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A Game Plan for Hot-Weather Wine Tasting

Last Wednesday, as California’s inland temperatures crawled toward the 100-degree mark, I joined some colleagues on a jaunt to the Napa Valley. Despite dry, smoke-hazed air from all of the state’s wildfires, and despite a sun so big and bright it’d scared away all the clouds, I was not going to let anything like a little heatstroke deter me from doing the number-one thing people come to the Napa Valley to do: savor that exalted wine.

The day turned out to be a total treat and the heat barely registered, thanks to the following tips:

Photo courtesy of IgoUgo member Sierra.

Do the Double-Fist
Repeat after me: wine in one hand, water in the other. If there is one thing I can’t stress enough it’s the importance of drinking lots of water. When you’re tasting wines in the heat, there’s not only a dehydration factor, but the mix of all the varieties of grapes and wine types can cause a headache if you’re not careful. At Hall Winery, for example, we started with the light wines and made our way into the heavier reds—all delicious—and the staff was wonderful about making sure there was always enough water on the table for everyone.

Dress Light and Loose
For obvious reasons, when it’s in triple digits, you want to dress lightly, but why loose? That’s because if you’re in Napa, you better come hungry and with an adjustable belt. Take a certain very decadent grilled cheese I ate at The Meritage Resort. This one came on thick olive bread and was filled with a rich and tangy goat cheese that will make me never look the same way at the standard American-cheese diner sandwich again. Later, we stopped at Viansa’s Italian marketplace, where I had to make room to sample everything, from cilantro-pumpkinseed pesto on crackers to fig-date balsamic vinegar on bread.

Try Shutting Your Eyes
I know this sounds strange, but bear with me… After we entered into the cool Trinitas Tasting Room (which is located in the Meritage’s wine cave—the only wine cave to boast its own spa!), the sommelier asked us all to take a sip of wine, then close our eyes and think of the first taste that popped into our heads. To preface, he told us the story of a woman who had tried this trick and then shouted out, “it tastes like Saturday morning!” When I tried the same wine, a 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, I closed my eyes, took a sip, and what did I get? Refreshing cantaloupe!

Go Keyless
If you plan on tasting the wine, then please, please, please don’t drive. Really, if you think you’re just going to taste it and then politely spit it out into the ever-present “spit jug,” I admire the thought–but, honestly, I’ve never seen anyone actually use the spit jug (have you?). Plus, the valley and vineyard views are something you want to be able to relax and enjoy. Designate a driver, hire a chauffer, ride the Wine Train or charter a bus, like we did. We went with Gray Line so none of us had to get behind the wheel, and the bus was comfortable and air-conditioned.

Any other tips? Have fun, stay cool, and happy wine tasting, everyone!

rachel_berg

My name: Rachel Berg.

Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.

View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.

Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.

Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.

Comments

Cynthia
Reply

What fun. Are there any wineries that are worth visiting in the Mid Atlantic States? Or do I need to take a trip to CA to have a true wine tasting experience?

Rachel
Reply

Good question, Cynthia. Although California gets the most acclaim, there are wineries in almost every state, and some are quite good. Who knew? To look up a winery near you, this website is a good source: http://www.weekendwinery.com

Anne & May
Reply

I always say that I knew I could live out here the moment I saw the wine country.

It’s stunning…and delicious!

And what a great idea about the Gray Line bus! We always draw straws to see who will be the designated and that’s no fun.

April
Reply

There are lots of very good wineries in Virginia (http://www.virginiawines.org/) you can combine the trip through wine country there with a trip to DC. One of our favs when we lived in the area was Willowcroft.
As for the spit jug, I always use it if I am going to be tasting at several vineyards. Makes for a much more pleasant experience and you can actually REMEMBER what you tasted! ;-)

Charlie
Reply

Rachel, was this a work event!? The benefits of the West Coast…

Great advice. It only takes one heat-accelerated hangover to make you heed these tips.

Cheers!

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