How to Plan Your Wine Tasting Adventure

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Wine Country

We’re two Central Coast locals who appreciate wine – and the land, people, and story behind every bottle. Come along and let’s explore all that 805 Wine Country along California’s Central Coast has to offer.

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Are you just starting to explore the world of wine? Are you a veteran wine lover, or perhaps you’ve taken wine education coursework from WSET or Guild of Sommeliers? Are you somewhere in between?

No matter where you are on your journey of wine appreciation, going wine tasting is a fun way to spend a day.

A few reasons why you will love wine tasting:

  • #1 Get to drink some good wine!
  • Spending a day in pretty countryside
  • Relaxing with friends
  • Learning more about wine in general
  • Learning more about wine in general
  • Trying a new wine or winery

Myth buster: You don’t need to know anything about wine to enjoy going wine tasting. It’s all about exploring, relaxing, and enjoying the experience.

In Our Wine Tasting Guide

There are so many places to go wine tasting in the United States. In fact, wine is made in all 50 states! From the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, known for its white wines, to the many wine regions throughout California (the state produces nearly 90% of total wine production in the U.S.), you can find local wineries to explore and enjoy.

Read on to learn about:

No matter where you choose to go wine tasting, this guide will help you plan a fun, safe, and totally enjoyable wine-tasting experience.

While we include specific tips for going wine tasting in California’s Central Coast, you can use this guide to plan your wine tasting adventure anywhere.

Wine Tasting on the Central Coast: What To Expect

The Central Coast of California — tucked midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco — is home to some of California’s best wines and beautiful winemaking country.

From the major vineyard areas from Paso Robles in the north to Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande in the south, you’ll find more than 400 wineries. From large-scale producers to true Garagiste wineries making just a few hundred cases (or less) a year, the Central Coast is your winetasting mecca.

While many of the wines in 805 Wine Country (which is named for the 805 area code of the region) are exceptional, what you won’t normally find are crowds, pretense, and the feeling of being just another number to process through the tasting room.

Here, you can relax and enjoy your wine-tasting outing.

Why Go Wine Tasting?

Such a simple question can have many different answers. And they’re all correct.

  • Discover what wine tasting is all about
  • Learn more about wine in general
  • Explore a specific wine area (California’s Central Coast includes Edna Valley, Paso Robles 46 West, Paso Robles 46 East, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Lompoc, Estrella District, etc.)
  • Learn more about a certain region of winemaking (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, etc.)
  • Try different grape varieties (how about Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebiollo, Picpoul, Cinsault, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Tannat, Pinot Blanc, etc.)
  • Taste the differences in styles of wine (Rhone blend versus Bordeaux blend, for example)
  • Taste the same wine made in different wineries and discover how they’re unique

And perhaps the most rewarding reason of all?

A day in the country, relaxing with a glass of wine and a friend or two.

Whatever your reason, the next steps will take you from planning to tasting great wine.

Elizabeth Thompson shares their Rose with her artwork

How to Choose the Right Wineries for You

Wine = good. Right? We think so and we bet you do (if not you may be in the wrong article), too!

So, you can just head out to wine country and start tasting! No problem there.

But your time is precious. Nowadays, reservations are either required or recommended; without one, you might not be able to stop in to a winery. And your fun day dissolves into sadness.

Instead, spending a little time planning ahead and mapping out your day can help elevate your experience and help you get the most out of your wine-tasting outing.

Here are our tips and simple ideas to:

  • pick your wineries
    pick your wineries
  • get prepared
    get prepared
  • go wine tasting responsibly while having fun
    go wine tasting responsibly while having fun

Pick Your Wineries

We recommend picking three — or maybe four (for those ambitious wine tasters) — wineries to visit in one day.

To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in “Jurassic Park,” just because we CAN visit 8 wineries in one day may not mean we SHOULD.

If nothing else, visiting so many wineries can blur the unique experience that each winery wants to offer you. Not to mention how you may feel at the end of the day. Or the next morning. You know….

Here are our tips on choosing which wineries you want to visit.

Research. Most wine-tasting areas have an association that provides maps, listings of local wineries, reviews, and more information. Start with these to get an overall idea of what’s available and the lay of the land.

What Sounds Good? As you explore the options, ask yourself what wines sound the most tempting? Do you love reds? Are you partial to whites? Do you love a certain grape variety? Do you want a certain ambience or amenities? Are you feeling adventurous?

Here are some suggestions to get your juices flowing.

Same general style or region:

  • Bordeaux-style wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, with smaller portions of Malbec and Petit Verdot for reds; Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon for whites
  • Rhone-style wines, including Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre (this blend is often called GSM) for reds; Viognier and Roussanne for whites
  • Spanish wines: Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Monastrell for reds; Albariño and Verdejo for whites
  • Sparkling wines: Pet Nat, méthode classique, charmat (our Bubbly article has some Central Coast sparkling wines you’ll want to try)

Same (grape) variety:

  • Zinfandel
    Zinfandel
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
    Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Chardonnay
    Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
    Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
    Cabernet Franc

Certain feeling or amenities:

  • Casual
  • Friendly
  • Family Owned
  • Luxurious
  • Exclusive
  • Amazing view
  • On-site dining
  • Unique

Tip: If you’ve been wine tasting before in a certain area, we recommend picking one winery you know and enjoy, plus a couple that you haven’t tried yet.

Location, Location! Cut Your Driving Time. Some wine regions, like Paso Robles, Napa, and Sonoma, are vast both in acreage and number of wineries (hundreds to choose from!). To get the most out of your wine-tasting day, try to pick wineries in the same general area. Otherwise, you can spend 45 minutes driving from one winery to another – and that just cuts into your wine-tasting time.

How to Plan Your Wine Tasting Day

Once you’ve narrowed down the wineries you want to visit, here are a few tips.

Make reservations. To avoid disappointment, plan ahead and make a reservation. Most wineries have an online booking system on their website. If the day you want to visit looks full, call the winery — they may be able to get you in.
While most wineries in 805 Wine Country didn’t used to require reservations (this has been a common practice in Napa and Sonoma), this change to reservations required is likely to stay. It helps wineries plan, staff appropriately, and ensure the quality experience they want to provide.

  • Got a group? Generally speaking, groups of six or more will need a reservation. Be aware that some wineries limit group size. If you’re going wine tasting with a tour or hired driver, know who is taking care of the reservations.

Bring provisions. A day of wine tasting is strenuous 🙂 and you’ll have more fun if you plan ahead and bring some essentials.

  • Bring water. Staying hydrated goes a long way in having a fun day. A common rule of thumb is to drink 8 oz. of water for every 5 oz. glass of wine you enjoy during your tasting day. Plus, summer temperatures at wineries can get toasty. Dehydration can lead to heat-related illness. We recommend drinking water before and after each tasting, and on the drive between wineries.
  • Bring food. Pack a picnic or bring portable food. Many wineries, unless they have an onsite restaurant, allow you to bring your own food. You can often sit in their courtyard or patio and spread out a picnic while enjoying a glass or bottle of their wine. Not only is it fun to nosh on cheese, nuts, salami, crackers and other fare, eating will also help you metabolize the wines you’re tasting.
  • Bring sunscreen. Tasting outdoors is part of the fun and wearing sunscreen will ensure your face isn’t as red as that Bordeaux blend by the end of the day.
  • Bring layers. While some wine regions can be warm (or downright hot) in the summer, the evenings can cool down after the sun sets. On the Central Coast, Paso Robles is the warmest area, while coastal areas like Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley, Avila Beach, and Cambria can have a chilly ocean breeze even in the height of summer.
  • Bring a cooler and ice packs. If you buy any bottles of wine to take with you, you’ll want to keep them cool. Car interiors can get blazing hot in the summer, and the heat can damage your wine. This will make both you and your wine sad (eight out of nine wine bottles said they would be sad being left in a warm car, some unknown survey).

Be responsible. Wine tasting is such a fun way to spend a day. It’s not worth the risk of turning a fun day into a nightmare with an accident, a DUI, or worse.

  • Hire a driver or wine tour operator. If you have a larger group, or you all want to go tasting, look into booking a wine tour bus or hiring a driver for the day. Some tours are operated by Sommeliers (wine stewards with advanced training) or drivers with knowledge of the wine industry and the area.
  • Designate a driver. If you have a small group of people, decide who will be your DD. Then lavish them with gifts, IOUs, lunch, and trinkets.

Don’t be Afraid to Spit. Yes, spit. This practice is legit, and the most renowned wine experts go wine tasting and spit. After all, the joy of wine tasting is smelling and tasting the nuances of each wine, not getting wasted.

Now that you’ve planned your wine tasting outing, it’s time to start the fun part — actually tasting wine! Read the next chapter of our Wine Tasting 101 Guide: Step #2: How to Go Wine Tasting to learn all you need to go wine-tasting like a pro.

Let’s go!

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