How to - Wanna go wine tasting?

By Elizabeth Cutright

Perhaps you've seen the film Sideways and you want to have your own adventure. Or maybe you've stood in the aisles of your local grocery story…confused and overwhelmed…trying to decide which bottle to pick for that special dinner, fancy party or weekend BBQ. It could be that you're an old hat at all this wine tasting business, but you've never tried out the wines in the Santa Ynez Valley or explored an urban wine trail. If you're curious or confused, then look no further: Here's your ultimate guide to wine tasting in, and out, of the city of Santa Barbara.

Wine tasting engages all the senses. When evaluating a wine, take the time to note the color (hold it up to the light for full effect) and the way it sticks to the sides of the glass. Before taking a sip, inhale the aromas: twirl you glass to help the wine release the volatile compounds that make up its scent, and then go ahead…stick your nose into the glass and try to name all the smells you can identify. Is that cinnamon? Maybe a touch of vanilla or fig? Could that really be the sweet scent of your grandfather's old cigar? Once you're ready to take taste, make that first sip count. Swish the wine around your tongue and let the wine settle in your mouth. Swallow slowly and feel the texture of the wine as it slides down your throat - is smooth and silky? Dry and tangy? Take another sip or two (or more!), just to make sure. Then on to the next one on the list!

The Wines
So what should you expect when it comes to Santa Barbara wines? One word: variety. While California Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs get most of the press, in the Santa Ynez Valley and the streets of Santa Barbara, you can travel across a wide swathe of vintages and varietals; from Italian grapes to French flavors to old favorites, it's all here.

You may have heard someone speak of the great Bordeaux they just tried, or maybe you've stared at the Sauvignon Blancs and the Pinot Grigios and wondered what set them apart from their other white cousins. Below is a list of the kinds of wines you can expect to find in and around Santa Barbara:

Chardonnay: To some extent, the taste of Chardonnay depends on whether it's been fermented in oak or steel barrels. The former produces a smooth, buttery white with flavors of vanilla and coconut. The latter produces a slightly more citrus taste, with flavors reminiscent of lemon and grapefruit.
Gewurtztraminer: An aromatic white with fruity flavors and aromas of peach and rose. Moscato: Another fruity wine, this varietal is sweet and retains much of the flavor of its parent, the Muscat table grape.
Pinot Grigio: Aromatic and fruity, Pinot Grigio is also a dry, crisp wine with a salty, and acidic "bite."
Pinot Gris: Also slightly acidic, the taste of a Pinot Gris can vary wildly depending on where it's planted, but all varieties have a floral aroma and a slightly sweet taste.
Sauvignon Blanc: A lighter wine than Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc tastes of white meat fruits like green apples and pears. Viognier: A crisp drinking wine with sweet aromas and a dry, soft floral taste.

Pinot Noir: A delicate red, the soft flavors include cherry, plum and even hints of damp soil or worn leather. 
Merlot: A softer red, with hints of berry and plum. 
Cabernet Sauvignon: A middle-of-the-road red with hints of berry and soft pepper, along with tinges of vanilla and tobacco. 
Syrah (or Shiraz): A spicy, peppery red with a taste of black fruit (blackberries, cherries and even currants), a Syrah can also have tinges of dark chocolate, coffee or even toffee. 
Grenache: A fruity red - with hints of everything from cherries to raspberries to strawberries - this wine can also turn dark, with intense notes of coffee, pepper and even black olives.
Barbera: A slightly acidify red with a silky texture and juicy, plummy flavor. 
Nebbiolo: With an acidic, heavy base, this wine carries flavors of dried fruit , licorice and leather.
Sangiovese: This bold reds tastes primarily of berry and plum.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; part of the fun of tasting is Santa Barbara is discovering new varietals and blends. There's always something new brewing, and at any moment you may find a great new Rhone Blend, another Bordeaux varietal and even a new twist on a familiar friend.

*Special note:
In France wines are named by region, rather than grapes. Roughly speaking, a white Burgundy wine is similar to a California Chardonnay while a red Burgundy comes from the Pinot Noir grape. Anything from the Bordeaux family will most always include a Cabernet blend. For more on French wine, go here: French Wine

Additional information:
For a list of wine tasting terms, go here: Terms 
For more information on Santa Barbara wines, go here: SB County Wine 
For a list of wineries, go here: SB County Wineries.

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