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Barrel Tasting in the El Dorado Wine Country

To truly understand what makes wine great, it helps if one knows how it is made. The process of creating wine involves more than just the type of grape, the soil and if it is meant for a bottle, jug or box. And although all of these variables factor into the final product, the character of a wine is determined during the aging process, while stored in barrels.

Usually the public isn’t provided the opportunity to witness what makes great wine, and more importantly, to sample it before it hits the wine list at The Firehouse Restaurant or the shelf at Trader Joe’s. Not anymore. 

For the third consecutive year, over 20 El Dorado County wineries will open their cellars for Bring out the Barrel, this Saturday and Sunday. The event provides the unique opportunity for wine lovers, both aficionados and novices, to sample new vintages straight from the barrel. Several wineries will be providing a unique comparison tasting.  

“We are going to do three different zinfandels and taste the difference in the flavor from the different areas of the vineyard,” said Jeanne Jones, owner of Lava Cap Winery. “It is special. You don’t have barrel tastings every day.” 

The weekend’s activities will also include light food pairings and the opportunity to purchase “futures” of limited quality wines — placing orders on wine before it has been bottled for a cheaper price. Weekend passes are $25 each at eldoradowines.org. Group, single-day and designated driver passes are also available. 

Participating wineries include Auriga Cellars, Busby Cellars, Colibri Ridge, Crystal Basin, Fenton Herriott, Fitzpatrick, David Girard, Gold Hill, Granite Springs, Holly’s Hill, Illuminare, Jodar, Latcham, Lava Cap, Madroña, Miraflores, Mount Aukum, Narrow Gate, ParaVi, Perry Creek, Sierra Vista and Single Leaf. 

For some of you, this may be your first time exploring the dark corners of a winery’s cellar. For others, it may be your first time ever to a vineyard. Be assured, El Dorado’s wine country provides some exceptional wineries, without the pretention or expense associated with Napa Valley. To better prepare you, here are the definitions for a few terms you may encounter during your visit.

bung: the stopper, especially in the bunghole of a cask or barrel

cap: grape solids like pits, skins and stems that rise to the top of a tank during fermentation; what gives red wines color, tannins and weight

enology: a science that deals with wine and wine making

estate wines: indicates a winery owns the vineyard from where the grapes were grown

palate: the sense of taste

terroir: French term for the climatology, geology and history that all combine together in order to make great wine

vitner: winemaker

wine thief: a long tube used for taking samples of wine from barrels

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