Northern California's wine country is a magical place. Each and every time I visit I feel like I am in a dream -- perhaps it's the wine that has this effect! There is a never ending list of wineries and tasting rooms to visit while in Napa or Sonoma. So, how does one go about choosing? That's the dilemma. Napa Valley contains well over 200 wineries, and most welcome guests with tours and tasting rooms. While enticing, the wealth of options can be overwhelming for all but the savviest of insiders. I'm breaking it down for you, the best places to sip on wine tastings and nibble on small pairings.
1. Sip Tiny Bubbles at Domaine Chandon
Chandon is one of the few Napa Valley wineries permitted to have a restaurant, the excellent Étoile. For the tasting lounge, chef Perry Hoffman created dishes to go with Chandon sparkling wines. chandon.com
2. Experience Wine and Olive Oil tasting at Long Meadow Ranch
All of the tastings here include samples of the estate's wonderful olive oils, too. Reserve a spot for a Farm-to-Table Experience ($85), which culminates in a three-course lunch at Long Meadow's Logan-Ives House. Dishes from chef Tim Mosblech are tailored to the wines, from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet. longmeadowranch.com
3. Explore 20 Small Wineries at Ma(i)sonry
Twenty small California wineries offer tastings at the Ma(i)sonry collective. Guests can taste from whichever wineries they choose in whichever setting they prefer, from a steampunk-art gallery to a contemporary sculpture garden to a blanket on the lawn. maisonry.com
4. For the Cabernet drinkers, you'll love O'Shaughnessy
Everything about Paul and Betty Wooll's secluded, Cabernet-focused winery is state of the art, from the glass-and-stone cellar to the 11,000-square-foot cave drilled into the side of Howell Mountain. Yet the building manages to blend into its natural surroundings. oshaughnessywinery.com
5. Taste one of the oldest producers, Beaulieu Vineyard
One of the oldest producers in the valley, BV offers tours of the original winery building, which dates back to 1885. These are followed by barrel samples of Cabernet and a stop in the new Heritage Room, which chronicles the history of wine in Napa. bvwines.com
6. Wine Taste in the Louis XV-styled Château that is Domaine Carneros
There’s no better way to soak in Carneros than by sitting on the terrace of Domaine Carneros with a glass of sparkling wine in hand. The winery, set gracefully on a hill, was designed to evoke the 200-year-old, Louis XV-styled Château de la Marquetterie, which Champagne’s Taittinger family has owned since before World War II. The tableside service on the patio allows visitors to sit back and feel the signature Carneros breezes while sampling Domaine Carneros wines by the glass, flight or bottle. Munch on the complimentary almonds or dig into the well-priced selections of cheeses or caviar. The intimate Balcony Package for two is a private tasting of top cuvées overlooking the vines, for $250. Inside, a painting of Madame de Pompadour dominates the foyer leading to the marble-floored, high-ceilinged tasting room. www.domainecarneros.com
7. Relax in the unpretentiousness of Scribe
Just a short drive away from San Francisco, Scribe Winery in Sonoma provide an exceptional setting for an enjoyable wine tasting while nibbling on snacks in Wine Country. Andrew Mariani's two hundred acre farm/winery is certainly an outstanding experience. harming, rustic, and indie are three words to describe Scribe. The tasting room? Simple. A few out door rugged tables to the view of the vineyards, not scripted, down to earth wine servers that willing to have conversations with you and not there to clean your wallet or forcing you to join their wine clubs. The kind of service that make you come back to buy more wines and worth-of-mouth to promote their wines on social media without anything more. Scribe is by appointment only.
8. Enjoy a glass in resort style at Ram's Gate
Ram's Gate Winery is something pretty spectacular and worth checking out. Located at the entrance to the Carneros region of Sonoma just across from Infineon Raceway. The facility and tasting room just opened about in 2012, offering an excellent hospitality experience, amazing wines from some of the best vineyards in Carneros and Sonoma County, stunning architecture and views, and excellent food pairings to complement our wines and round out the experience.
9. Try the Cheese and Wine Pairings at Far Niente
Far Niente is one of Napa’s most elegant estates, with beautiful grounds and a deep history. A visit includes a winery tour and tasting of current release and library Cabernets and Chardonnays, with a seasonal cheese match. Not bad for $50. The 40,000 square feet of wine-aging caves are spectacular, as is the carriage house, where you’ll get to peek in on founder Gil Nickel’s car collection. www.farniente.com
10. Plenty of photo opps at Peju Province Winery
Outside, a long line of sycamore trees, gardens, fountains and sculptures offer plenty of photo opportunities. Inside Peju, there is plenty more to look at—an art gallery, an antique stained-glass window and shopping—and multiple tasting spaces; be sure to make a reservation if you want a tasting of older library wines. It all has a quirky, colorful, friendly vibe, and the staff is very accommodating. www.peju.com