Not literally Hollywood, but Napa in a stretch limo is close enough.
Our travels across the country begin in Sonoma a bit too early for check-in at the Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn. Armed with a 2 for 1 wine tasting coupon and a suggestion for lunch, we head to the Red Grape where we are seated under a bright red umbrella in a private ivy-walled courtyard with blue sky backdrop. Does everything on a California food menu come with avocado?
After lunch we stroll Sonoma Plaza and stop in at the visitor’s center where we learn that there are over 30 tasting rooms in town, mostly within walking distance. And we score two more 2 for 1 tasting coupons, one of which we make use of right away at Bennet Valley Cellars, a family owned winery located in the Bennett Valley AVA. Our tasting includes enjoyable Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at a reasonable price. Two of the wines we tasted were labeled estate wines and most of the grapes for the non-estate wines are also from their Simpatico Ranch and Marina Vineyards. https://www.bennettvalleycellars.com/
Our next stop is happy hour at the B&V Whisky Bar. Traditionally, happy hour is our first stop in a new locale, but we had arrived too early counting the three hours we gained in the time zone change. It’s 4 pm but feels like 7 pm, not only for my sleeping habits, but eating and drinking habits as well. We eat Kobe beef sliders and drink Irish Mules at the bar with the locals, getting a feel of the Sonoma vibe.
Like pioneers setting out on the western trail, we embark the next day on an hour-long trip to Healdsburg and Jordan Vineyard & Winery where I’ve reserved the Library tasting. Jordan makes two estate wines, a crisp Chardonnay and a Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon. They offer a vertical tasting including different vintages of each wine to compare side-by-side, paired with a cheese plate. In our group of 10 tasters, some prefer the subdued qualities of the 2008 Cab as compared to bright and bold fruitiness of the 2013 and 2015. Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with small amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. The Chardonnay tastings include a smooth and creamy 2014 with a nice long finish and a pleasant 2017 with a slightly tart finish. https://www.jordanwinery.com/visit/tours-and-tastings
On our way back to Sonoma, we come across Simi Winery, one of our old familiar favorites. Simi is part of our repertoire of good everyday wines at an affordable price. Although we’re not expecting anything better than what we buy at our local liquor and wine shops, we are pleasantly surprised to learn that the winery offers many more (and frankly better) wines than we have access to at home. We taste their full-bodied Pinot Noir Reserve, Russian River Valley, and their Cabernet Franc, Winemaker’s Select “Block No. 4” with its distinctive anise notes. The vertical tasting at Jordan was an interesting concept so we repeat the same at Simi, tasting Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve wines from 2011, 2012, and 2013. https://www.simiwinery.com/
We end our day of wine tasting with dinner at Oso and a view of holiday lights in Sonoma Plaza.
On the third day of wine tasting, our first stop is a tour and tasting at Repris Wines atop Moon Mountain. Although I’d never heard of Repris (pronounced ra-pree) I found glowing reviews on Tripadvisor and contacted them as directed on their website. http://www.repriswines.com/
Typically, their wine tasting is incorporated with the tour throughout the vineyard, caves, and winery. Unfortunately, we missed out on the vineyard portion of the tour due to rain, but still enjoyed tasting a wide variety of high-quality wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and two Bordeaux-style blends (a Merlot dominant right-bank and a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant left-bank).
Harder rain begins to fall as we leave Moon Mountain, headed for Valley of the Moon. It seems that the heavier it pours outside, the heavier the pours are inside as well. The tasting portions at Valley of the Moon are generous and my tasting notes become fewer. From Valley of the Moon, we discover B.R. Cohn just up the road and as we squeeze in three different wineries in one afternoon, I realize that the term “wine tasting” has become an excuse for day drinking.
The day before Thanksgiving is our last in Sonoma. We’ll check out of the Sonoma Valley Inn and drive to San Rafael to spend Turkey day with family. But before we leave, we have time to visit Buena Vista Winery, California’s first winery and a historic landmark. Their red blend, “The Sheriff”, has long been one of our favorites and we are served by the Count himself. One of our tastings was complimentary with the purchase of a bottle; a policy that’s common at many of the wineries in the area. https://buenavistawinery.com/
For the day after Thanksgiving, my in-laws arranged a special day of wine tasting and dinner in Napa including the outrageous stretch limo. Our first stop is Domaine Carneros where our tasting includes their 2014 Ultra Brut, a 2014 Estate Brut Cuvee with pear and melon notes, a 2016 Brut Rose with strawberry, peach, and floral notes, and a creamy 2014 Vermeil Demi-Sec with a hint of sweetness. These lovely sparklers with a few shared plates of cheese and charcuterie are a perfect way to start the day. https://www.domainecarneros.com/
Our second stop is the Prisoner Wine Company. While we are already familiar with the wine that bears the company name, their other tasting menu wines are all new to us. PWC sources grapes of many different varietals across California to produce its varied selection. The tasting menu included “No. 39007”, a Chenin Blanc, “The Snitch” Chardonnay, “Eternally Silenced” Pinot Noir, “Cuttings” Cabernet Sauvignon, and “Headlock” made with Charbono. Charbono, also known as Douce Noir or Bonarda, is an Italian varietal widely grown in Argentina and grown in small amounts in California. It’s generally used as a blending grape and is used in small amounts in The Prisoner.
The best two were saved for last in my opinion; their flagship wine “The Prisoner” and “Derange”, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Syrah. Derange was the appropriate finale of this wine tasting as nothing could have followed its gargantuan ripe fruits, smoky oak, and firm tannins. https://www.theprisonerwinecompany.com/
We have a little time to kill before our dinner reservation at Mustards so we stop at Whitehall for a third tasting. By this time, my notebook is put away and I thank goodness none of us is driving. I think I enjoyed the wine.
Far Niente Chardonnay 2018 paired with my entrée, wood oven duck with rice, ginger-garlic eggplant and plum sauce.