CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA -- Tuck into one square block of this historic, seaside art colony and discover a wine experience like no other.

For almost a century, this glamorous village in the heart of the Monterey County wine country has been a refuge for artists and celebrities. Now, established winemakers have joined their ranks, opening tasting rooms among the glamorous boutiques, art galleries and world-class restaurants so you can stop, sip and stroll again.

The Carmel Wine Walk is yours to craft, whether you prefer cool-climate pinot noir from the famed Santa Lucia Highlands or aromatic Arroyo Seco white wines. Steal into a charming courtyard for a picnic between chardonnay flights, or saunter down a pathway to a historic fairy tale cottage. Try on a designer dress. Then hit another winery. It's up to you.

Samantha Cesmat pours a 2007 brut rose at Caraccioli tasting room in Carmel-by-the Sea Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. In background is MacKenzie Adams.
Samantha Cesmat pours a 2007 brut rose at Caraccioli tasting room in Carmel-by-the Sea Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. In background is MacKenzie Adams. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Most of the tasting rooms uncork about 11 a.m. and are clustered on and around sun-dappled Dolores Street, though there are a few more within a grape's throw.

On a recent weekend, we started with the lightest wines on the walk, the refined sparklers of Caraccioli Cellars. The winery produces 3,500 cases of still and sparkling wines in Cachagua, about 20 miles south of Carmel. Former Roederer Estate winemaker Michel Salgues crafts the brut and brut rosé. Both were stunning.

The tasting room, designed by Si Teller (House of Blues), looked like a rock star's wine cellar, with mood lighting, a ceiling-high riddling rack and tasting bar made from dark, Brazilian paroda wood. Just sitting there makes you feel famous, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, when they serve savory bites and stay open late into the night.

A young woman poured our wines (six for $15) and shared a map showing the Caraccioli family's Escolle Vineyard, where those cold Santa Lucia winds help to foster that hallmark brisk acidity. We fell hard for the 2007 Brut Rosé, with its fine, blush-hued mousse and fruity finish, as well as the still, Chablis-style 2007 chardonnay, with its steely minerality.

From there, we walked a few doors down to Figge Cellars, which sits inside the Winfield Gallery, a bright, contemporary space where owner Christopher Winfield represents 46 artists in painting, sculpture and ceramics. Peter Figge mingles among them, a lean surfer who owes his tan as much to the beach as to his years in vineyards from Napa to Australia's Barossa Valley.

Currently, he makes site-specific pinot noir and chardonnay from two vineyards, the Pelio Vineyard, which he planted in Carmel Valley in 2003, and the Paraiso Vineyard, Rich and Claudia Smith's 400-acre property at the southern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Chardonnay at Figge Cellars tasting room in Carmel-by-the Sea Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013.
Chardonnay at Figge Cellars tasting room in Carmel-by-the Sea Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Figge's tasting (five wines, $10) revealed the differences between those vineyards. The 2010 Pelio pinot noir was intense, with cola flavors, while the 2010 Paraiso pinot noir was softer, like liquid cherries.

As we compared notes over a John Buck sculpture, fifth-generation Monterey farmer Jeffrey Blair, the mustachioed winemaker at Blair Estates, one block over on Dolores, popped in with a bottle of his lush, tropical Meador Vineyard Pinot Gris, and gave us a taste.

Surprise treats

Many Carmel vintners work at their own tasting rooms and casually visit with one another to talk shop, so you never know when a bottle of something special will find its way into your glass. We consider that a major perk.

But at that moment, we needed to get food into our bellies. So we crossed the street to Salumeria Luca, the Italian takeout deli next door to local favorite Cantinetta Luca. They do sandwiches ($7.50), salumi plates and picnics ($8-$44) and pizzas to go ($17.95). With paper-wrapped sandwiches in hand, we grabbed a bench in the adjacent cobble-stoned courtyard and dug into prosciutto di Parma and mortadella on soft, just-baked Italian rolls with drippy fresh mozzarella. It was just the protein boost we needed to continue our tasting.

Blair's crisp, Alsatian-style pinot gris left us craving more white wines, so we headed around the corner to Silvestri Vineyards, the newest tasting room on the block, where winemaker Frank Melicia (also of Parsonage) crafts pinot blanc, rosé, pinot noir and syrah.

Open since July, Silvestri is a bright, two-story tasting room owned by Grammy-winning Hollywood film composer Alan Silvestri and family. While his melodic scores from "Back to the Future" and "The Avengers" pumped through the woodsy tasting room, we sampled the luscious, cantaloupe-and-honeysuckle 2012 Pinot Blanc. It was refreshing, like fruit salad on ice.

Mall-by-the-sea

By late afternoon, we had made our way up Seventh to Carmel Plaza, a gorgeously green and overgrown three-story outdoor mall that is home to Zagat-lauded seafood restaurant Flying Fish as well as Wrath, the Soledad-based winery where Sabrine Rodems is crafting buzz-worthy pinot noir and syrah. We wanted to end our day on some serious reds and heard this was the place.

The Single Vineyard Tasting ($20) hit the spot, with samples of the dense yet balanced 2010 San Saba Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2010 KW Ranch Syrah. After taking a rest in the cozy, high-backed bar stools, our pourer, Nick, suggested we grab a bottle of that earthy pinot noir before it sold out, then pop into The Carmel Cheese Shop next door to find the wine's perfect match, a nutty, Burgundian triple crème. Great suggestion.

At that point, all that was left to do was decide on dinner. Award-winning seafood? Gourmet burgers down the street at 400 Degrees? Or head back to Caraccioli for world-class bubbly and charcuterie? Sparkling it was. But not until we checked out the sale at Anthropologie.

Reach Jessica Yadegaran at jyadegaran@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/swirlgirl_jy.

CONCERTS
IN THE PLAZA

Summers in Carmel Plaza are a feast for the senses, especially on Friday evenings, when the lush outdoor mall transforms into a live music venue with food and wine provided by local restaurants and wineries. $15. 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 20 (400 Degrees, Pierce Ranch Vineyards) and Sept. 27 (Anton & Michel, Manzoni Cellars) Carmel Plaza, Ocean Avenue and Mission Street, Carmel. www.carmelplaza.com.

taste of CARMEL

The 25th anniversary of Taste of Carmel will feature a masquerade ball, silent auction, and showcase seven restaurants and eight local wineries including Galante Family Vineyards and Morgan Winery. $75 to $95. 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 3. Carmel Mission, Rio Road at Lasuen Drive, Carmel. www.tasteofcarmel.com.

Carmel Wine Walk

Find addresses and contact information for all these tasting rooms on the map at www.mercurynews.com/carmel-wine or download the Bay Area News Group's free new Winery Road app for the iPad from iTunes.