Wine Time!

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This may be the best time to go wine tasting, when the weather is just turning nice and before the region’s wineries are slammed with visitors. Here are five spots recommended by wine expert and radio personality Rick Kushman:

DOMAINE CARNEROS in Napa produces sparkling wines. Beautifully terraced grounds and a magnificent, French-inspired chateau provide terrific outdoor eating and drinking spots. And if it rains? There are plenty of fireplaces inside the chateau. The wines? “Accessible and not super pricey,” Kushman says. 1240 Duhig Road, Napa; domainecarneros.com

Take a trip to Livermore and check out WENTE VINEYARDS, the oldest continuously operated family-owned winery in the country, dating to 1883. It has a charming tasting room with outdoor tables and an excellent restaurant. The place is known for its chardonnays. Kushman’s favorite: the midpriced Riva Ranch. 5050 Arroyo Road, Livermore; wentevineyards.com

Sutter Creek is home to a half-dozen wineries. The best of the bunch, according to Kushman: YORBA, run by industry veteran Ann Kraemer. Reds are her specialty. “The barbera is spectacular, and the tempranillo is pretty awesome as well,” he says. 51 Hanford St., Sutter Creek; yorbawines.com

Head to the tiny town of Fair Play in El Dorado County and visit the nearby SKINNER VINEYARDS & WINERY. “It has maybe the best wine in the foothills,” Kushman says. The cozy tasting room has an adjacent deck from which visitors can “look out forever.” The wines? “They’re understated, and there’s almost a silkiness to them,” he says. 8054 Fairplay Road, Somerset; skinnervineyards.com

While in the Fair Play area, don’t miss CEDARVILLE WINERY. There aren’t great views, and the tasting room is in the cellar. But the wine—especially the cabernet—is outstanding. You need to call ahead for an appointment. But, Kushman says, owners Jonathan Lachs and Susan Marks are happy to give you a private tour this time of year. 6320 Marestail Road, Somerset; cedarvillevineyard.com 

Rick’s Tasting Tips 

Don’t feel you have to know a lot about wine or impress anyone, Rick Kushman says. It’s the winery’s job to educate you.

Learn to spit—especially if you’re doing the driving. Just let the wine roll around in your mouth, savor the flavors and then, with pursed lips, firmly shoot the wine into a spit bucket. Says Kushman, “Any idiot can learn to do it because I did.”