Going to a barrel tasting
Spring is a good time for a barrel tasting. The weather is pleasant, and last year’s grapes have long since gone into the barrel. With just a taste of the 2015 Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon in its earliest state, a connoisseur can make a good guess as to what sort of quality the wine will begin to show in years to come.
A barrel tasting is a lot like other wine tastings, but all the wines come straight from the barrel. Often, at barrel tastings, wine futures are sold at a discount. A wine future is much like any other futures contract — you agree to buy a certain amount of wine, once it has been bottled. By committing yourself to the purchase ahead of time, you save money on the eventual purchase price.
Barrel tastings don’t necessarily involve food to go with the wine, which means (especially if there isn’t a spittoon handy) you’ll want to bring a designated driver along, especially if you’re going to several barrel tastings. You also won’t want to taste too many wines. If in doubt, pick something you’ve never had before — the point of a barrel tasting is to make new discoveries. As at any wine tasting, don’t wear any strong-smelling perfume or cologne, and remember that this isn’t a bar.
Although 90 percent of wine (according to some estimates) is intended to be drunk within a year of production, many of the most respected wines need at least a few years in the barrel. Oak barrels have been used to store wine since the time of the Roman Empire, replacing the old clay amphorae used by the ancient Greeks. Vanillin and other trace compounds naturally present in oak gradually leach into the wine over the years, mellowing its flavor and adding layers of complexity. Some wines benefit from this more than others, particularly red wines with plenty of acidity and tannins but still some fruitiness, and white wines that are not too strong and also have high acidity.
Barrel tastings vineyard near St. Helena
Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in Napa Valley, a 10-minute drive from downtown St. Helena, holds tastings in its barrel caves, where current releases and library wines may be sampled and visitors can learn all about the process of making and storing the wine. Tastings are $65, but one tasting fee can be waived by joining their wine club or making a $100 purchase. The annual Spring Fling is in May.
Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards produces world-class wines at affordable prices. The vineyard is a 40-acre estate just south of Howell Mountain, and has been owned and operated by the Anderson family since 1983. Anderson’s wines are sold online and in five locations in Napa Valley, and many other locations nationwide.