Find Next Year’s Best Wine at a Barrel Tasting

Barrel tasting with a wine club

Barrel tastings in St. Helena, CA

Many wine clubs hold barrel tastings, which are an opportunity for wine connoisseurs to try the most recent vintages and guess how good the wine will be in years to come. At these tastings, you can also meet connoisseurs and learn from them. 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.

How wine is born and grows older

It may help to understand the process of wine fermentation and aging. The fermentation itself takes place during the first two to three weeks, and happens in two stages. First, while the vessel is open to the air, the yeast multiplies as it converts sugar to alcohol. This takes three to five days. In the second stage, which takes one to two weeks, the vessel is closed and the yeast devotes itself to turning sugar into alcohol. All this should take place at a temperature of between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, to allow the yeast to thrive while preventing unpleasant byproducts. The perfect temperature is 72 degrees.

Once it’s inside the barrel, the aging begins. 90 percent of wine is made to be drunk within a year, but those left in the barrel for a few years include many of the best wines. In the case of red wine, the wine turns a browner, more brick-like color with age. The aroma becomes less fresh and fruity. It loses its acidity, and the bitterness of phenols is replaced by a more mellow flavor. The oak of the barrels secretes tannins and 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 barrel 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.