A few weeks ago, I mentioned to some friends that I was looking forward to the Spring barrel tastings at the local wineries. More than one person asked me what was the point of barrel tastings, how did they work, and why would one want to do a barrel tasting as opposed to just stopping by the winery for a regular tasting.
So, before I embark on my barrel tasting adventures, I thought it worth taking a few moments and try my hand at “Barrel Tasting 101” for those unfamiliar with the term, or who, like me, are only just beginning your barrel tasting adventures.
At its most literal, a barrel tasting is exactly what the name implies – a tasting of wine directly from the barrel. These wines are usually young, and while potable will often require additional aging and/or back-sweetening before they are ready for bottling Depending on the wine and the winery, the product may be months, and sometimes even years, away from being ready for bottling.
With a barrel tasting you get straight to the essence of the grape – at its heart, what is the wine really all about? What are the characteristics, flavors, and aromas at the center of the wine? In some instances the wine may be much less interesting when tasted directly from the barrel before the the wine is “finished.” In other cases, a barrel-tasting may reveal a more complex wine than originally anticipated. Winemakers will, by necessity, taste their wines throughout the aging process so they can track the wine’s character and progress and make adjustments as necessary.
For the rest of us, wineries hold special Barrel Tasting events which they open to the public. Most wineries hold their barrel tastings in the Spring, although some of the larger wineries, particularly in California, will offer special barrel tastings to their wine club members several times a year.
For the wineries, Barrel Tastings present an opportunity for them to showcase their wines and wineries in a new way and introduce new vintages and wines both to serious collectors and wine afficianados as well as the general public. The event is usually hosted in the barrel-aging room, and most also include a tour of the facilities and vineyards. A special tasting menu is created, which sometimes will include back-to-back tastings of the barrel-wine and the bottled-wine so participants can explore the difference, and food and cheeses are often served to accompany the wines.
You don’t need to be a wine connoisseur to enjoy a barrel tasting, and in fact, it can be a great way to develop your palate and learn about wines. You also don’t have to spend a lot of money or plan a trip to California. Barrel Tasting events usually run about $20 per person, and wineries abound all across America ~ a quick Google search for “barrel tastings” yielded 110,000 results from all over the country – the first five hits included Sonoma County, California; Fredericksburg, VA; and Long Island Wine Country, New York. A Connecticut winery even made the first 10 results on my search! If you’re in the Northeast and interested in Connecticut wineries and barrel tastings, check out the Connecticut region page on Snooth.com; I maintain a calendar of barrel tastings and other local winery events there.
Finally, Barrel Tastings can be a great excuse to get out on the road on a weekend afternoon and discover some great wines and wineries right in your own backyard.