-varietal wines.

• Bordeaux or Burgundy, white or red: A good choice for
the scholar of world history, or lover of European culture.
Also, for someone who frequents fine restaurants in big
cities, entertains guests or clients, or dabbles in gourmet
cooking. (These are not wines to use in cooking!). Pricing,
on average, will be higher than domestic wines from
comparable varietals, but that won’t go unnoticed by the
recipient. Prepare yourself to pay at least $30 for a bottle.

• Chianti: Nothing says “amore” better than an Italian
red wine from the heart of Tuscany. Furthermore, if you
upgrade your selection to the category of Chianti Classico
(a small, sub-appellation of Chianti) the gift says you pay
attention to detail. For the very special person, however,
look for the Riserva term on the label—it indicates the
wine was aged in barrel longer than non-Riserva wine,
adding to its harmonious taste and romantic symbolism.
Always a great gift for anyone who loves Italy and Italian

Another gift-giving approach is to choose a wine that has
some personal meaning to you. Because today, remarkably,
every American lives in a wine-producing state, you can give a
wine from your state if your recipient is from out of state. And,
because most of these wineries are small, they typically won’t have
nationwide distribution, which reduces the chance the recipient
will already have the same wine. Or, give a wine from producers
you’ve personally visited. The wine has more meaning if a story
about your personal experience is behind it.