Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Wine Tasting Rooms of Carmel-by-the-Sea

Caraccioli Cellars Sparkling Wine Carmel-by-the-Sea California

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a tiny one square mile town, and yet visitors to Carmel can spend an entire weekend wine tasting at Carmel’s 14 tasting rooms.  Obviously Carmel’s wine isn’t grown and produced in town, but rather in nearby Moneterey Wine Country.  However, providing tasting rooms in town makes it safe and easy for visitors to taste Central California coast wines without ever having to step foot into a vehicle.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is located in Central California on the coast off Highway 1.  Carmel's wine grapes are grown a few miles inland in Monterey Wine Country.  Carmel’s wines are influenced by extreme fluctuations of temperature and the cold sea air.  While over 40 varietals are grown in the region, Carmel is best known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 

Carmel’s tasting rooms are all within a few blocks of each other.  Some are right on the street while others are tucked away into tiny blocks stuffed inside and out with quaint little shops.  Most are only open in the afternoon, but some stay open late on the weekends so visitors can enjoy an after-dinner glass or tasting flight.  As Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of the most dog friendly cities in America, all tasting rooms are also dog friendly.

Galante Vineyards Tasting Room Carmel-by-the-Sea California

The best way to experience Carmel wine tasting is with the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Wine Tasting Passport.   The Carmel Wine Tasting Passport is a great little package consisting of a plastic card case with nine cards inside, each good for one wine tasting flight, along with a list of all the wine tasting rooms in Carmel.  Tastings usually cost around $10 at Carmel’s tasting rooms, but the Wine Tasting Passport provides a great savings as it is $65 when purchased from the Carmel Chamber of Commerce online or at their visitor center.  We stayed at the Hofsas House Hotel, a boutique Bavarian style family-owned inn, which offers the Wine Tasting Passport to guests for $50, an even better savings.  The Wine Tasting Passport never expires, so it can be used again on your next trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea if you weren’t able to use it up in one trip, and it can also be shared.  Romeo and I explored Carmel’s tasting rooms with one passport.  Sometimes we shared a wine flight and other times we each used a card so we could have our own flights.

Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Wine Tasting Passport California

While strolling through Carmel at night, Caraccioli Cellars grabbed my attention.  It is one of the few tasting rooms open late.  It looked so inviting with the half-open Dutch door, dark wood and dark walls.  The cozy tasting room was designed by Si Teller, who also did the design for the House of Blues.  Caraccioli Cellars is a family-owned winery which creates Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and specializes in sparkling wines made from those same grapes.  Caraccioli Cellars’ sparkling wines were my favorite, perfect for a quiet evening in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Carcaccioli Cellars Carmel-by-the-Sea California

Figge Cellars is located in the front of an art gallery.  Figge’s grapes are sourced from four family-owned Monterey vineyards, Pelio Vineyard, River Road Vineyard, Paraiso Vineyard, and Sycamore Flat Vineyard, all in different parts of Monterey County.  The wines are vineyard specific, small-lot production wines.  Peter Figge allows wine drinkers to taste the subtle differences between vineyards, which on a map look so close, but in a glass can taste so different.  Figge crafts two Chardonnays, two Pinot Noirs, and one Syrah.  Figge’s terroir style can actually cause familial disagreements.  I preferred the River Road Chardonnay while Romeo preferred the Pelio Chardonnay, meaning two different bottles of Chardonnay came home.  We might need to have another taste-off. 

Galante Vineyards might have been my favorite of Carmel’s wineries and tasting rooms.  Galante’s tasting room is one of those hiding in the middle of a block, reached by following a path marked by a polka-dot shirted cowboy statue holding a sign pointing the way.  The tasting room is very Western inspired, complete with a chair in the shape of a cowboy boot.  The Galante family has a long history in the area and the owner’s great-grandfather actually founded the town of Carmel.  The western motif comes from the fact that the grapes are grown on the Galante property, which used to be a working cattle ranch.  Today they are known for their Cabernet Sauvignon.  My favorite wine at Galante Vineyards was their Wagon Wheel White.  I will admit wagon wheels always make me giggle (one of my favorite movie lines is from When Harry Met Sally: “I want you to know . . . I will never want that wagon wheel coffee table”), which may be why I was drawn to the wine in the first place.  The Wagon Wheel White is a refreshing blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier with a fantastic light, fruity taste.  We brought home two bottles and they’re both already gone.  Galante’s red wines are very good as well. 

Galante Vineyards Carmel-by-the-Sea California

Scheid Vineyards' tasting room is a very open, modern space and seemed to be one of the more popular tasting rooms.  Scheid Vineyards is older and bigger than many of the other wineries of Carmel.  Scheid Vineyards started as the Monterey Farming Corporation in 1972 and is a family-owned company.  Scheid prides itself on its sustainable practices and equitable treatment of its employees.  Scheid offers two different flights from which to choose, the standard flight or the reserve mixed flight.  We chose the reserve mixed flight which cost us two of our Wine Tasting Passport cards and included a sparkling wine made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a Pinot, a Claret, and a Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Scheid Vineyards Carmel-by-the-Sea California

We made a slight dent in Carmel’s wine tasting opportunities, but still have plenty more to try, including Alexander-Smith, Blair Estate, Dawns Dreams, De Tierra Vineyards, Manzoni Cellars, Shale Canyon, Silvestri Vineyards, Vino Napoli, Windy Oaks Estate, and Wrath Wines.  But I can safely say that Carmel-by-the-Sea makes a perfect wine tasting destination so visitors can taste what the Central California coast has to offer.

Thank you to the Hofsas House Hotel for hosting our weekend in Carmel, including our Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Wine Tasting Passport, and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Katherine Belarmino has been traveling for over ten years on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, experience new cultures, and sample other cuisines and libations. She also writes the travel blog Travel the World, which journals her world travels with her husband Romeo and seeks to encourage others to take the time to travel.