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May 21, 2009 10:36 AM

Cab lovers trip to Napa/Sonoma

I'm one half of a young NYC couple heading to spend 4 days in Napa/Sonoma. While I have exhausted my research on chowhound and the web, I'm now suffering from information overload. I really love big cabs and love exploring new wine countries, my boyfriend on the other hand probably prefers a more laid back approach to tastings and might be easily intimidated. While I don't want to miss experiencing great wines, I hope someone can vet my list with ambiance/experience factored in and find a few great places to drop in for a quick(ish) tasting as compared to the full lengthy tours.

Basic itinerary:

Day 1: SFO - through Napa town/carneros - Yountville Inn
Dinner Reservation: Redd

I've read great things about Stelzner, Hartwell, Pine Ridge and Shafer. Unfortunately Shafer is booked.. I myself love Stag's Leap wine, but want to keep the $34-$45 tastings to a minimum.

Question: Since all of the above wineries are in that price range to taste, which is the "must-see"? Are there any other options in the area for a drop-in tasting and not necessarily the full tour (we will only half half day).

Day 2: Drive through St. Helena and cross over into Sonoma - Gaige House, Glen Ellen
Dinner reservation: El Dorado Kitchen

Cakebread cellars? Has anyone done the food pairing?

Casa Nuestra, Pride (head west on Spring Mountain toward Sonoma)

Suggestion in Kenwood as we drive down towards Glen Ellen?

Robet Hunter?

Day 3: Russian River Valley or Healdsburg?

We are staying the two nights in Glen Ellen, but plan to spend Saturday up north. I don't love Zin's or Pinots (which seem to be the focus in RRV). Where do you think the day is best spent?
If we do RRV, it seems the best choices are Siduri, Rochioli, Arista, Hartford and Merry Edwards. I haven't attempted to get a reservation at any of them however.

Any suggestions or alternative plans are welcome. We also need a dinner suggestion near Glen Ellen for Saturday evening. Girl and the Fig is an option, but don't love "comfort food" menus.

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  1. Hi you have a nice iternerary.
    Steltzner is still very good, you can drop in there and tasting is $5.00 my friend used to work there so we always started there.
    Chimney Rock is very good. Stag Leaps vertical dissapointed me last time I went.

    Cakebread is one of my fav's $10.00 need an appt.

    Go into St Helena and stop at Frank Family Vineyard, they have wonderful Cab. If you have time stop at Hess it's only $10.00 nicely tucked away and has a beautiful art museum.

    I'd go to Healdsburg. Stop in this boutique winers Shelby Wines you might like it.

    1. I don't understand why you are driving from St. Helena to Sonoma to eat at El Dorado Kitchen when you will be in Glen Ellen for two days after that (which is closer to El Dorado anyway). From St. Helena, you are looking at an hour drive to Sonoma and from Glen Ellen, you would have a 20-minute drive.

      There are more amazing restaurants on the Napa side of the valley that would warrant staying (Ubuntu, Terra, Martini House...), than making the drive to Sonoma for El Dorado. Especially if you are doing the Pride tasting the same day. That is a LOT of driving for food that frankly isn't that great.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Carrie 218

        Agree with the above poster that driving to El Dorado Kitchen from St. Helena (vs. Glen Ellen) is a long haul for a mediocre meal. EDK is very fun for drinks (meeting friends there tomorrow night) and for breakfast pastries at the coffee bar. Food is just adequate.

        For your Cab search, you might want to consider flights of tastings at wine retailers than the wineries themselves. Two to consider:

        * Cult Wine Central ( at Napa Wine Company: just acroos from the Oakville Grocery. You can taste multiple small production Cabs in this single location. Outstanding way to try a bunch.

        * Bounty Hunter in Napa: this retailer/on-line seller/casual restaurant specializes in flights of big Cabs. Very efficient use of your time + very fun. They have various wine clubs as well if you want big Cabs sent to you at home. Backroom Wines across the street is also a great place to buy Cabs --- extremely knowlegeable owner.

        Have fun.

        1. re: Carrie 218

          Thanks for the response (my vacation already started and thus, online access is limited). We are not driving fro St. Helena to EDK for the meal, we are staying in Glen Ellen that night. Our thinking is that the majority of wines we wanted to taste were on the napa/St. Helena so we will likely be there until most locations close around 5pm and then we will start making the drive down to Gaige House.

          It seems like restaurant recs are few and far between on the south sonoma side near Sonoma town and Glen Ellen. EDK was one of the few...

          1. re: amourlinds

            Search is broken so it's hard to find things now. There are many more options than that near Sonoma. Have you considered Estate? Here's the Place link to take you to two reports,

            You might want to take advantage of your time in Glen Ellen to explore the Cab and Merlot producers nearby, such as Arrowood, B R Cohn, Schug (the winemaker who put Joseph Phelps on the map) or Chateau St Jean, rather than heading to RRV and Healdsburg (which adjoins RRV), if you don't like Zin or PN.

        2. Day 1: Karl Lawrence. Make an appointment with Ric Henry and if he has time he will walk you through the cellars and give you tastes from all the barrels and some of the Sequoia Grove wines. Karl Lawrence is just about the best $50 CA Cab on the market and, if you are lucky, you migt taste a barrel of a reserve, which are amongst the best Cabernets CA has to offer.

          If you cannot do Karl Lawrence, try Del Dotto. It is a fantastic tour and you can blend your own wine. Expensive, though.

          Another option would be to drive up Prichard Hill and go to Chappellet... I don't think their tasting is super expensive but I wasn't charged at all when I went, so not certain.

          Neal is another great option... by appointment only, but I think the tasting is free.

          All of these places are, imo, *much* better than Stelzner, Hartwell, or Pine Ridge. Shafer is, indeed, excellent, but you say they cannot accomodate you...

          Drop in at Plumpjack. I think the tasting is only $15 (it was when I went). Good to very good wines, and they taste you on the expensive stuff.

          Pride is an excellent choice. You might see if you can get an appointment at Paloma, Realm/Sherwin, or Behrens and Hitchcock all right next to one another and Pride up on Spring Mountain.

          If you have time (big *if*) I would hit Deerfield Ranch in Kenwood / Glenn Ellen and try to arrange a tasting with Jamie Kutch (Kutch) and maybe even someone at Kosta Browne. Last I heard, Jamie and Michael Browne were still making their wines at Deerfield. Alternatively, I would drop in to Landmark -- pay for the better tasting, it is worth it.

          Yep. You have a good RRV list -- Merry Edwards is an absolute MUST and Siduri/Novy, Hartford (which you don't need a reservation for), Martinelli (which you don't need a reservation for) and Freeman (which is way out in the middle of nowhere andyou do need a reservation) would be my other choices.

          What Sonoma does best is Pinot, and outside of the Alexander Valley, there really isn't much Cab there at all, so I'd spend Day 2 entirely on Spring Mountain and in Napa and forget my reccmendations for Kenwood / Glen Ellen. You won't find much Cab in Healdsberg either, though north of Healdsberg there is a winery called Rafanelli that makes a decent one.

          BTW, I might stay in Napa all of Day 2, eat a great meal at Martini House in St. Helena (or elsewhere -- Terra, Ubuntu, etc as other posters have reccomended) then make your way to your hotel in Sonoma.

          The Girl and The Fig is good but not exceptional. Your hotel is really only half an hour (on a very windy road) from the good restaurants in Napa if you are displeased with your choices in Sonoma.

          1 Reply
          1. re: whiner

            Trinity road, over the mountain, is windy and winding. Highway 12 is winding but not as windy.

          2. When you're in the Glen Ellen area, I'd recommend stopping just up the road in Kenwood at VJB. We've enjoyed their cabs, especially the Dante. (Their wines have gotten my wife's chiropractor to reduce his Opus One habit for something with greater value). Almost next door is Ty Caton - we particularly enjoy their TyTanium red blend.