Beginning a few weeks after harvest is completed and often extending well into spring, many wineries will offer “barrel tasting” as part of their tour programs.
In some appellations where the wineries are organized for marketing purposes, entire festivals are built around barrel tasting.
Even though the phrase sounds as if you might be putting chunks of wood in your mouth, barrel tasting actually involves tasting wine drawn from a barrel prior to bottling. While it’s possible to do this at any stage of the aging process, most organized barrel tastings for visitors focus on newly made wine.
Rarely does young wine taste the same as it will when it’s ready to be bottled and released to the public. So what’s the point of barrel tasting?
It can provide clues not only about a specific wine, but on a geographic area’s entire vintage.
What should one look for in a new wine drawn from a barrel?
- Complexity. Ideally, no single flavor will dominate. Fruit impressions generally will be right “up front,” but you also should be able to notice nuances from other influences, such as malolactic fermentation (when used), the vineyard in which the grapes were grown and, of course, any notes “thrown” by the barrels.
- Balance. How well do all of these aroma and flavor notes meld? Are they meshing into a nicely balanced beverage, or do they seem to stand alone as individual “parts”? If the latter is the case, don’t despair. Young wines, in particular, can take time to come together.
- The finish. Once you’ve swallowed the barrel sample of wine, pay attention to the length of its finish. A long finish can be indicative of a well-structured wine that may be a candidate for mid- to long-term aging. A relatively short finish could mean that the wine should be enjoyed in its youth, not long after its release.
Now that you know what it’s all about, why not make plans to do some barrel tasting this year? Information on three regional barrel tasting events already has been released:
- 35th annual Northern Sonoma County Wine Road Barrel Tasting. March 1-3 and 8-10.
- Livermore Valley Wine Country Barrel Tasting Weekend 2013. March 23-24.
- San Luis Obispo Vintners Assn. Roll Out the Barrels 2013. June 20-23.