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Napa or Sonoma for Syraz lovers

I'm planning my first wine tour trip with my husband and I'm not sure which area to concentrate on. We'll be doing 3 or 4 nights. We're not very familiar with California wines. Our favourite wines are usually Australian Syraz or malbecs, especially high altitude Barossa valley. We're not really into white wine. I'm thinking we're going to want to check out some great Cabs and syrah on this wine tour.

Can I get some recommendations on wineries and whether Napa or Sonoma is the best area to start off with?


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  1. In Napa, you will definitely want to seek out Havens. They probably make the best Syrah you can taste without an appointment. Other stand-outs require appointments and could require a lot of work (Culler, Outpost)

    In Sonoma/Healdsburg, I would head to Loxton, Selby, and Jepson for great Syrah juice.

    1. In Sonoma County, Carlisle, Pax, Copain, and Radio-Coteau make excellent Syrahs. All will require appointments.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Paul H

        Copain *is* amazing and one of the few lists I have stayed on -- I didn't realize they actually did tastings!

        1. re: Carrie 218

          They have opened up a place on Eastside Road recently instead of the warehouse in Santa Rosa.

      2. If you're not married to that area, or for a subsequent excursion, check out the central coast areas on the CA board. Key words: Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo (SLO), Edna Valley, Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara area wineries. Enjoy, and do report back.

        1 Reply
        1. re: PolarBear

          thanks for the suggestion. I'll keep that in mind for another trip, but we'll definitely be sticking to the San Fran area.

        2. Hi ztarsh, I'm curious about where you are from; I'm asking because: in California the grape is usually referred to as either syrah (French) or Shiraz (Australian).

          I would recommend checking out Darioush (Silverado Trail in Napa). The owner claims that Shiraz was originally a Persian grape, brought to France during the crusades, and then to Australia in the 1800s. [I suspect this story is not true.] Some say the winery looks like it belongs in Las Vegas, but they make quite a few high end Shiraz wines.

          Sorry, can't help on tha malbec.

          3 Replies
          1. re: sunnyand72

            Sunnyand72 - I'm Canadian. I just wanted to be clear about my taste in wine so I could get some suggestions on must try wineries. I'm not very familiar with California syrahs since I tend to drink Aussie Shiraz's. So if there are any full-bodied spicy california reds that anyone can recommend, I appreciate the help. In the meantime I'll check out darioush

            1. re: ztarsh

              I am a Darioush detractor -- the building is pretty stunning (and *very* Persian) and worthy of a visit for a tourist, but I find their wines to be extremely expensive and hot with alcohol. I have yet to taste any of their wines I would drink...

          2. Well I first sense would be to send you over to northern Sonoma County. Dry Creek Area. Preston and Christopher Creek come to mind. But there are plenty of small places you can just pop into over there. And also, Dry Creek area is where premium Zinfandels are grown and produced and you may enjoy them. Also search around for boutique Petite Sirah producers. Calistoga, in Napa County, is a good area, but again, based on what you wrote, I think you will find what you enjoy in Sonoma County. So make Healdsburg your base. (Knights Valley and Alexander Valley does produce some lovely Cabernet Sauvignon.)

            2 Replies
            1. re: Madge

              Mauritson has also some great Pinot Noir's to complement their outstanding Zin's. I am biases toward Healdsburg since I live in Santa Rosa. The tasting rooms are less crowded than Napa's and less expensive.

              1. re: fcubano

                Mauritson does not make a Pinot Noir. We have been club members since they have been open and know the owners quite well.

            2. I would highly reccommend Healdsburg in Sonoma cty. The tasting fees are very minimal and are taken off if you buy a bottle. I have not seen that in the Napa area. ALso it is MUCH less crowded in the tasting rooms and makes for a more intimate tasting. I would try Mauritson. They make some awesome Zins and Petite Syrahs. Many wines from the Rockpile appelation too. Its our favorite winery in the area.

              1. If you're interested in Syrah, it might be a good idea to focus on wineries who have expertise in Rhone varietals. In Napa Valley, that is Joseph Phelps, and the wines are extremely good, and the setting lovely. I'm extremely fond of their Syrah, Le Mistral (named after the Rhone wind) and Pastiche.

                Nickel & Nickel makes one of the best Syrahs I've had in Napa Valley -- I believe it's called Hudson Vineyard. It may be a pricey tasting, but Nickel & Nickel is in a stunning setting, and please let them know your focus is Syrah and red wine.

                Also, as mentioned, Havens.

                Napa is known for Cabernets, so while you're here, taste them.

                On the Sonoma side, the wine districts around Healdsburg would be quite good for your wine palates. Preston is another Rhone-wine producer, and worth seeking out.I think my favorite is the L. Preston which comes in a burlap bag, IIRC. Preston is in Dry Creek Valley, the region for probably the best Zinfandels in California -- beautiful spicy red wines. I like the ones that have both forward cherry fruit and black or white pepper spice. You could spend a great deal of time in Dry Creek Valley, and will also find other Syrahs and some Pinot Noirs. Please do a search on Dry Creek wineries either on this board or on the Wine Board for specific detailed recs. I hope you have a lovely time.