Going to a Barrel Tasting

The aging of wines

Barrel tasting - St. Helena, CA

We think of wine as something that needs to age. This is because while it’s estimated that 90 percent of wine is made to be drunk within a year, the most famous and highly regarded wines (with a few exceptions, such as Nouveau wines) need at least a few years in the barrel. The wine itself changes with age, and the oak from which the barrels are made secretes tannins and vanillin into it, making it more mellow and complex. 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

For those who like the older wines and also like to plan ahead, barrel tastings are an opportunity for wine connoisseurs to try the most recent vintages and make a guess as to how good the wine will be in years to come. If you’re not a connoisseur, they’re also an opportunity to meet connoisseurs and get their opinions. You may also be able to buy wine futures at a discount, if you find something that’s likely to be particularly good in a few years.

Sometimes, many wineries in a wine-growing area schedule their barrel tastings to create a single weekend-long regional event. Many wine clubs also hold barrel tasting events.

Good rules to follow at any wine tasting are to wear nothing strong-smelling like perfume or cologne, and to limit the number of wine tastings. If in doubt, pick something you’ve never had before, because the whole point of going to a barrel tasting is to discover new wines.

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. 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 fruit, dark chocolate, Bing cherries, roses, licorice and cigar box. Its flavor is balanced between fruit, oak and acid, with sweet tannins and hints of cedar, coffee and chocolate cake.

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.