From the moment I embarked on the fascinating journey of wine, I yearned to somehow transport myself to experience first-hand the splendor and magic of these coveted grapes. Studying for CMS (court of master sommeliers) quadruplicated this desire which was both wonderful and tormenting at the same time. Learning about grape varietals, what attributes left bank Bordeaux from Margaux it’s elegance vs. Bordeaux from Paulliac – power and luxury. It is definitely not the same as drinking it…..Imagine my delight, when my darling husband as a treat for completing Level I CMS decided to whisk me away with a trip to Napa – the premier wine region in the United States.
My delight quickly turned to a daunting dilemma. How to choose which wineries to visit? After all, several hundred wineries call Napa home. Brilliant idea: why not visit the wineries which opened my palate to the wondrous world of American Cabernets in the first place?
Cabernet Sauvignon – the noble grape varietal accountable for cultivating some of the world’s greatest red wines. Also the grape that put California on the international map as one of the world’s top wine regions, arguably the state’s single most compelling varietal, capable of becoming powerful, gorgeously rich, and complex wine.
After careful deliberation, (since time was of the essence) I made appointments with Opus One, Palmaz, Shafer, Silver Oak, Seavey, Quintessa, Chateau Montelena, and Far Niente. I blame it on the wineries – since the tours are only open from 9:30 – 5 pm (LOL). To be brutally honest, I prefer to visit two, maximum three wineries a day. That gives me adequate time to truly experience the splendor of each winery and taste their exquisite wines without succumbing to palate fatigue.
Opus One Winery: If I could summarize my experience in one word, it would have to be Exquisite! That’s what happens when a old world wine icon Baroness Philippine de Rothschild meets a new world wine pioneer Robert Mondavi. From the dramatic landscape to the stately winery architecture, and personal attention from the knowledgeable wine concierges, Opus One provides one of Napa’s richest winery experiences.
Featuring a gravity-flow system, boasting an optical grape sorter (10 tons of grapes in an hour), to the breathtaking Grand Chai room facing a wine glass shaped barrel room – Opus One is a sight to experience. We had the immense pleasure of tasting Opus One 2006 and 2010 vintages. Both the vintages are age-worthy offering flavors of dark fruit with well-integrated acidity and velvety tannins. For tasting reservations, check out their website. For updated news follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Quintessa: Quintessa: Just off the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, the Quintessa winery , built into the hillside, Quintessa releases only one Bordeaux-style blend every year, but visitors have the chance to taste a three-vintage vertical of wine paired with cheese.
Mr. Marcelo Freitas (Guest relations manager), gave us the tour starting with a short drive of the breathtaking property that including a lake, five hills, a river, and two forests, and ending in the regal tasting room. The vineyard is farmed entirely with bio-dynamic and organic techniques (impressive feat). A gravity-flow design, stainless steel, French oak, and concrete fermenters, and gentle basked presses are tailored to match the diverse blocks in the vineyard to bring out Quintessa’s hallmark finesse and elegance.
Our tasting comprised of Quintessa vintages 2008, 2009, and 2010. All three vintages exhibited warm spice aromas, delicate floral layers, silky mouthfeel, rich and refined finish and more….The tasting was also accompanied with local Californian cheese. On a personal note we were quite mesmerized by his extensive wine and food knowledge and hospitality of Mr. Freitas. For tasting reservations, check out their website and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter for latest updates.
Chateau Montelena: A trip Napa is incomplete without a visit to the winery which put American Wines on the International wine map – At the Judgement of Paris in 1976, four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays. Chateau Montelena‘s 1973 Chardonnay, rated above all other wines proving that Chateau Montelena and California is capable of producing some of the world’s finest wines.
We had the pleasure of tasting their current releases including the 2005 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Our line up: Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley 2012; Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2011; Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2010; Cabernet Sauvignon, Montelena Estate 2009. Please visit their website for tasting reservations or connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.
Shafer: Shafer and Seavey were the first California Cabernets I fell in love with. Needless to say, it was a pleasure visiting these extraordinary wineries. Shafer wines best attributes are its sensual balance, texture and distinct aromas and flavors that is impossible to resist.
Our tasting line-up consisted of five exceptional wines, including Shafer’s highly regarded Hillside Select Cabernet – 2011 Red Shoulder Chardonnay, 2011 Merlot, 2006 Relentless, 2006 One Point Five, and 2009 Hillside Select. Having the immense pleasure of meeting Mr. John Shafer himself, it was indeed a very special day!!
Silver Oak Cellars: With a glass of their current Alexander Valley and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, we were taken on a guided tour of Silver Oak Winery including their esteemed History Gallery, Production Area, Cellar, and a library tasting in Silver Oak’s Glass House. From the warm hospitality of Silver Oak tour guide to a sneak preview of Winery Chef Dominic Orsini Kitchen and Herb/Vegetable Garden, and delectable bites – we left with our oenophile hearts and bellies satiated!
Here is a short video with Director of Wine-making Daniel Baron as he takes you on a vineyard tour of Silver Oak’s vineyards using Google Earth satellite imaging.
To my dismay, Far Niente seemed to focus more on their landscaped grounds and racing cars than the only reason I was visiting them – wine. Not much left to say?
I dedicated separate articles for Palmaz Vineyard and Seavey Vineyard since they both are family run boutique wines and I had the honor of being hosted by the family itself – the vivacious Ms. Florencia Palmaz and the lovely Ms. Dorie Seavey.
On a personal note, I would like to set some chatter to rest – Prior to my visit I had heard that Napa was for a lack of better word ‘snooty’ – Let me assure you – we were treated with complete humility and professionalism at each winery or restaurant we visited in Napa Valley. In summary I found Napa to have the highest standards in professionalism, passion for wine-making, and knowledge – truly a mecca for wine lovers across borders – especially Cabernet Oenophiles.
For budget friendly experience, check out the Passport – in Calistoga.
Have you visited Napa? I would love to hear about your experiences…….