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May 22, 2010 10:49 PM

Napa Wineries Trip Report

We spent the day in Napa. Our goal for the trip was to find old-world style wines and have good small winery experiences. We went to four wineries: Frog's Leap, Elizabeth Spencer, Corison, Whitehall.

Frog's Leap is a lovely tasting experience as far as venue and presentation. The winery grounds are beautiful and I love how they seat you on the patio overlooking the estate for the tastings. It's also a nice touch to provide some nibblies with the tasting. We tried 5 wines here: sauv blanc, rose, zin blend, merlot, and their Rutherford blend. The sauv blanc was very nice -- so crisp and clean, with unique hints of peach, pear and citrus; it was our favourite at this winery. The other wines were easy to drink but otherwise unremarkable -- they didn't really have much in the way of distinct characteristics and lacked any sort of complexity.

Elizabeth Spencer was our favourite winery of this trip. All the wines we tasted here had nice structure, great acid balance, and distictive flavours and bouquet. We really enjoyed the chardonnay, which is done in aged oak instead of in new oak, which means it keeps some of the toasty characteristics (it was even a bit smokey!) but doesn't hit you over the head with the oakiness. We also really enjoyed the pinot noir, which had good fruit but the tannins and the finish were very smooth.

Corison was the next stop and I was hopeful about this one, but it turned out to be the most disappointing of the ones we hit up today. The wines weren't bad but they also weren't remarkable. Their flagship wines, the cab sauvs, were good but at the prices they were charging ($75 and $98) I didn't think it was necessarily a good value for wines that were rather generic.

Our last stop was Whitehall, which was a great value. The wines are more new-world in style, but for the price it was hard to beat. The $16 sauv blanc was phenomenal at that price. So much complexity and yet also very smooth going down. We also really enjoyed the merlot and the cab sauv reserve -- again, both had lovely complexity and finish for the price.

We enjoyed the trip out to Napa and hope to get up to Sonoma next time!

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  1. Thanks for this report. I grew up in Napa, and have never gone wine tasting because I am intimidated about where to start. I'll remember your tips that Whitehall, Elizabethe Spencer, and Frog's Leap are worth a go.

    1 Reply
    1. re: roserunner

      Actually, if you're looking for a good starting point I think it's worthwhile to take one of the tours offered by a big winery like Mondavi or Beaulieu, just to get an idea of the wine making process. Then, head to some of the small wineries, not on a weekend though, where you'll get a more intimate tasting experience and they can spend the time to walk you through the tasting. You'll learn a lot about what you're tasting and eventually also decide what you like and don't like.

      I think the folks at Elizabeth Spencer and at Whitehall are very engaging and would be happy to walk you through and explain what you're tasting. At Frog's Leap, we were generally left to our own devices after we got some explanation while they were pouring.

    2. Frogs Leap used to have a much better tour. First of all, it was free. Then they took you all around the grouds, through the garden, in to the barn etc... while they told the history of the winery. It sounds like it's become a lot less personal, which is a shame.