It began like a treasure hunt. There was a sense of excitement in the air as we were given our supplies for the evening: a map, a handful of tasting tickets, and a wine glass. But we weren’t hunting for buried treasure last Saturday, Dec. 1; this was the start of the third annual Ventura Winter Wine Walk, an open house of sorts for downtown, with more than 50 different tasting locations.

We started with a tasting at the check-in location, the W Gallery in the historic Earl Stanley Gardner Building. As we waited in line for our first taste, we plotted our strategy for the evening, deciding to start on California Street (in hopes of finding places with shorter lines) and then head to the top of Main Street and work our way down toward the Mission.

The first wine of the evening was a cabernet merlot blend from Santa Ema Winery, a winery out of Chile. It is a bold red that we found a bit dry, probably ideal alongside a juicy steak. The chefs from Watermark were serving up pulled pork topped with posole, a hearty Mexican stew filled with hominy and infused with the flavor of cumin. Each little cup was served with a few tortilla chips for dipping.

As we headed to our next stop, we remarked that the rainy weather added to the evening by making it feel more like winter, and therefore more like the holidays. For a moment, I could pretend that the falling drizzle was snow instead, conjuring up wonderful memories of my years in New England, when Christmas shopping and snow flurries went hand in hand. The only hassle was juggling an umbrella and rain jacket while also trying to hold a wine glass and the cherished map.

Next we stopped in at Cherie Amour, a tiny store on California Street, where we met our most knowledgeable server of the evening, Seth from Andres Wine and Tapas Bar. He was pouring a 2007 Full Circle chardonnay and explained that it is aged in oak barrels but not too heavy on the oak flavor. We laughed that we don’t normally like chardonnay, and he remarked, “This is a chardonnay for people who don’t normally like chardonnay.” Right he was; we loved it.

After that we wandered into a gallery next door. We took in the artwork around us, and when my friend asked, “Where are we?” I was reminded of my conversation with event organizer Vincenzo Giammanco, who had explained that one of the goals of the evening is to get folks into businesses they’ve never been into before. We were at Artist’s Union Gallery, a lovely place that I had never noticed, but to which I am likely to return. There we tasted one of our favorite wines of the evening, a 2011 Challis Lane old-vine zinfandel, a jammy wine smooth enough to drink without food.

Since beer was a new addition to this year’s event, we made sure to stop in at the Ventura Visitors Bureau, where we tasted Firestone’s 805, an easy-drinking beer made and distributed only in the 805. Next we ventured up Main Street in search of a bite of Chef Tim Kilcoyne’s food at Van Gundy Jewelers. There we tasted a Tribunal red blend out of Sonoma. As my friend said, “It stays,” referring to its lingering finish in the mouth. Alongside the wine, we enjoyed The Sidecar’s pork meatballs with a roasted tomato aioli, definitely our favorite small bite of the evening.

At Rosie Lee Imports we enjoyed bites of bangers in puff pastry (sold in the freezer section) and sips of a Trader Joe’s South American red. A few doors down at Trufflehound’s, we were happy to find a local winery represented. Four Brixx Winery was pouring its Temptress, a blend of tempranillo, mourvedre, Granache and graciano grapes. Trufflehound’s owner Claudia Gilman was serving little cups of her couverture, the chocolate she uses as a base for all her handmade truffles.

Though we had started winding down, as we walked by, the main stage at the intersection of California and Main was rocking with the sounds of local band The Bomb. There was even a sprinkling of artificial snow blowing through the air.

For our last stop, we made our way to Peirano’s, hoping to find the folks from Ouroboros Ales, a local beer company. Instead we found owner Sanaa Dugan pouring a nice 2005 Summerland Trio, another red blend out of Sonoma.

All in all, the wine walk made for a fun evening. Our hunt for wine led us to some new places, and the wine and fresh air left us feeling merry and bright, a great way to kick off the holiday season.