Wine tasting in California: where to go in the Golden State for an unreal tasting experience

wine tasting in california

Is there anything better than enjoying a crisp Californian wine on a summer’s day? Well, perhaps actually experiencing it straight from the source, during one of sunny California’s stunning wine tours. Californians take their wines very seriously, with the area home to over 3,000 wineries, scattered over 800 miles. There’s so much of the good stuff produced in California that it accounts for a huge 85 per cent of US wine. That’s largely down to the Golden State’s sunny, reliable climate; it enjoys more that 200 days of sunshine on average a year. 

A trip to a Californian vineyard goes beyond pursuing the vines. Wine tasting in California experiences include extensive tours from knowledgeable guides and the chance to taste the finished product in a stylish tasting room. Thanks to the diverse landscape – and many microclimates – of this sunny state, there are a multitude of variations to enjoy. You can head inland for delicious merlots and cabernet sauvignons, or to the coast to enjoy a chilled chardonnay or pinot noir. 

California’s wine countries are full of adventure, with numerous opportunities to see the vineyards from a truly unique perspective.  Ride in a hot air balloon over the vines, or take The Wine Train in Napa Valley overlooking stunning vistas. The Urban Wine Trail will take you through Santa Barbara’s buzzing downtown, while The Old Sugar Mill houses 15 unique tasting rooms from local wineries. 

The best regions for wine tasting in California

Sonoma County

Which wines? Pinot Noir and Chardonnay 

In Sonoma County, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Located just 45 minutes north of San Francisco, this charming region has more than 400 wineries on offer in the most concentrated wine-growing area in California. Many of the tasting rooms offer free sessions, and it’s a casual vibe, where you can make up your own itinerary as you go.

After a day touring the vineyards, head to Sonoma’s downtown plaza, which is full of relaxed restaurants, known for their excellent wine selections. A few glasses of wine alongside some al fresco dining; sounds like a great pairing to us!

Santa Barbara

Which wines? Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

wine tasting in California: Santa Barbara
Credit: Santa Barbara Wine Collective

Santa Barbara’s atmosphere feels electric; its downtown scene is always buzzing. Santa Barbara’s Wine Country is more urban than some, but that is definitely part of its charm.

The famous Urban Wine Trail takes visitors across two neighbourhoods, and 28 wineries, each offering their own tasting experience. If you want something a little more low key, Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours offer plenty of affordable options throughout the region. 

Temecula Valley

Which wines? Sangiovese and Syrah

wine tasting in California: Temecula Valley
Credit: ian dooley on Unsplash

The lesser known Temecula Valley Wine Country lies between San Diego and Los Angeles. The area is known for its artisan wines; particularly its Syrah, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir.

Temecula Valley Wine Country is also famous for its stunning hot air balloon rides, which take off daily and offer incredible views across the vineyards. A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure includes a 75-minute flight, gliding over wineries, lakes and country estates (prices starting at £115). Pure magic. 

Napa Valley 

Which wine? Cabernet Sauvignon

No wine country round-up would be complete without a nod to Napa Valley, which is one of the top wine regions in the world, boasting more than 400 wineries to discover. Tour grand estates with huge tasting rooms, guided by super-passionate and knowledgeable hosts; here they take wine very seriously.

wine tasting in California: Napa Valley
Credit: Napa Valley Tourist Board

No visit would be complete without hopping aboard The Wine Train. The Wine Train is a three-hour, 36-mile round-trip journey from Downtown Napa to St. Helena, offering stunning views of rolling hills and vineyards, passing through the pretty towns of Oak Knoll, Yountville and Rutherford. An incredible experience!

Sacramento

Which wines? Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel

Another legendary wine country is Sacramento, with over 200 wineries to discover. But while the area itself is a famous spot, many of the vineyards remain undiscovered, offering wild and unspoilt landscapes. Be sure to visit the beautiful regions of Amador, El Dorado and Yolo. To experience a breadth of wines from the region under one roof, head to The Old Sugar Mill, which is located just 10 minutes from Downtown Sacramento.

This building houses 15 unique tasting rooms from local wineries, including Clarksburg Wine Company and Elevation Ten. This unique tasting experience houses 15 tasting rooms from local wineries, including famous local wines from Clarksburg Wine Company and Elevation Ten

Tri-Valley 

Which wines? Petit Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon

While Napa Valley may be one of the most well-known areas, Tri-Valley is one of the original Wine Countries. The charming Wente Vineyards is the oldest family-run winery in the US and you can even have a go at creating your own bottle here.

Tri-Valley offers a great tasting experience, but is also a more affordable option, being less high profile than other Wine Countries in California. While you’re there, head into Tri-Valley town and sample some local ice cream, on their famous ice cream trail.

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