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Monday, June 28, 2010

Wine Tasting in Sonoma/Napa: Something Different

Clos Pegase wine caves

Maybe you've made several visits already and want to try something a bit different from bellying up to the bar for Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet. Or maybe you just like being different.
 Free guided  tours

Not many things in Napa Valley are free anymore, but Clos Pegase in Calistoga offers two free guided tours daily.  It's in three parts:  The owner's extensive art collection, the cellar, and the barrel aging caves.  If you visit during the harvest (Sept-Oct) your tour will be right in the middle of all the activity.

Korbel in the Russian River area has free tours going on several times a day.  Once you've been on a couple "here's how wine is made" tours they start to all look alike.  Korbel's is more of the hundred-plus years of history of the place and some of the differences between making still and sparkling wine.  They have a great deli if you time it right for lunch.

Sparkling wine tour and tasting

Tired of boring "flat" wines?  Bubbles always make it special.   My favorite tour and tasting is Schramsberg located between St. Helena and Calistoga in Napa Valley.   It starts with the old, dark, damp caves full of spiders and lichen and hundreds of stories followed by a sit-down tasting of some of the best bubbles in California.   Reservations required.

Vineyard Tours

Kunde offers different tours of their vineyards.  One allows you to take your dog along for a walk.  Others can be several hours long and moderately strenuous.  The Kundes have a lot of history in Sonoma Valley and can put on interesting talks.

Benziger has a tram tour of their vineyards so you don't have to walk.

There are self-guided vineyard tours at Balletto, Matanzas Creek, Mauritson, and Paradise Ridge wineries.

From Paradise Ridge
Nice Views
Hanna (the one in Alexander Valley), Paradise Ridge, Sbragia, and Stryker all have great valley views. On Wednesday evenings Paradise Ridge offers Wines and Sunset. You rent a table on their deck, drink some wines and watch the sun go down.

For beautiful winery settings Ferrari-Carano, Krobel and Michel-Sclhumberger are great.

For interesting architecture Chateau St. Jean, Jacuzzi, and Stryker.  If you like old buildings Buena Vista and Korbel.  In southern Napa Artesa is a must-see; in northern Napa Clos Pegase.


Blends of multiple varietals can be a lot more interesting than a single varietal bottling.  California should do more of this.

Audelssa in Glen Ellen makes some of the best wines in Sonoma Valley. They produce Cab and Merlot but they really shine with their Rhone-type blends.  They have a nearby mountain vineyard that's probably a bit of a pain to maintain but it puts out great juice.

Food and Wine

Wine is about the food you have with it.  Unfortunately when you go out tasting you have to guess at how a certain wine may pair with a meal.   The Mayo Winery's Reserve Room in Kenwood presents their wines along with small plates meant to complement each in a relaxed sit-down atmosphere -- the way wine should be experienced.  St. Francis also has an option for a food and wine pairing.