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Going to Sonoma County’s Wine Road Barrel Tasting? Here's what you need to know

Going to the Wine Road Barrel Tasting? Here's a primer to set you up for the tasting - March 1-3, and March 8-10 - with five pointers to prime your palate.

Learn the lingo of futures, the term that makes winelovers giddy, especially the wine-half-full optimists. Futures refer to the barrel samples and the excitement about investing in bottlings that will typically be ready for the market in 12 to 18 months. These futures often come with discounts.

Plan your route carefully and decide whether you want to travel in a pack or opt for a less boisterous experience. At the wineroad.com website, you can scout out wineries that will accept groups of eight or more and those that won't. There's also a list of participating wineries so calculate how many you want to visit and plan accordingly. The wineries are open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

The barrel tasting is a spring rite of passage that appeals to the procrastinator as well as the planner. If you don't want to commit yourself, you can go on a whim, pluck down $, grab a glass and taste away. For the procrastinators, tickets at the door are $70 for the weekend, $60 for Sunday only and $10 designated drivers.

It's best to pack a picnic and/or plenty of snacks because this event is not a food pairing event. The focus is on the wine - barrel samples, rare library wines and current releases.

When it comes to futures, the best way to beat the odds is to search out wineries that over deliver every time. Here's a glimpse of five striking bottlings that reveal these participating wineries are a safe bet.

Longboard Vineyards, 2015 Dakine Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Merlot, 14.5%, $35. A striking merlot with aromas and flavors of blackberry and black cherry, with briary undertones. It's clean and balanced. But what sets it apart is its supple texture and its lingering black fruit finish. Impressive.

Mazzocco Sonoma, 2016 Smith Orchard Reserve, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 15.5%, $52. A brambly zin with generous fruit and an undercurrent of sassy spice. Notes of black raspberry, currant, bittersweet chocolate and cracked black pepper. Tasty.

Balletto, 2016 Twin Ridges, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 13.9%, $42. This is an elegant chardonnay with intensity. It has notes of green apple, melon and brioche, all riding on crisp acid. Delicious.

Benovia, 2016 Three Sisters Vineyard, Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14.1%, $50. An elegant chardonnay with generous fruit. Complex, with layered notes of apple, toast, mineral and a hint of tangerine. Well crafted.

Pedroncelli, 2015 Wisdom, Dry Creek Valley Estate Vineyard, Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.3%, $36. This cab has a whisper of mocha and generous berry fruit. It's well integrated with flavors and aromas of boysenberry, toast and herbs. Beyond that it has great bones - structure.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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