This column, my first of 2015, is all about me urging you, gentle readers, to step outside of your comfort zone and taste new wines.
Drink mostly chardonnay? Try some chenin blanc or viognier. Favor syrah? There’s mourvedre, grenache and malbec waiting for you. Or cabernet franc. And while you’re at it, sip wines from a new-to-you label, be it a large winery or a small producer.
And take good notes, for at year’s end, when someone asks you to name your top 10 wines of 2015, you’ll be glad you have a record of what you tried.
I scribbled enough notes throughout 2014 to create a record of the wines I liked the best of all those I tasted. You can view my efforts via my blog by clicking here.
The single easiest and time-saving method by which to taste (and spit) multiple wines is to attend a festival-style tasting. A couple of the selections on my blog list of favorites came from a tasting last March (Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure).
Following are five public tastings I recommend: Three are local (Lompoc, Goleta and Solvang) and two are in San Francisco. While I’ve not personally attended either of the San Francisco tastings, both are legitimate events, and I’ve written stories about both in the past.
Listed in order of occurrence are the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition’s Public Tasting, the Lompoc Rotary Wine Tasting, the World of Pinot Noir, In Pursuit of Balance (San Francisco version) and the Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure.
San Francsico Chronicle Wine Competition’s Public Tasting — Saturday, Feb. 14
This event is the public version of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the world’s largest competition of American wines. The private judging of 5,800 entries took place in December, and the Chronicle published the results Jan. 9.
The tasting will take place from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Feb. 14 in the Festival Pavilion at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Tickets are $65 and are available until midnight Feb. 12; day-of tickets, if available, will be $80.
Lompoc Rotary Wine Tasting — Sunday, Feb. 22
This year will be the Lompoc Rotarians’ 26th annual wine tasting, with both a live and silent auction, and proceeds will support community projects. Because of Lompoc’s proximity to the cool-climate Sta. Rita Hills AVA, this always-popular tasting features most — if not all — of the winemakers who comprise the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers’ Alliance.
Tickets are $50. The tasting will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building at Locust Avenue at H Street.
World of Pinot Noir — Friday and Saturday, March 6-7
This is the second year that WOPN will be held at the Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, having relocated in 2014 from its roots in Shell Beach. The event, a bonanza for lovers of pinot noir, features two days of in-depth tasting seminars, excursions, grand tastings, a Burgundy seminar, and lunches and dinners that will showcase local chefs and a panel of sommeliers coming to Santa Barbara from across the United States.
Click here for the schedule details, and if you’re inclined to attend, buy tickets ASAP for this event sells out.
In Pursuit of Balance — Monday, March 16
In Pursuit of Balance, or IPOB, is a nonprofit organization that strives to promote dialogue about “balance” in California pinot noir and chardonnay. The organization was formed by Rajat Parr of Santa Barbara County’s Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi, and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards. The inaugural tasting took place in San Francisco in 2011; tastings have expanded to include events in Houston, New York and in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan.
A handful of local winemakers, among them Au Bon Climat, Chanin Wine Company, Liquid Farm and Native 9, are member wineries and will pour during the upcoming California event, according to the website. Tickets are available beginning Feb. 23.
Click here for the day’s complete schedule. Note that the public tasting takes place in the evening.
Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure — Friday, March 27 through Sunday, March 29
This event is my all-time favorite opportunity to taste new wines produced by the smallest of the small winemakers. Most of those participating do not have tasting rooms, and all of them make less than 1,500 cases per year. You’re most likely to meet the winemaker behind the wines at one of the nonprofit Garagiste Festivals.
Tickets for the event, held at the Solvang Veterans Memorial Hall, will go on sale next month. Keep an eye on the website for the weekend’s schedule, which will likely include a seminar and special tastings along with the grand tasting, held Saturday afternoon.
Proceeds from all of the Garagiste Festivals benefit the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Program.
About that name: Garagistes (“garage-east”) is a term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to poke fun at small-lot winemakers who more than likely produced wines right in their garages. The first Garagiste Festival took place in Paso Robles in 2011, and organizers since have expanded to Solvang and, for the first time in 2014, to Los Angeles.