Other than the occasional local tasting bar, generous sommelier, or wine country vacation, there are rarely test drinks for expensive wines. Enter TastingRoom.com, an emporium of sample flights of high-end wines.
The company bottles tasting-sized samples (50 ml, or 1.67 ounces) of four to six wines from a single vineyard and packages them in a smart-looking black box, complete with tasting notes (do we taste a Father's Day gift?). The logic is that if you like the wines, you'll probably buy the full bottles (which, of course, they also sell online). But for those of us who aren't buying $80 Patz & Hall Pinot Noirs on a regular basis, TastingRoom's sample packs are an opportunity to taste that wine, plus five others from the Sonoma winery for around $25 (those same six full bottles will set you back around $365). That's a pretty killer opportunity for those trying to expand their wine knowledge without spending a fortune.
So why didn't someone do this years ago?
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The problem has been the technology. TastingRoom founder Tim Bucher is convinced he's found the solution with what he calls T.A.S.T.E. Technology (Total Anaerobic Sample Transfer Environment). It involves a "patent-pending decanting process" and seems to work well enough, though on Squid Ink's tasting there was a faint metallic note among the wines.
Sure, it could have simply been our kit (the corked bottle syndrome for airplane-sized screw tops). Or maybe it has something to do with size, as it seems now you've got a higher metal screw cap-to-liquid ratio in a tiny bottle versus a 750ml one. Still, it was a pretty darn impressive way to taste through several years (2006, 2007, 2008) of Grgich Hills wines that we otherwise wouldn't have been able to, save a 6-hour road trip to the winery.
Currently, TastingRoom has about a half dozen tasting kits available, all of them Napa and Sonoma wineries (the company is based in Sonoma County), with shipping only available to California residences. The company plans to expand the wine and shipping offerings soon. Good thing there's plenty of Gundlach Bundschu to keep us busy until then.