Visiting Napa Valley? 9 Wineries to Try

by Janis on August 31, 2010

The view from Cuvaison's Carneros Tasting Room in the southernmost corner of Napa Valley.

Every Tuesday is Travel Tip Day

Today: 9 Wineries to Try in Napa Valley

A friend of a friend is going to Napa Valley in a few weeks and is looking for recommendations.

We are, in fact, visiting California Wine Country this weekend, but Sonoma County rather than Napa.  (We’ll save the Sonoma vs. Napa comparisons for another post.)

Regardless, we love travel and wine questions because they make us curious. If we were going to Napa this weekend — rather than Sonoma — what wineries would we want to visit? 

We’d start with places we’ve enjoyed during past visits. We’d look for our favorite wines from Napa.  We’d ask for advice:  from Glenn, a friend who’s a California wine insider and the winemaker/owner of  Puccioni Vineyards; and from Carlos, from Wine Country Limousines.   Finally, a quick Twitter search to see what sparked our interest.

So, we did all of these.  And we came up with a list of 9 wineries that we’d like to visit if we were going to Napa.  Of note, most tastings require advanced reservations; links to wine websites often require you to enter your birthdate.

9 Wineries to try in Napa Valley:

1.  For sparkling wine, start with a favorite French name.  Taittinger became our preferred champagne during visit last fall to its cellars in Reims, France.   Domaine Carneros  is Taittinger’s Napa location.  We’d like to see how the tour compares to the historic one in Reims.  Domaine Carneros is located on Hwy 12/121 before you get to Napa – and what better way to start a day than to sip fine sparkling wine on the terrace of a beautiful chateau?  Read about other wineries for sparkling wines in Karla Erovick’s recent article: Napa & Sonoma’s best sparkling wine tastings & tours.

2.  Visit the legacy of the man that put Napa on the global wine map.  You can’t go to Napa without visiting Robert Mondavi.  In 1962, at age 49, Mondavi made his first trip to Europe, visiting the wineries of Bordeaux and Burgundy.  He came back to California with a vision that Napa Valley could produce wines to compete with the world’s finest.  In 1966, he founded the Robert Mondavi Winery, one of the first in the Napa Valley to welcome visitors for tours, events, concerts and tastings.     

3.  A tram ride over Napa Valley.  Visitors to Sterling Vineyards experience stunning views of Napa Valley from the aerial tram ride to the winery, perched 300 feet above the town of Calistoga. The winery’s white stucco architecture reminds one of Mykonos, the Greek island where Sterling founder Peter Newton once lived.  The $25 admission includes the tram ride, a self-guided tour with motion-activated televisions providing detailed explanations, tasting of five wines and a souvenir glass.  

4.  A Napa Valley Pinot Noir   As fans of Pinot Noir, we’d like to taste Etude Carneros Pinot Noir.   Etude Winemaker Jon Priest and viticulturalist Franci Ashton make highly rated Carneros Pinot Noir, plus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Merlot. Comprehensive Reserve Room tastings are scheduled at 10 am, and 1 or 3 pm for $25 per person. On Friday – Sunday, the winery offers food & wine pairings with 6 wines and 3 bites for $35 per person. 

5.  A “Ghost Winery” The few remaining early Napa Valley wineries that were in existence between 1860 and 1900 are called “Ghost Wineries”. The T.L. Grigsby-Occidental Winery located on the Regusci Ranch is one example of a well-preserved Ghost Winery. Regusci Winery is open, by appointment only, for tours and tastings. Its estate wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay.

Nickel & Nickel single vineyard wines.

6.  If you don’t mind paying $50 for a tasting, take the Cabernet Terroir Tour at Nickel & Nickel.   Established by the partners of Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel produces 100 percent varietal, single-vineyard wines from some of the most coveted vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma valleys.  The Terroir Tour includes five same-vintage Napa Valley Cabernets, each from distinct single-vineyard sub-appellations, paired with seasonal artisanal cheeses.

7.  A family winery operation.  Producing 5,000 cases a year, Dutch Henry Winery specializes in small lot wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon. Dutch Henry wines are crafted by owner-winemaker Scott Chafen.  The winery’s collection of “critters“ makes us want to visit.

8.  The Joy of Wine.  Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking is a favorite in our kitchen, and we’ve always liked Rombauer wines. (The cookbook author was the great aunt of Koerner Rombauer, the founder of Rombauer Vineyards.)  In addition to wine tasting, Rombauer Vineyards offers a self-guided stroll through well-kept gardens.  

 

The Carneros Tasting Room at Cuvaison.

9.  A new tasting room for a well-liked Chardonnay 

 More than 10 years ago, Cuvaison  in Calistoga was one of our favorite Napa Valley tastings. Now the winery has a Carneros tasting room in South Napa Valley, characterized by fog and cool breezes from the San Pablo Bay.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Merlot are said to thrive here. 

We enjoy wine and exploring the world’s wine-producing regions.  What about you? What Napa Valley wineries would you visit?      Please share in comments.

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