We delayed Napacalypse II until 2016 and returned a little jaded, but how could we know that our first trip had just scratched the surface of what Napa had to offer. Once again we sampled both public and private tours, and found great wines everywhere.
The day of we went to Shafer was ungodly hot and we declined the vineyard tour, plus this way we could get to the wine a little quicker. I’ll confess the sole purpose for booking the wine tasting was the option to purchase Hillside Select. We first tried their flagship cab at Restaurant August in New Orleans for our anniversary in 2015 and plotted for almost a year to get more. I should have known that any winery that can make something as spectacular as Hillside Select would have some more pretty good bottles. The Eighty Four Malbec and the 1.5 Cab added to our order as well as their Firebreak dessert wine, which while sweet, doesn’t have the cloying syrupiness of port. Alas, while trying to grab a 1.5 cab out of our wine fridge, my husband mistakenly grabbed our sole Firebreak and decanted it. Spoiler alert—it does not go well with a steak dinner. Miraculously, we’ve managed to resist popping the Hillside Select while our two bottle allotment ages, but we’re growing old kicking our heels to get off the Hillside Select wait list. #waitinglistinperpetuity
The concierge at the Hotel Yountville called ahead to arrange our visit to Kuleto. The drive to Kuleto is beautiful, especially as you circle Lake Berryessa. The winery itself overlooks Lake Hennessy. It’s a one-lane road to the winery through the vineyard and the tasting room is picturesque with its vine-covered trellis. The reds were quite nice–the Danielli and Lone Acre Cabs stood out for us and we also ordered the Syrah.
Hill Family Tasting Room
This little gem is on the main street in Yountville and we stopped in on a whim to find some moderately priced wine that will beat most grocery store wines in the $50 range. Their rose´ of pinot noir, with its bubble gum nose, is a great bottle to sip by the pool. Their reds, especially the Atlas Peak cab, are not the over-the-top bombs of Caldwell or Fantesca, but their less assertive taste profile makes them a great choice for a weeknight dinner or if you or your guests don’t care for bolder wines but can handle some tannins.
More need to know a guy tastings
The visit to the historic Martin Estate Vineyards was a mash-up of wine-tasting and museum visit. The vineyard, which struck me as more European-looking than a lot of Napa vineyards, was part of the original Caymus Land Grant and dates back to the 19th century. Our tasting was hosted by Greg Martin and along with his dry wit, he shared some of the best, and surprisingly affordable, red wine in the Valley with the backdrop of his antique armament collection. The rose´ of cabernet is a fantastic bargain and the Rutherford Cabernet is a stellar estate-grown offering that belies its fair price.
Another beautiful winery with a picturesque outdoor picnic spot where we enjoyed a lunch of fried chicken from Ad Hoc (you absolutely must get the fried chicken) with sparkling wine and rose. One of the best parts about Napa wineries is getting to meet the dogs of wine. Leila exuberantly greeted us during our barrel tasting and after a tour of the wine-making facilities, we moved on to the tasting room. They showcased Heidi Barrett’s chardonnay, a Russian River Valley pinot noir, the Estate Cab, and All Great Things ‘Duty’. Fantesca’s wines are great examples of the bold California wines, and I love their All Great Things ‘Duty’ offering. Ironically, in the tasting room I didn’t care for the Estate Cab and yet, when we sampled our shipment at home, the Estate Cab skyrocketed to my top 5 list. The only drawback is they are pricy, but they are a treat for a special occasion.
Like Martin Estate, Fisher Estate has more reasonably priced reds that are out of this world and their dog Bougie (not quite sure how to spell that!) is a doll. Cameron Fisher, who embodies the down-to-earth winemaker who loves her craft, hosted our visit, and kindly gave us the rundown on where Napa locals go to chow down. While she and our driver, a long-time friend, chatted about goings on in her family and their Napa neighbors, I was secretly plotting how to convince her I was really a long-lost sister to join her quintessential wine country life. After a tour of the cellar, we sat down at a picnic table under the trees for one of the most perfect settings for an afternoon of tasting a variety of wines, all distinct and all delicious. The chardonnay won the vote for best white of the day, but picking a favorite cab among the Coach Insignia, Mountain Estate, and Wedding Vineyard proved impossible. We kept tasting, however, to make sure, really sure, that we couldn’t pick a victor.