Wine Tasting Part 1: The Napa Valley @NapaVintners, @LegendaryNapa

As we left San Francisco behind, our focus for day 1 of our wine tasting was squarely on the Napa Valley on our way up to Healdsburg.  We “worked” our way north and enjoyed some familiar and new spots along the way.  We planned an ambitious day of visits and have the following tips if you’re planning the same (and are driving yourself):

1)  Bring lots of water and snacks in the car
2)  Share your tastings!  The vineyards pour many different wines at a tasting and you have lots to try, so if you’re with significant other, definitely share.
3)  Don’t be afraid to pour out the wine in the glass.  That’s what the containers on the bar are for and no one is offended when you do it.
4)  Have fun and remember, no one can tell you that you have to ‘like a wine’, it’s your opinion.

Now, on to the spots we visited and my thoughts on each:

  • Sawyer Cellars: This is usually our first stop on our trip through Napa.  They are open at 10, which makes it easy and the people are so friendly.  Their wines are held in oak for a little longer than most, so the vintages are a bit older than others in the valley.  When we were there, they were pouring their 2006 vintage.  They will take the time with new visitors to explain the history of the valley as well.  Their wines are always wonderful.
  • Alpha Omega:  While it sounds like a fraternity, it’s really a warm space serving outstanding, big, reds.  They had some chardonnay as well, but I’m not a big fan of chard, so I generally skip it.  This was a new spot for us this year and the wine didn’t disappoint.  Their tasting room is a warm space, but our server, while pleasant wasn’t very chatty.  I like to get a feel for the winery in addition to the actual wine and I missed out on this one.  The wine does stand on its own quite well, however.
  • Rutherford Grove:  We found Rutherford Grove on our last visit to the Napa Valley and it’s a great spot.  This family owned winery produces ~8,000 cases a year which is small for sure (and another reason we like it there).  The tasting room is hit or miss, but the wine is solid for sure (and reasonable).  We still have a Merlot from our last visit.
  • Plumpjack:  This is on the Oakville cross road and they produce wine under both the Plumpjack and their new Cade labels.  This is a real Napa spot with big wines (and crowds) and strong performers.  Cade is a new label for them and we really enjoyed the 2007 Cade Cuvee.  The tasting room is cool and the two servers did their best to keep up with the heavy demand.  We didn’t hear much about their vineyards or the story behind their wines, but the wine itself was quite enjoyable.
  • Honig:  This was far and away the best find of our trip.  While they generally require appointments for the tasting room, they were able to accommodate us as a ‘walk-in’.  Their tasting room is like being in a neighbor’s kitchen as their team deftly takes you through their history and wines.  Within minutes, we felt like we were socializing with friends and enjoying their home.  Most know Honig for their Sau Blanc which they produce in earnest, but their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is incredible if you can find it outside of their winery.  We will definitely add Honig to our ‘must-visit’ list for our next time in the valley.
  • Whitehall Lane:  We always stop here, but usually later in the day and it seems like happy hour.  On this occasion, were there in the morning and it was more relaxed and chill.  Our server was great – he really knew about the grapes and their vineyards and was able to compare past vintages for us.  We even tasted something that we bought on our last visit that’s sitting at home in our wine frig (always a fun thing to do).  This is quintessential Napa Valley to us and will be a constant on future trips.
  • Hall Wines:  Beyond the great wines, there was a couple there at the same time as us that had an adorable dog with them.  My wife took a special liking to him for sure.  Their tasting room offers the ability to taste wines which are only available there which is the road we prefer.  This place was hopping, but they shared the love well.  If you’re a fan of port, try their Cab Sauv Portfolio – really good stuff.
  • Trinchero: Yep, they’re owned by the Sutter Home conglomerate, but this is their high-end label and they produce single vineyard wines at vineyard blended prices.  Their tasting room is generally very chill and rarely very busy which suits me just fine.  We’ve had great luck there and have picked something up on each visit.
  • Lava Vine:  Truly small production, hand-crafted wines served by Joe, the owner and winemaker.  He’s a character, so bring your wit, but also really gets the wine and the whole experience.  The room is small and he keeps up with everyone well.  In the meantime, enjoy the bread and cheese on the bar with your reds and the chocolate with the port.  His prices are very reasonable for the production and quality.

5 thoughts on “Wine Tasting Part 1: The Napa Valley @NapaVintners, @LegendaryNapa

  1. Great post, thanks for all of your thoughts on the wineries. How do you pack your purchased wines for the return trip to Philly? I was thinking of checking a more or less empty piece of luggage but figured there’s got to be a better way.

  2. Good question. While the suitcase is an option, I find it more reliable and convenient to buy a shipper box at the first winery we visit. They hold 12 bottles in a custom foam holder and then you just tape it up and write your name on it at your hotel before going to the airport. Once you fill it up, you just get another and so on. I’ve done this repeatedly and it works consistently. Let me know where you go and what you like. Cheers.

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