If there were ever a perfect place made for wine tasting and wine drinking in California, it is the lovely European-style village of Carmel-By-The-Sea in Monterey Bay.
The town looks like something out of a story book – there are not even any addresses in Carmel, and the postman just knows where people reside – with its hidden passageways to heaven revealing high-end art galleries, cozy restaurants and, yes, wine tasting rooms.
And it is those wine tasting rooms that have become a major attraction in Carmel. In the past few years, the wineries of Monterey Bay have made a big push to position themselves as a “new Napa”; and while you can certainly drive to, or take tours of, the wineries, it’s more convenient to have them all in one place. That is what you get with the Carmel Wine Walk, a passport that provides for visiting several tasting rooms for one price.
There are 14 tasting rooms on the Wine Walk, and the passport is good for nine tastings. If you want more, you can purchase a tasting on its own at individual tasting rooms (most are $10) or, of course, buy another pass.
While the tasting rooms are scattered all over Carmel like a broken plate, they are all a short two to five minute walk from one another. The majority of them are concentrated just south of the main east-west street, Ocean Ave., between Delores and San Carlos Street.
Once you’ve got the pass, where do you go and which rooms do you choose for your tastings? Here are our top five recommendations.
This is a good place to start your journey. Caraccioli specializes in sparkling wines utilizing grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands. It’s the place to go for sparkling wine (okay, champagne, if you must) lovers. It also produces fruit-centric Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Because of its bubbly background, this place can get in a few spirited personalities on certain weekends (think the occasional bachelorette party). It is also a good place to wind up at the end of the day, as it’s open until 7:00 p.m., later than most of the other wine tasting rooms.
Probably the most social of the wine tasting rooms, Dawn’s Dream has the biggest attraction: a bathtub. That’s right, there’s a bathtub in the tasting room. It’s not filled with suds and water, mind you, but it’s an old-fashioned tub, painted gold, and is great for selfies.
Dawn’s Dream is also known among regulars to offer somewhat liberal pours of its specialty Pinot Noirs. It also produces Chardonnay, Rose and other wines.
Galante is a hidden gem. You’ll walk right past it without even knowing it’s there, if you’re not careful. It’s at the bottom of a small park. Here, instead of sitting in a tub, you take a seat in a big cowboy boot (the owner is the husband of Dawn). Usually, there’s Jimmy Buffett music playing and they put out small plates of cheeses and crackers. The wines are big on fruits.
This is a popular tasting room because it’s the easiest to find, on a prominent – well, prominent for Carmel, anyway – street corner. Sheid has 10 estate vineyards, and in 2015, its Merlot won the Best Merlot in the Best of Monterey Wine Competition.
This is the one tasting room that does not have its own winery; rather, it’s an extension of the Italian restaurant next door and features Italian wines. It’s a bit like walking into Italy, for there is a Ferrari-red Vespa in the window and big screen TVs showing videos of gorgeous scenes in Italy. But the real draw here is a fireplace that’s open on two ends.
Getting a table by the fireplace is one of the most coveted spots on the Wine Walk. You had better make this one of your last stops, as it’s so cozy and comfortable it’s hard to leave. Fortunately, it’s open until 10:00 p.m., and serves food from appetizers to pizzas. The owner, Chef Pepe, also owns Vesuvio restaurant in Carmel, which has a rooftop bar that’s a great spot for Happy Hour (4:00-6:00 p.m.).
More Wine Tasting Room Locations
Carmel is not the only place with wine tasting rooms in Monterey Bay, not by a long shot. There are a half-dozen tasting rooms in Carmel Village, about a 20-minute drive down Carmel Valley Drive (tours and transportation available); while there, be sure to visit the Holman Ranch tasting room.
In neighboring Monterey, there are a cluster of wine tasting rooms on Cannery Row, just two blocks from the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The best of these is A Taste of Monterey, a large room with huge views looking over the entire beauty of Monterey Bay. A Taste of Monterey is upstairs above Steinbeck Plaza at “the row” and features wines not from its own vineyards but from all over Monterey Bay.
When it comes to wine tasting areas in California, Carmel and Monterey are two places well worth uncorking in your travels.