Friday, September 09, 2011

A Strategy for Wine Tasting: Map It Out!

Some of my readers may not know that I have been a regular contributor to Walla Walla Lifestyles, a magazine about the valley's people, wine and food. It is distributed 11 times a year through subscription with the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. The following article is from the August 2011 issue. Please note: at the time the original article was written, edited and set for publishing, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance's new Mobile Wine Tour had not been launched.

If you are a visitor to the Walla Walla Valley, or even a local showing your wine-loving friends around, you want to make the most of your time visiting the wineries. As I have always said, “So many Walla Walla wines, so little time.”

First of all, getting the most out of your wine touring means it’s okay not to visit all of the wineries in the Valley in a one- or two-day visit. You can always return to Walla Walla another time, right? We would love for you to come back. Tasting room assistants may have to force a smile at the customer who stumbles in at closing time and says loudly, often with pride, “Woo-hoo! Yours is the 19th winery we have visited today!”

I taste wine for a living and have judged wines at various competitions. What I can tell you about my palate is that after many wines, it becomes fatigued. I need to care for it by pacing myself, spitting and keeping hydrated. I even munch on special foods like unsalted crackers, bread and raw button mushrooms (which soak up the wine like a sponge) to keep my palate “refreshed.” Really, it is okay to visit only four to six wineries in a day.

Visiting with the winery’s staff, tasting the wines, enjoying the architecture and ambiance of a winery and the often-glorious views of the foothills and the vineyards are all part of the wine-touring experience.

Calm down. It’s your day off. Wine tasting is not a college frat party. It is about tasting the results of the art, science and craft of the winemaker and understanding the area’s terroir.

To get the most out of your wine touring, organize and strategize ahead of time.

First of all, you will need a list of the wineries that are open to the public. There are various publications in Walla Walla to assist you. Tourism Walla Walla, The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, Walla Walla Lifestyles and the Walla Walla Wine Guide have maps available and information on line you can print out.

Many of the wineries, as well as some of the downtown tourist agencies, will have the same complimentary maps and guides to Walla Walla wineries available.

Are you more likely to access information via your computer or smartphone? Website wallawallawineguide.com has printable wine maps and also has a downloadable application for your Android phone. Steve Roberts, author of “Wine Trails of Walla Walla,” offers a companion application through iTunes for your iPhone and iPad.

So, you have your list — now what?

Strategize! Luckily, there are specific areas around the Valley where there are clusters of wineries. Don’t spend time going from one end of the Valley to the other. Take a morning, afternoon or a full day, and concentrate on just one area.

The five key areas are: Downtown, Eastside/Airport, Westside, Southside and Oregon. Take advantage of your time and miles if you are coming east into Walla Walla via Highway 12. For example, before you check into your accommodations, you can visit a few of the Westside wineries, located on that old highway: Bunchgrass, Cougar Crest, Glencorrie, Grantwood, L’Ecole N° 41, Lowden Hills, Reininger, Skylite Cellars, Three Rivers, Waterbrook and Woodward Canyon. Be sure to check their hours to make the most of your time. You can also do the same if you are coming into town from the east or traveling north through Oregon — there are numerous wineries located off those routes.

See? There ya go. You’ve checked a few wineries off our list before you’ve even hit downtown, or you can visit them on your way out of town. Get the most out of your Walla Walla wine-tasting experience without having a fuzzy palate or fuzzy memories — the result of the “19 wineries we visited this morning!” Relax and make some memories — that is what wine tasting is all about.

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