5 Rules of Wine Tasting I Learned from a Weekend in Sonoma

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Jayme Burrows/Stocksy)

From my first sip of vin with my mom in Paris (I was 16 and pretty sure I spat it back into the glass) to the everyday catch-up session over a glass or two, wine has always been a central part of my relationship with my mom. So, when it came time for us to plan our next girls’ trip, we decided on Sonoma. We blocked off four days and flew out to California for eating, drinking, and taking in the breathtaking landscape.

Here’s what we learned along the (delicious) way.

5 Tips for Planning the Perfect Wine Weekend

1. There’s a right number of wineries to visit in a day.

And that number is three. We learned this from taking Sonoma’s wine trolley on our third day. The scenic six-hour tour took us to four different wineries and by the time we arrived at our last destination, VJB Cellars, we were more than ready to go back to our cottage for a siesta.

2. When in doubt, take an Uber.

Even if you’re drinking less than a glass at each tasting, if you’re hitting three wineries in a day, that can add up. Luckily, many wine areas offer Uber, Lyft, or other car service options.

3. Ask about tasting fees in advance.

Tasting fees aren’t cheap. We paid between $15 and $60, depending on the winery, the number of wines, and whether or not snacks were included. But some wineries will waive the tasting fees if you sign up for their wine club or purchase a certain number of bottles.

4. Skip the touristy spots.

One of our favorite wineries, Blue Farm, is an off-the-radar spot that was recommended to us by a friend of my mom’s who lives in the area. In the quaint blue pump house on the property, we had a two-hour private tasting of delicious Burgundian grand cru-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, followed by a tour of the beautiful gardens.

Another top pick was Scribe Winery, which required a reservation and was also the most expensive of the trip ($60 per person). But it was totally worth it for our last few sips of wine in Sonoma — Scribe’s Rose of Pinot Noir, Estate Chardonnay, Carneros Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon — and a glorious seasonal spread of food (some of it grown at Scribe!).

5. Don’t forget about the food!

You could fill your days with good wine and artisanal cheese boards, but many wine regions are also amazing food destinations. There’s so much good food in Sonoma, but here are a few of my favorite spots.

  • The Girl and the Fig: We loved the smoked trout salad with watercress, frisée, cucumber, lemon, horseradish, and (wait for it!) crispy potato chips, and my mom loved her steak frites, prepared with plenty of garlic and butter.
  • Sante: The ritzy restaurant tucked in the historic Sonoma Mission Inn wowed us with scallops with saffron-infused pearl pasta, mussels, manila clams, fennel, pickled peppers, chorizo, and a luscious lobster bordelaise sauce, and oh, dear me, slow-braised boneless Colorado lamb shank.
  • Cafe La Haye: Opt for the specials — we had the daily risotto and quail with Broccolini and grains — at this cozy eatery off Sonoma’s Napa Street.
  • Oxbow Public Market: If you’re up for a detour to Napa, you must visit this sprawling warehouse filled with an array food and wine vendors. We ate lunch at Hog Island Oysters so we could sample some of their famous bivalves.

Have you been to Sonoma? Where are your favorite spots to eat & drink?