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More Paths to Take on Wine Road Barrel Tasting Starting this Friday

Straight from the barrel

It’s one of the surest – and most delicious – gambles you’ll ever make. Betting on wine futures is certainly a highlight of the Wine Road Northern Sonoma County’s 33rd annual Barrel Tasting that starts this Friday.

Yet there’s more to the event than just the opportunity to visit 147 wineries over the weekends of March 4-6 and 11-13, tasting and purchasing young wines. Indeed, that’s a huge draw - for these “futures,” more than 70 percent of the winery participants sell advance options on their young, unfinished wines, sold at a discount on the pretty sure bet that once they mature they’ll be wonderful.

But some of the lesser-sung activities are must-do’s, too. For example, after you buy your wine, do you know the best way to drink it? On Saturday, March 5, you can take a Riedel seminar and learn how the size and shape of your wine glass affects the aromas and flavors of the wines. It’s a new offering this year, and one well worth investigating.

Before you scoff, note that I took this class earlier, and was amazed at the difference. There are real reasons that Chardonnay does best in a Riedel Sommeliers Chardonnay glass. The bowl teases out complex aromas, while the narrow rim directs the flow of wine to the center of your tongue, allowing you to truly appreciate the balance of acidity and fruit flavors. Really – my host had me sip from the Chardonnay glass, then from a regular glass, and the difference was remarkable, as if I was experiencing entirely different wines.

Riedel Sommeliers Chardonnay Glass

The Riedel Sommeliers Pinot Noir/Burgundy wine glass reveals another profound discovery. The large bowl allows the bouquet to develop to the fullest, while the slightly flared top lip maximizes the fruit flavors by directing the wine to the front palate. This highlights the fruit, while keeping the acidity in balance. Truly – when I swirled and sniffed a Pinot in a regular glass, nearly half of the aromatics disappeared, and the wine tasted a touch sour in comparison.

Riedel Sommeliers Burgundy/Pinot Noir Glass

It all has to do with the way our tongues and noses are built, and unique characteristics of a wine varietal, my host explained. Since the correct glass can elevate aromas and define which part of the palate a wine hits, it only makes sense that how we drink can be as important as what we drink.

The seminar is limited to 100 people, and includes a four glass Riedel tasting set, the wine tasting seminar and one ticket to Barrel Tasting ($90 per person).

Another don’t miss gathering is The Crab is Back - A Russian River Valley Wine & Food Event being held Saturday, March 5, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds Grace Pavilion.

This is a highly popular annual fundraiser from the Russian River Valley Winegrowers, in conjunction with the Barrel Tasting, but it’s debuting this year with a new format and name (it previously was called The Crab and Fennel Fest). In an authentic taste of our coastal bounty, you can wrap up your day of wine tasting with a sumptuous cioppino dinner served with crisp salad and hot French bread.

Come for the crab, then stay for the live music and array of wine bars - tickets are $55 for festival seating and include a commemorative glass plus a two pours of Russian River Valley wine with your meal.

Of course, those wine futures still appeal, and you’ll be able to venture in to some sumptuous surprises throughout the two weekends. It’s a deal, too - enthusiasts can taste and then purchase the wine at a 25 to 30% savings, and receive their case lot 12-18 months later when the wine is bottled. This is actually your exclusive opportunity to score some of the vintages, since many of the wines sampled throughout the weekend are produced in such limited quantities that they are offered only as futures.

Ticket alert: Today is your last day to purchase advance tickets online for $20 per person, covering one entire weekend, including Friday (discount available February 28). After that, it’s still a bargain, however, with tickets available for purchase at individual wineries beginning on the Friday of each weekend for $30 per person.

Details: Wine Road Northern Sonoma County’s 33rd annual Barrel Tasting, March 4-6 and 11-13, wineroad.com.

Tip: While you’re sampling those futures, bet on your safe future, too, with a designated driving. Let Pure Luxury Transportation take the wheel, and chauffeuring you to the wineries in the comfort and style of a private Town Car or limo.

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