Dan Berger

Keys to successful wine touring

Planning a tour of any wine country region can be easy or complicated, and a checklist can be as simple as: 1. Make hotel reservations. 2. Use the spit bucket. 3. Get winery tasting room hours.

However, to do things right and maximize your experience, there are a handful of things that you may want to consider (not including making appointments for every winery stop, which usually aren't required). It takes a bit more planning, but it can result in a far more complete and rewarding tour. And once you use this before-you-leave checklist, you may wish to employ a similar strategy for other trips, even those not wine-related.

1. Once the trip is planned and you know which wineries you want to tour, draw a small map of which wineries you've targeted, plan to drive to the farthest one from where you will spend the night. The idea is to start your tour in the least populated tasting room, preferably the farthest from a major population base. (Most people start at the first stop on the road.)

2. Bring along a small notebook on which to write down vital details of the wines you taste. This allows you to research getting some of the wines later. (Also, if you're going to buy wine, it might be helpful to bring along a white foam wine carrier in which to keep your purchases - cars can get pretty hot).

3. Plan to do no more than four wineries a day, so you can spend enough time learning details of those you see.

4. Food. This is the biggie and a step not to ignore since ingesting alcohol can be slightly debilitating; drivers especially should be ultra-cautious about impairment. And the best way to gird up for a day of winery touring is with a sound strategy.

At the forefront of this is food. Consuming any alcoholic beverages on an empty stomach is a recipe for trouble, and thus eating becomes a part of the trip's most vital planning.

Those for whom any meal is a joy may think this edict not a very difficult one to follow, but those who are on a strict diet should also think about how the wine-trip eating regimen may call for a slight alteration in the typical dining schedule.

To start planning for this, we first look at breakfast. And rule No. 1 here is "Don't skip breakfast." And its corollary is "Eat hearty." The typical French breakfast of a croissant and an espresso has no place on a wine country tour. The impact of a 10 a.m. wine tasting on that sort of "food" is preparing for disaster.

Breakfast should be relatively complete in terms of three main basic ingredients, with carbohydrates up there in terms of alcohol-protective substances. Look also at proteins and fats, which also "trap" alcohol and slow processing in the body.

Eggs with bacon and pancakes or biscuits are a good way to start, but any other combination of foods that offers protection from alcohol buildup is a good idea. And any sort of food (coffee shop to gourmet buffet) is OK.

But I suspect that a majority of those who are reading this are just not into mundane food, so chain diners may not be an option. To get quality meals (breakfast and lunch), I have developed a strategy that works well to increase the chances of getting a great meal.

The day or two before you are seeking places to dine, go on the Internet and search for a respected local coffee roasting company. Call the roaster and ask if it can recommend a cafe that uses its coffee for its diners. Restaurants that carry a local roaster's coffee (as opposed to large commercial brands) likely also care about other quality ingredients. And where quality ingredients are served, it's more likely that you'll find a slightly upgraded level of food.

Among the roasters in the Seattle-Woodinville area are Java to Go, 425-483-9042; Common Ground, 425-844-9751; Zoka Coffee Roasters, 206-217-5519; and Fonte Coffee Roaster, 646-512-5162.

As for dinner, for us that is usually linked to what sort of lunch you have. And for lunch in wine country, we usually try to invert our meals, less for lunch than at breakfast, and a light dinner.

The reason is easy to see: When touring wine country, the majority of the wine you'll be having will be in the middle of the day, and to consume a lot at dinner simply isn't as healthful.

In a normal day, most people will consumer two to three glasses of wine at dinner, but that follows a mid-day regimen that included perhaps a glass. It's best to reverse the formula when in tasting rooms all day.

Finally, one of the sanest suggestions of all: When touring wine country to evaluate various wines, consume at least as much water as you do wine. Every ounce of wine should be accompanied by an equal amount of water to hydrate the body. Not only does it help to deal with the alcohol itself, but it also keeps the brain clear enough to take cogent notes.

I enjoy wine country touring when I can try different wines and offerings that are available only at the tasting room. What fascinates me more than $100 bottles of Chardonnay are wines that display the passion of the wine maker, even if the grapes are obscure.

Happy sipping.

This story was originally published September 8, 2010 11:03 AM.

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