Visiting family for the Thanksgiving holiday who live just north of San Francisco provided the perfect opportunity for a wine tasting excursion in Napa Valley. Remembering our recent experience with a 1998 vintage of Merlot (see blog “Rombauer Rescue”), we decided to start with Rombauer Vineyards in St Helena. When we told the staff member how our 1998 vintage had aged, and our concerns that it had been improperly stored, he brought out a 1998 Merlot for comparison. It had the same brick color, loss of fruit, and lots of sediment. Assuming that wine is carefully stored at the winery, we concluded that the storage conditions for our bottle didn’t make much difference after 17 years. Rombauer’s stand-out in the five flight tasting was their Chardonnay.
We took advantage of a 2 for 1 tasting coupon for our next stop at Rutherford Ranch Winery. The 2013 Petite Sirah and 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon were excellent. After a scrumptious lunch at Market in St. Helena, we visited Duckhorn Vineyards. A foggy, rainy morning gave way to a bright, sunny afternoon that highlighted brilliant fall foliage. Duckhorn’s strength lies in its complex, well-balanced reds. The Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is a fine example of the hint of graphite they like to call “Rutherford dust”.
A second day of tasting began with the family-friendly Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga. From the gondola ride up the mountain, to the self-guided tour interspersed with tastings, there is plenty to hold the attention of the young ones while mommy and daddy are sipping. A Sterling Silver Experience ticket offers a seated wine tasting featuring an exclusive selection of limited release wines that you can pair with cheese and charcuterie for an additional cost. Terrific for lunch!
Five years ago we visited the Inglenook Vineyard that was purchased by Francis Ford Coppola in 1975. At about the same time, Coppola built and opened a new winery in Geyserville. Little did we realize that the trip from Calistoga to Geyserville along highway 128 would have us feeling like pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Coppola’s movie memorabilia has been moved to this location, including The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The restaurant is decorated with a unique collection of vintage olive oil cans. The only thing missing from this new winery is Cask, a favorite Cabernet Sauvignon that remained with Inglenook.
A couple of general tasting notes. Most of the wineries have beautiful grounds and offer seating outdoors but we find fresh air aromas distracting for tasting. It’s hard enough trying to get a sense of all a wine has to offer in a one ounce pour. So we taste indoors and then take in a bit of nature.
Wineries may give you one glass and provide tastings sequentially or they may pour all of your samples at once. The one glass method can feel a bit rushed. A benefit to multiple glasses is that you can go back several times to compare samples side by side. After all, nothing beats a Cabernet throw-down!