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Napa Recommendations

My husband and I are taking our first trip to Napa Aug. 26-30. We have tastings scheduled at Schramsberg and are planning on visiting Robert Sinskey. We are in desperate need of relaxation, so are trying to schedule as little as possible, and what we schedule we want to be good. Oddly, we don't drink a lot of cabs, but instead opt for old world wines. That being said, in general we just love a good bottle of wine, so a great cab tasting: "hell's yeah!" What are your favorite vineyards for wine, the best ones for architecture, and the best overall experience? (I do, of course, understand that often these things might be in opposition). Oh yeah, if there is a vineyard with a stunning food/wine tour that anyone can recommend we would be much obliged.


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  1. Like Dalioush for Persian architecture and the wines; also Coppola in the old Inglenook space is also a lovely space.

    1. Sinskey is wonderful, beautiful wines, great tasting. Head just a little bit further north on the Silverado Trail and hit Cliff Lede, it's at the Trail an the Yountville crossroad. A stunning winery with outstanding wines, great people and a beautiful patio to relax on while tasting their wines. They do mostly reds that are outstanding but also have one of the best sauv. blancs in the valley. It's been one of out favorites for many years.


      1. Jarvis is entirely in a cave and their wines are high quality. The tour/tasting is a little pricey but we highly recommend it.

        Chateau Montelena is a beautiful site and their wine is classic Napa quality.

        I still think the educational tour at Mondavi is one of the best in the valley.

        I'll second Schramsberg, Cliff Lede and Sinskey as well.

        1. Your two appointments so far are great and ditto the recs for Cliff Lede and Montelena.

          Also recommend:

          - Shafer (great view, more formal)
          - Lewelling (very relaxing, taste in the vineyard)
          - Alpha Omega (killer, Bordeaux style wines)
          - Larkmead (great wines, people)

          1. Napa has all the fame and glory, but if you ever
            consider making a second trip, I would suggest
            visiting Sonoma Valley, which is much larger than Napa
            and has a greater diversity of wine varieties. If you
            go along Westside Road along the Russian River
            yoou will find great Pinot noirs. Alexander Valley
            has great cabs and zins. Dry Creek has great zins
            and fine Italian varietals. Downtown Healdsburg
            has also a wide range of tasting rooms (Rosenblum,
            Selby, etc..) and decent restaurants.

            1. I think the above poster meant Darioush. I've been to Cliff Lede & Robert Sinskey and agree both are good; however, for my next month's trip, I'm really looking forward to the reds at Rombauer & Shafer as well as chardonnay at former. I wouldn't consider Sinskey in the category of "hell's yeah" :) You also might find something in this link...


              1. If you are into "old world" wines (balanced fruit, moderate alcholol, good acidity) then you must try Frog's Leap. You must call ahead and make an appointment but it will be worth it if you don't want cabs and zins that taste like port.

                1 Reply
                1. re: foleyd7

                  Let me second Frog's Leap. In fact, given your preferences, this could well be a must-visit for you.

                  First, definitely do the tasting/tour, even if you typically disdain the tour experience. This one is truly special. Twice daily, and you'll need reservations, but it's free including the tastings (which, btw, are offered on the tour - out in the vineyards, down in the barrel rooms, in the gardens). And, oh yes, the gardens! Don't leave without plucking a white peach for a wonderful treat (should still be nicely in season), or sampling any of their produce (check the back porch of the residence house for a basket of the day's bounty). If you're lucky, the positively charming Megan will be leading the tour.

                  The wines are a definite match for your preferences. Very balanced, very low alcohol, with a wonderful minerality. The sauvignon blanc is crisp to the point of austerity - just perfect - and the cab, cab/merlot blend is definitely old world with an extremely low alcohol percentage.

                  This is a perfect morning stop (I believe the first tour is 10am). Since the tour includes the vineyards and gardens, you'll be able to enjoy the morning sunshine. And the low alcohol content will keep you from overdoing it so early.

                  EDIT: one more thing - schedule your winery visits for the weekdays to avoid the crush of the weekend crowds. Not having to navigate the heavy traffic on Hwy-29 or worm your way through the crowds in the tasting rooms will make all the difference in the world.

                2. I can second ( or third or fourth?) recs for Darioush, Clif Lede and Shafer - all relatively close to each other and very good wines. really I wanted to respond regarding the food/wine part of your post...

                  Darioush does a wine and cheese tasting - check the website for prices and you would need to schedule in advance; I've done it a few times before and it is a really great experiemce...tasting wines paired with 4 or so local cheeses in a sit-down tasting in a room reserved for exactly this in the cellar.

                  Duckhorn also does a food/wine tasting...it's been a while so I forget if it was food or cheeses paired with wine. It was good but, at least in my opinion, not the best for this sort of thing. Their wines are lovely, just saying for a food/thing specifically this isn't the best.

                  Clif Lede also does a food and wine type tasting which also has to be booked ahead. We did this once just recently and it was really nice so consider that.

                  Cakebread also does a food and wine tasting which is really in my opinion one of the best of this type. If you think you want to do any food & wine tasting, I'd say try to reserve this one. They give the recipes and do a better job of talking about how the food & wine interact. Also the food and wine are both pretty good.

                  Also just a comment, love Schramsberg!

                  Have fun!

                  1. Best for architecture and setting:
                    Nickel & Nickel -- lovely old barns, pastoral setting; lovely reds and whites, somewhat old world and classic traditionally made wines

                    Clos Pegase -- modern architecture by Michael Graves, so-so wines

                    Quixote -- designed by Viennese artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, wild

                    Spring Mountain Vineyards -- centered around the mansion called Miravalle, which was the Falcon Crest House -- beautiful

                    Artesa -- modern, bermed into the hill, designed by Domingo Triay, OK wine

                    Far Niente -- just sheer beauty, old stone building, don't miss the car collection, great wine made in a classic traditional style (sister winery to Nickel & Nickel)

                    Jarvis -- interesting, but not amazing.

                    Not a fan of the Persian design of Darioush. Seems a little tacky, rather than elegant.
                    Wines aren't that great either, again out of balance and not at all Old World,

                    Best for Cabs and other reds:
                    Pride Mountain
                    Nickel & Nickel
                    Sequoia Grove
                    Joseph Phelps
                    Check into some of the boutique winery reds

                    Nix on Cliff Lede -- way out of balance wines, way too alcoholic. Not Old World in the slightest. The recs for this winery are completely off given your wine preferences.

                    Sinskey -- OK, but nothing special

                    Most fun: Frog's Leap
                    But there are a lot of fun spots. Most of the Visitor Center workers are very fun.

                    Best tour: Robert Mondavi and Schramsberg (wonderful caves)

                    You may very much like the Spring Mountain District of about 14 wineries. Pride and
                    Spring Mountain Vineyards are two good wineries to visit. What characterizes the wines from there are wonderful fruit but with a backbone of acidity. The wines have a lovely freshness and liveliness, and are exceedingly well made.

                    Check out the other threads on Napa wineries on the San Francisco Bay Area Board.
                    A ton of info there.

                    1. Wine tour: Del Dotto -- It is seriously pricy though, I think up to $40/person now.

                      I've never paid much attention to the architecture... Plumpjack has a nice tasting room, though, and the wines are pretty good.

                      For wine (all of these are by appointment only):
                      Karl Lawrence is #1 then...
                      Pride (over-the-top, though)
                      Realm / Scherwin
                      Figure out where Thomas Rivers-Brown will be that day...

                      4 Replies
                        1. re: whiner

                          Del Dotto does seem pricey...til you get drunk from the many large tastes they offer!! At least that is how it seemed last time we went. Great and informative tasting but we stopped doing them because we couldn't handle all that wine!!

                          1. re: whiner

                            On the gemstone website they say they don't do tours or tastings...

                            1. re: shelbyk

                              I had their wines today at the CA Family tasting... The woman told me she hoped to see me soon at the winery. :-/

                          2. My wife and I visited Napa in July and enjoyed many of the wineries that people have already recommended to you. I agree that Frog's Leap should be high on your list. But there is a winery that does not stand out for architecture, setting, or food. It was just a fun stop with good wine. Check out Elizabeth Spencer's tasting room in Rutherford. It is a small space that was once the post office building. But the wine is great, the staff is friendly, and they have a pleasant patio upon which you can sit and enjoy their excellent wines.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: nyjim

                              Elizabeth Spencer is a wonderful small winery. The tasting room is the size of a postage stamp, but the wines are well-crafted and well-priced.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                Funny you mentioned Elizabeth Spencer.........I just had their 2006 Sonoma Coast Syrah last night. It could be the best syrah in Cali right now.

                                I agree their wines are well made. Definetley wort the stop

                            2. Thank you all for wonderful rec's. One of my goals for this trip was very little scheduling, lots of relaxation and lots of good food and wine...gratefully all 3 goals were achieved. We toured Pride and Thursday, and I have to say I was very pleased! The winery itself is lovely in its placement at the top of the hill, and the tour was very educational and fun! We toured with one other couple, tasted some great cab's, cab franc and merlot (not generally much of a merlot drinker!), and were generally very impressed. We ate a picnic after the tour and had a chilled, pleasing bottle of Pride Voignier. The next morning we toured Schramsberg, which was fantastically informative and cool (temp-wise, it was 100 degrees in the valley). On Saturday we had a leisurely visit to Sinskey (so sad to just have read about Elizabeth Spencer as we were parked right outside and contemplated going in...next time) and then to Whitehall where we tasted some good cabs.

                              The Pride rec made our trip, and next time we plan on doing more

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: shelbyk

                                Please explain about Elizabeth Spencer. The winery is owned by Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham. What did you read? Nothing coming up in Google; nothing on their site; nothing in Napa Valley Register online; nothing in my daily Wine Business online e-mail.

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  I first read shelbyk's comment the same way but, after doing a Web search, concluded s/he meant s/he was sorry to have read nyjim's recco of the winery only after the opportunity to visit it had passed.

                                  1. re: carswell

                                    Thanks for that, carswell. We're going there in 10 days, so I'll get a chance to check it out. It was the "so sad" that got me.

                              2. Frogs Leap?? I'm a regular on the Parker boards and Wine Berserkers board, and I don't recall any mention of Frogs Leap. Just for fun, I 'searched' the name on www.cellartracker.com
                                I checked on their Zin and Cab Sauv. Both are forgetable, with rating in the mid-80's. In case you don't know, Cellartracker is where posters report on their wine tastings, just like CH's report on food.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: dhammer53

                                  I don't understand why you're putting down this winery given the OP's preferences.

                                  Have you tasted the wines or are you going by scores alone?
                                  The average score of all the FL wines on Cellar Tracker is 88.6, so I
                                  respectfully disagree that the wines could be characterized as "forgettable."
                                  (See numbers below.)

                                  But BEYOND the scores:
                                  The Winery is beautiful and charming, located on a tree-lined country road that's flanked by mountains on either side. Big red barn against a big sky. Great Victorian home. Have you been?
                                  The staff is among the most fun in Napa Valley.
                                  John Williams, the winemaker, is very smart about many things.
                                  The stewardship of the land is remarkable.
                                  The wines are reasonably priced for those scores. Especially if purchased at a big wine store.

                                  I'd say all that makes for a great visit overall, as the OP asked.

                                  I would probably recommend different wineries were I speaking to a wine geek.
                                  What wineries in Napa Valley would you recommend to the OP, given her stated preferences?

                                  Here are the Summary Scores for all the Frog's Leap wine reviews on CellarTracker:
                                  Cabernet Sauvignon 89 pts. in 91 notes
                                  Zinfandel 87 pts. in 67 notes
                                  Sauvignon Blanc 85 pts. in 29 notes
                                  Merlot 88pts. in 28 notes
                                  Chardonnay 88.6 pts. in 13 notes
                                  Syrah 86.9 pts. in 10 notes
                                  White Blend 87 pts. in 10 notes
                                  Rosé Blend 85 pts. in 9 notes
                                  Red Bordeaux Blend 89.2 pts. in 6 notes
                                  Petite Sirah 91 pts. in 3 notes
                                  Riesling 88 pts. in 3 notes

                                  Nope, those scores aren't at the top of the heap, but they're still fairly impressive.
                                  (I'm on the Parker and Berserkers boards also, as well as a few others.)

                                  1. re: dhammer53

                                    Taste them and decide for yourself.
                                    For 10 years I was a score chaser via RP and WS. Those are 10 years of my life I'll never get back.
                                    Know what RP and WS scores are good for? They are good for "happy hour".
                                    If you want real wine, for real food, and for real people, you will throw your Wine Advocates and Wine Spectators in the trash. And then you will try Frog's Leap and pair it with a good meal and finally really understand what wine and food are about.