The process of wine becoming wine

Barrel tasting with a wine club

Barrel tastings in St. Helena, CA

Many wine clubs hold barrel tastings, where you can try partially aged wine. The fermentation itself is already complete, and was done in a vat. Then the wine was transferred to a barrel for the aging process. In the case of red wine, the wine turns browner with age. The aroma becomes less fresh, and the bitterness of phenols is replaced by a more mellow flavor. The oak of the barrels secretes vanillin into the wine, adding to its complexity.

Barrel tastings near St. Helena

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in Napa Valley, a 10-minute drive from downtown St. Helena, holds tastings in its barrel caves, where current releases and library wines may be sampled. Tastings are $65, but one tasting fee can be waived by joining their wine club or making a $100 purchase.

Try a recent Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a complex wine grown from numerous clonal varieties of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. An older Estate Reserve Cab, 2007, was formed by a cold and dry early and middle year, with a sudden burst of heat around Labor Day that helped the grapes produce more sugars. The result was a dark ruby red wine with an aroma of dark chocolate, roses and cigar box. Its flavor is balanced between fruit, oak and acid, with sweet tannins and hints of coffee and chocolate cake. Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards has been owned and operated by the Anderson family since 1983. Anderson’s wines are sold online and in five locations in Napa Valley, and many other locations nationwide.

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Going to a barrel tasting

Wine club barrel tasting

Barrel tasting in St. Helena, CA

One of the events that every true wine enthusiast wants to be invited to is a barrel tasting in Napa Valley. Wine clubs like the Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards wine club often hold these events. When you’re going to a barrel tasting, as at other tastings, don’t wear strong-smelling perfume or cologne. Don’t drink too much, especially if you’re visiting more than one vineyard and they aren’t serving food with the wine. A designated driver might also be a good idea. When in doubt, try something you’ve never had.

Barrel tastings at a St. Helena vineyard

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in Napa Valley, a 10-minute drive from downtown St. Helena, holds tastings in its barrel caves. Tastings are $65, but you can waive one tasting fee by joining their wine club or making a $100 purchase. One library wine you might try at an Anderson’s Conn Valley wine tasting is the 2009 Èloge. This dark ruby red wine, born from a particularly mild year, has a deep, full, layered aroma of cedar, cigar box and crème de cassis, with hints of red currant, violets, spice and toast. Its flavor is deep, full and layered, tasting of concentrated dark fruit, spice and mocha.

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards is a 40-acre estate just south of Howell Mountain, and has been owned and operated by the Anderson family since 1983. Anderson’s wines are sold online and in five locations in Napa Valley, and many other locations nationwide. Club members save $25 on the ’12 Èloge. Join today.

Time running out for a barrel tasting

Barrel tastings in St. Helena, CAWine club barrel tastings

Wine clubs often hold barrel tastings in the spring or summer. If you want to go to one, start planning now. The difference between a St. Helena barrel tasting and a regular wine tasting is that the wines all come straight from the barrel. Here you can try last year’s Cab at its earliest stage, long before they put it in the bottle. You might also get the chance to buy a wine future. Two rules of wine-tasting etiquette are not to drink too much (and try to eat a little something) and to behave as if you’re at an upscale cocktail party, not a bar.

Barrel tastings at a vineyard near St. Helena

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in Napa Valley, a 10-minute drive from downtown St. Helena, holds tastings in its barrel caves, where current releases and library wines may be sampled and visitors can learn all about the process of making and storing the wine. Tastings are $65, but one tasting fee can be waived by joining their wine club or making a $100 purchase. One wine you might want to try is the Right Bank. Their first Right Bank, the dark ruby 2008, has an aroma rich with mocha, cedar, blackberries, black pepper and plums and a rich, full palate of chocolate, ripe raspberries and crushed rocks integrated with sweet tannins. It also has an excellent texture and a silky finish that lingers on the palate for several minutes. Try their latest Right Bank today.

Trying old wines before they’re old

Wines growing older

Barrel tasting - St. Helena, CA

We think of wine as something that needs to age, although it’s estimated that 90 percent of wine is made to be drunk within a year. With a few exceptions, such as Nouveau wines, the most famous wines need a few years in the barrel. The wine changes with age, and the oak of the barrels secretes flavors into it. Red wines rich in acidity and tannins, and white wines with high acidity, are the most likely to benefit from this process.

Wine club barrel tasting

Barrel tasting is an opportunity to try the most recent vintages, try to figure out what will be worth the most and buy futures at a discount. Sometimes, many wineries in a wine-growing area schedule their barrel tastings to one weekend-long regional event. Many wine clubs also hold barrel tastings.

Barrel tastings vineyard near St. Helena

Tastings at Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in Napa Valley, a 10-minute drive from downtown St. Helena, are $65, but one tasting fee can be waived by joining their wine club or making a $100 purchase. Try a recent Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. An older Estate Reserve Cab, 2007, was formed by a cold and dry early and middle year, with a sudden burst of heat around Labor Day that helped the grapes produce more sugars. The result was a dark ruby red wine with an aroma of dark chocolate, roses and cigar box. Its flavor is balanced between fruit, oak and acid, with sweet tannins and hints of cedar and coffee.

Barrel tastings of St. Helena

Wine Club

Barrel tasting - St. Helena, CA

Wine clubs like the Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards wine club are known for barrel tastings, where wines are tasted right out of the barrel. At these events, you can try last year’s vintages at their earliest stage and try to make a guess as to how good they will be when they’re ready to be sold.

At barrel tastings, you can buy wine futures at a discount. That is, you agree beforehand to buy a certain number of bottles of wine once the wine has been bottled, and save money on the eventual purchase price. Barrel tastings are usually held in the spring or summer, when the weather is good and long before the vineyard is busy with this year’s harvest.

Barrel tastings at a vineyard near St. Helena

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in Napa Valley, a 10-minute drive from downtown St. Helena, holds tastings in its barrel caves, where current releases and library wines may be sampled. Tastings are $65, but one tasting fee can be waived by joining their wine club or making a $100 purchase.

One wine you might want to try Anderson’s Conn Valley is the Èloge. The most recent bottled vintage, the 2011 Èloge, is an elegant wine with an aroma and taste of black cherry, cigar box and violet perfume, and a long and satisfying finish. The ’11 Èloge is destined to become one of the rarer vintages, because low temperatures and storms reduced that year’s yield. There’s no better time to buy a bottle than right now.

Tomorrow’s wines today

Going to a barrel tasting

Barrel tasting - St. Helena, CA

In spring, the weather is nice, and last year’s grapes have long since gone into the barrel. This makes it a great time for a barrel tasting, which is like other wine tastings, except all the wines come straight from the barrel. Often, at barrel tastings, wine futures are sold at a discount. A wine future is much like any other futures contract — you agree to buy a certain amount of wine, once it has been bottled. By committing yourself to the purchase ahead of time, you save money on the eventual purchase price.

Barrel tastings don’t necessarily involve food to go with the wine, which means (especially if no one has provided a spittoon) you’ll want to bring a designated driver along. This is even more important if you’re going to several barrel tastings. You also won’t want to taste too many wines. If in doubt, pick something you’ve never had before — the whole point is to discover something new. As at any wine tasting, don’t wear any strong-smelling perfume or cologne, and remember that this isn’t a bar.

Barrel tastings vineyard near St. Helena

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in Napa Valley, a 10-minute drive from downtown St. Helena, holds tastings in its barrel caves, where current releases and library wines may be sampled and visitors can learn all about the process of making and storing the wine. Tastings are $65, but one tasting fee can be waived by joining their wine club or making a $100 purchase. The annual Spring Fling is in May.