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Super Cheap Wine Tasting in Livermore

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Don't want to look like a tool? Don't make this face when wine tasting.

So it’s a Sunday, you want to get your day drink on in Dolores Park, but it’s the end of February and the weather is fucking apocalyptic.  I’m over this devil rain that doesn’t come down on you, it comes across at you, like all horizontal and shit.  Anyway, you could stay in your apartment watching Jersey Shore reruns and chugging Two-Buck Chuck, OR you could grab a Zipcar and head 45 miles east of the city to Livermore, one of California’s oldest (and cheapest) wine regions that’s often overlooked by snobs because of the fancy-schmancy reputations of equally accessible, but definitely not as budget-friendly, Napa and Sonoma Counties.  Many of the wineries in Livermore offer FREE or $5 tastings, which means after a few pours, you know you’re gonna start using words like “oaky” and “earthy.”  Here are my top picks:

1. Bent Creek Winery

Bent Creek’s tasting room is kinda small, but there’s no tasting fee and their port is served with bite-size ch0colates.  I think I enjoy the FREE “snacks” — though some may call them “palate cleansers” — at wineries more than the actual wine I’m there to drink.  Here they make the most orgasmic candied pecans.  Bonus:  The patio tables out front are perfect for picnic lunches.

2. Wente Vineyards Estate Winery and Tasting Room

If the name of this winery sounds a little douchey, there’s a good reason:  The founder of the vineyard, C.H. Wente, was one of the pioneer winemakers in the Livermore Valley.  Obviously, Wente’s wines can’t suck.  They offer five tastes for FREE, although the uber-friendly middle-aged Tom-Skerritt-circa-Poison-Ivy-look-alike employee had no problem giving me a few extra pours.  Boom.  They also have something called “historic wine caves” here.  I don’t know what that means, but for 20 bucks, you can find out and get back to me.

3. Fenestra Winery

Oh, my God.  I love Fenestra.  Kind of a lot.  I love it the way you love everything and everyone when you’re drunk — and I totally was here.  This is because Fenestra, though they charge a $5 tasting fee, has around 18 wines on the list to sample and no one bats an eye when you insist on trying every single one.  Some people go wine tasting to taste; some go purely to get silly.  I’m pretty sure the good folks at Fenestra accept this as a fundamental truth.  Something else cool:  If you end up buying a bottle of wine, you’re refunded your $5 tasting fee.  Which means I stumbled out with a bottle of red table wine, normally $10.50, for a little over five bucks.  Fuck yeah.

Do not get this dressed up to play bocce.

4. Campo di Bocce

Campo di Bocce isn’t a winery.  I just think it’s awesome.  Let’s say you’re a bad hipster and forget your bocce ball set.  Not a problem — head here.  This place has indoor bocce ball courts, and although it costs $10 per person for one and a half hours of playing time, you just wine tasted all day for practically FREE.  But if 10 bucks is just too steep for you, hang out until after 10pm on a Friday or Saturday, because then bocce is FREE.  Also, if it happens to be your birthday, dinner and bocce are FREE.

The food is delicious, but a little pricey.  Which is why if you’re eating here, come between 3pm-6pm — all appetizers in the bar are half off.  So when you’re done pretending to be fascinated by the “legs” in your wine glass and remarking on the “jamminess” of that Pinot, drag your tipsy ass over and eat for cheap.  Then play with some heavy balls.  You can interpret that however you’d like.

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Christy Jovanelly - Cheapskate Commentator

Christy Jovanelly - Cheapskate Commentator

When Christy announced she was leaving her family's Southern California home and moving to San Francisco, her mom said, "Have fun in that den of sin." This is the only (however sarcastic) advice Christy has ever taken from her mom, who also told her to join and cover her eyes during sex scenes in movies. Christy puts her creative writing degree to good use by locating the typos on Chinese food menus and spends most of her time challenging friends to all-you-can-eat contests and trying to get that one bartender at Zeitgeist to smile.


  1. la la la laura
    March 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    “I’m over this devil rain that doesn’t come down on you, it comes across at you, like all horizontal and shit.” Poetic. Love it.

    Hey, and I’ve been waiting for a list like this! Thanks!

    It’d be rad to do a complete freebie list of the *entire* grape-scape area. ‘Cause Napa and especially Sonoma, even though beaten paths, have some cheapies, and are fucking gorgeous to boot.

  2. Christy Jovanelly - Cheapskate Commentator
    March 3, 2010 at 10:44 am

    YES, there does need to be a list of Napa/Sonoma freebies! Guess another wine country trip is in order…

  3. Rena
    March 3, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    What do you think about taking BART to Pleasanton and bike riding around? Horrible idea or could it maybe just work?!

  4. Christy Jovanelly - Cheapskate Commentator
    March 4, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Rena, only one way to find out…!