DOWNSHIFTERS' DIARY: Winding Down the Wine Road

It seems that the days of complimentary wine tasting will soon be a distant memory. Still, there are ways to get the most out of your vinicultural ventures.

During our ongoing road trip, we've visited wineries from the central coast of California to British Columbia. Sadly, it seems that most wineries are either unwilling or unable to offer complimentary wine tasting as they did in years past.

Certainly, there are advantages to this approach beyond the obvious financial benefits to the wineries. For one, it caused us be more deliberate and to ask ourselves whether we really have an interest in any given winery's offerings. For another, it tends to keep winebibbers in check; if you're paying for each tasting, you're less likely to overindulge than you would be if everything was free.

Our experiences ran the gamut, from those rare establishments that still offered free pours to one that charged $15 (Oregon's Adelsheim Winery) for a tasting of their everyday offerings. At least three (including the venerable Fess Parker winery) included a "souvenir" glass with the price of the tasting. Some would deduct the price of the tasting from any wine you chose to purchase, which I believe is the fairest approach overall.

In our observation, the standard price for those that charged was about $10 per tasting. However, all the wineries we visited that did charge allowed us to share tastings, which not only saved a few dollars but enabled us to visit more wineries before our taste buds gave out and everything started tasting the same.

Most of the tastings consisted of five to six wines, though many offered an additional sample or two of wines that weren't on the tasting menu, which made things more interesting and made the tasting fee seem like a better value.

The most noteworthy tasting we've experienced thus far (we're certainly not done!) was at Chateau Ste. Michelle, just outside Seattle. Chateau Ste. Michelle charges $10 for a basic tasting but offers tastings of its reserve wines for $15. What is noteworthy about this is that the reserve tasting is conducted at a table in the winery's library, in groups of limited size. This allows patrons to have some meaningful interaction with the host/pourer, rather that the stock speech one can get when bellying up to the tasting bar during busy times ("This is only the third year we've made this particular varietal, but it did win a gold medal last year at Paso Robles...")

So choose carefully, drink responsibly, and enjoy. Salut!

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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