Wine Spectrum’s Where to Taste in Wine Country Primer

sonoma county vineyard

Wine country is a beautiful destination for food and wine lovers. More wineries are opening up and ready to welcome you back to our beloved wine country. With so many wineries it’s challenging to know which ones to visit. Our team lives and breaths wine country—some of us taste at wineries every weekend! Here are some great winery recommendations as well as some helpful tips to make your wine country experience a great one.

When planning your wine country trip, take into consideration the type of wines you enjoy. If the answer is Cabernet—schedule time in Napa Valley where Cabernet is king. Cult Cabernets, lavish wineries and Michelin-rated restaurants are the norm in Napa. For a different perspective, Sonoma County is more laid back and home to diverse grape varietals and wine styles including: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet, Italian Blends, Rhone Blends and Sparkling Wines. Sonoma County wineries have something for every taste. We’ve included wineries that pour some of our favorite wines.

couple tasting wine
WSI’s Lisa Rhorer and husband Kevin doing some “research” in wine country.

Sonoma County Wineries:

  • Aperture Cellars: chic, minimalistic style tasting room in Healdsburg known for their small lot, balanced wines featuring Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux-style blends and Cabernet Sauvignon. 
  • Belden Barns: Unique and charming tasting experience offering a spectrum of wines from a light and refreshing Sparkling Blanc de Noirs to an unfiltered, Italian-style Sauvignon Blanc to a classic, estate-grown Pinot Noir. 
  • Bydand Wines: Enjoy limited-production, classic Bordeaux-style wines, Russian River Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that are delicious and well-balanced. Bydand’s tasting room is located in Grand Cru Customer Crush (in Windsor). 
  • Hartford Family: specializes in single-vineyard Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and old vine Zinfandel. Their wines are elegant and well balanced. 
  • Martinelli Winery: One of the most established wine producing families in Russian River Valley. Martinelli produces world-class Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay from their Estate Vineyards. 

Napa Valley Wineries

  • Biale Vineyards: home of ‘Black Chicken’ Zinfandel, a fan favorite, Biale is also a premier producer of Petite Sirah. 
  • Chappellet: from 100 pt winemaker Philip Titus—extraordinary Cabernet from Pritchard Hill. 
  • Favia: Husband and wife duo (Andy Erickson and Annie Favia) formerly of Screaming Eagle create soulful, incredible wines including Cabernet and Chardonnay. 
  • Mending Wall: 100 pt winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown produces delicious Cabernets, Red Blends and Petite Sirah. 
  • Titus Vineyards: 100 pt winemaker Phillip Titus’s family winery producing limited-production Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel. 
  • Turnbull: limited-production Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from acclaimed estate vineyards sites. 

Before Your Trip 

driving in wine country

  • Napa Valley and Sonoma County may look close in proximity on a map, but they’re not. A mountain range separates them (with long, single lane roads). Plan accordingly, in most cases; travel time between the two is an hour. 
  • Consistent cellphone signal can be a challenge in some areas (especially on mountain roads). Plan accordingly. 
  • Set a limit of tasting at 3 wineries per day. Have a designated driver and drink responsibly.
  • Schedule a wine tasting appointment. Ensure you visit the winery’s website or call them to schedule an appointment. Believe it or not, the best time to taste wine is in the morning, when your senses and taste buds aren’t overwhelmed (secure a 10:00am appointment).

During Your Trip 

  • Remember to eat and keep your meals on the lighter side as to not overwhelm your senses.
  • Stay hydrated-drink water frequently. 
  • Avoid wearing white clothes. Wearing white clothes while wine tasting attracts wine stains. 
  • Bring cash to tip your tasting room host. Reward good service and leave a tip. Most wineries don’t have a tip line on their credit card receipt. Avoid an embarrassing situation. 
  • Avoid wearing perfume/cologne the day of your wine tasting. Do as wine professionals do, avoid wearing scents as they will often ruin a wine tasting experience.
  • Don’t keep your wine in the car on a hot day. Wine should be kept at 55–57 degrees to maintain its quality. 
  • Avoid brushing your teeth, smoking, drinking coffee or eating something that leaves a bad taste in your mouth before wine tasting. It will adversely effect how the wine tastes in your mouth. Eat a cracker or piece of bread to neutralize your taste buds.

Have the Gift of Wine Waiting for You at Home

Wine Country Tasting Set
We’ve done the work. Bring home this curated Wine Country Tasting Set and experience the best of Napa and Sonoma.

We’ve curated wine country collections for you to enjoy at home. Our 30 years in the industry provides us with unique access to some great wines. Let’s face it, even after years of wine tasting, there are some hidden gems yet to discover. We’ve got you covered!

FAQ’s

  • Should I join a wine club? If you enjoy the wine and it’s highly allocated or hard to find in your area…go for it. Keep in mind, the common mistake tourists make after “drinking in wine country” is to sign up for multiple wine clubs.
  • How much do I tip the tasting room host? 20% is the new 15%, so plan accordingly and bring cash. Some tasting rooms don’t provide a tip line on the credit card receipt.
  • Is the cost of wine cheaper if I buy it directly from the winery? Not always. Some wineries have wide distribution and price points vary. Keep on the look out for wines that are only available at the winery and not distributed.

Summary

Exploring wine country can be educational, relaxing and fun. We hope you have some great wine tasting experiences!

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