You've bought your plane tickets, updated your passport and drawn red circles all over your wine country map. Yet if you think planning for your wine country vacation is complete, think again.
"The single most important factor in a successful wine tour is comfortable, sturdy shoes," Britt Karlsson says matter-of-factly. This lady knows what she's talking about: Karlsson has organized more than 300 tours through wine regions around the globe with BKWine. BKWine, the company she owns with husband/ photographer Per Karlsson, recently was named "Best Wine Tours" by Travel & Leisure magazine.
Ross' choicePuligny-Montrachet, "Clavoillon"
Ÿ Suggested retail and availability: About $120 at fine wine shops (distributed by Wirtz Beverage Illinois, Elk Grove Village)
Whether Burgundy's "Cote d'Or" was so-named because hillsides face the Orient or because autumnal vines create a gilded glow, these grapes are worth their weight in gold. The carefully defined and named vineyards are no bigger than a backyard and express unique flavors: "Tessons" like wet stone, "Pucelles" fat and spicy, and so on. This "Clavoillons" is 100 percent Chardonnay by law, offering aromas of toasted brioche and ripe apples, with an unctuous palate accented with caramel and toasted hazelnut. Serve with grilled seafood as well as mild curries and Asian cuisine. At these prices, it may make sense to take a trip and experience these wines in their homeland.
"You need to be prepared to walk the land, to visit wineries with slick floors, to climb ladders to the top of tanks to watch juice ferment," she says.
As you follow the grape's path from sun-drenched vineyard to damp cellar, the temperature can drop as much as 50-degrees, so dress in layers, she adds. A jacket with pockets, to carry notes from your visit, is most helpful.
"Believe me, after tasting all day, it's very hard to remember your trip without notes to bring home."
However glamorous, wine country is still country, with few amenities but plenty of bugs, dirt and sometimes unpredictable weather. Pack socks, sun protection, a light rain parka, standard medication, as well as emergency cold and tummy trouble remedies. A supply of toilet paper or facial tissue as well can be worth its weight in gold.
Karlsson also recommends bringing along your questions.
"Winery guides explain a lot, but it's so much more interesting if guests ask questions. Read about the region and producers you are going to visit before you leave home. You can ask any question; your host at the estate will appreciate your interest."
The final stop in any winery tour is the tasting room, offering everything from collectible vintages to cocktail napkins. But Karlsson reminds guests never to feel obliged to buy.
"A wine tour is more about the experience, learning about a region and its people than a shopping event."
The Illinois Liquor Control Commission also weighs in, limiting how much residents can bring back into the state to one gallon of alcohol (about five wine bottles).
If you must have a keepsake bottle, stick to winery-exclusives or be prepared to see your selection selling for less in the Chicago area's competitive market than on-site. For safe transport, seal in a plastic bag and thoroughly wrap in your already-packed clothes.
And when you finally pop the cork, remember: the wine almost always tastes better within sight of the vineyard.
• Contact Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.