Thursday, October 13, 2011

Places I'm Visiting: Napa and Sonoma Winery Visits (October 2011)

Last weekend I accompanied a visitor from Japan on visits to a number of wineries in Napa County (on Saturday) and in Sonoma County (on Sunday). I rarely visit the Napa wineries on my own because the tasting rooms are generally expensive tourist traps, but it's interesting to see what's going on from time to time (the Sonoma-side tasting rooms tend to be smaller, more personal, and friendlier--not to mention much cheaper, often free). In Napa, we visited Rubicon Estate in the morning (the historical Inglenook winery, until recently the Niebaum-Coppola winery; not long ago the high-end Rubicon Estate wines were brought together at the Inglenook property, while the mass-produced Coppola wines were transferred to a new location in Geyserville). We moved on to Opus One (pictured above), where we tasted the 2006 and 2008 wines before an excellent lunch at Domaine Chandon, in Yountville, that began with raw oysters with a yuzu, cucumber, and fennel garnish. I generally like raw oysters with nothing more than freshly-squeezed lemon, but yuzu, cucumber, and fennel was tasty and subtle enough that it didn't detract from the delicate flavors of the oysters. I had a duck confit main dish with a fig-based sauce that was delicious, washed down with a glass of the Étoile Brut. After lunch we stopped at Étude, in the Carneros region, which is one of my favorite Carneros producers of Pinot Noir. We tasted Pinot Noir but also a delicious Pinot Blanc in the very friendly tasting room.

On Sunday, we began the day at Wellington, where we tasted the entire range of available wines, which included some interesting port-style dessert wines. A newly released 2009 Chardonnay was a standout along with the current vintage of the Morhardt Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. I like this winery for its high-quality wines, reasonable prices, and unpretentious tasting room staffed by genuinely friendly people. The 1920s Carignane vines in front of the tasting room were heavy with fruit and beginning to show autumn color in the leaves. We tasted next at Enkidu before having lunch at Café Citti. After lunch we tasted at Chateau St. Jean. On the way back to the airport, we detoured to do some quick shopping at Dean and Deluca (a small part of the cheese selection is shown below) and then stopped briefly at Gloria Ferrer just to take in the view (bottom photo). The deck was packed with visitors taking in the same view along with some sparkling wine. It's always a pleasure to show visitors our beautiful wine country.

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