A Guide To Wine Tasting In Napa Valley

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Wine enthusiasts consider California’s Napa Valley one of the world’s top growing region’s for wine. Napa Valley’s climate, which is similar to the Mediterranean, possesses a geography and geology well suited for growing wine grapes. The specific climate, soil and location of Napa Valley has created a lucrative marketplace for wine that has also grown into one of the nation’s most popular travel destinations. Napa Valley is located 50-miles northeast of San Francisco and 60-miles west of Sacramento in Northern California. The nation’s first Agriculture Preserve enacted in 1968 protects the thirty-mile stretch of land from being over developed.

Napa Valley can be visited all year-round, where every season is completely different, especially for tourism. Spring and winter are not as popular with more affordable hotels and restaurants. In the summer and fall when the grapes are growing and ready for harvest, the Napa Valley is abuzz with tourists and reservations are tough to come by unless you plan early.

Although there are more than 140 wineries operating in Napa Valley, some of the first established wineries are worth a visit for great wine, but also for the regional history. In 1861, the Charles Krug Winery was established and continues to be a dominant commercial winery. Other wineries to visit with nostalgia and history in the Napa Valley include Beringer, Beaulieu, Mayacamas, Far Niente and Chateau Montelena.

Ready for Planting Finished Product

Wineries to visit due to their illustrious history of making Napa Valley a world-class growing region are Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. The wine produced from these vineyards in 1976 won first place in a blind tasting against distinguished French wineries, and ever since, Napa Valley has been recognized as a top wine producing region.

Planning A Visit

To visit wineries and enjoy as much of the region’s product as possible, Napa Valley has a variety of tours.

  • Tours vary from drop-in to needing reservations as well as a wine train tour, group tours by car, cycling tours and individual packages.
  • It’s best to check with specific wineries to plan ahead.
  • Wine tours are plentiful and offer many options for a Napa Valley experience.
  • When planning for a tour, keep in mind what your preferences might be for visiting Napa Valley.
  • Every winery has something to offer. A tour of the best tasting rooms can be arranged or created on your own.
  • Discovering wineries where you can picnic are a delight especially wineries who off gourmet fare for sale.
  • Researching free wine tastings is also another option, although hard to find, a few still exist.
  • Visiting wineries for their location, views and architecture is another satisfying experience in Napa Valley as well as enjoying food and wine pairing meals at specific wineries. Visit www.napavalley.com for information on tours, lodging, dining and other activities in the Napa Valley region.

Wine Rating

Understanding how to enjoy wine tasting is also a part of the Napa Valley experience. Wines are rated on a 100-point system with 50 being the lowest and 100 the highest. Wines rated 80-points and above will be very enjoyable. Several wine publications including “Wine Advocate,” “Wine Spectator,” “Wine Enthusiast” and “Food and Wine Magazine,” use the wine rating system to describe quality and are often a good source for discovering and tasting new wines in Napa Valley.

Types Of Tasting Rooms

A few noteworthy wineries to visit in Napa Valley include Artesa, whose modern look has a contemporary appeal along and panoramic views of the valley. At Chimney Rock Winery, close to Stags Leap, expect a tasting room experience that will make you feel comfortable while having a wine educational experience. Don’t miss out on sparkling wine tastings, if you enjoy them. Domaine Chandon is a tasting room for bubbly and the winery also has a restaurant, Etoile. Another vineyard for sparkling wines is Schramsberg, which also features J. Davies wines. This winery is known for impeccable wines and sparkling wines, however to visit Schramsberg an appointment is needed but is well worth the experience. Another popular wine tasting room, which concentrates on food pairing is Robert Sinskey Vineyards. Robert Sinskey Vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic operation, which includes a delicious restaurant.

At Floral Springs Vineyard you can enjoy a picnic and at Merryvale award-wining wines can be enjoyed in their Historic Cask Room for a special party or event. Other wineries to explore for history, architecture and taste include Duckhorn Vineyards, which features an estate house and beautiful gardens.

Expect to spend at least $25 for wine tastings at most vineyards especially noteworthy labels, which will charge more. A tasting will offer a flight of wines allowing you to experience all the wines or a good sampling of what any vineyard produces. Beyond tasting, wine tours will provide an education on how wines are made and how vintages vary from year to year. Each Napa Valley winery has its unique set-up and many wineries will explain the highs and lows of winemaking dependent on weather, good barrels and proper aging.

Experiencing Napa Valley tasting rooms will also expose you to wines you may not be able to purchase anywhere but in Napa Valley, which is an exciting and delicious souvenir to bring back to home.

Last Updated: December 19, 2011
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About Sabina Dana Plasse Sabina Dana Plasse holds a bachelor's degree in history from Bucknell University, a master's in liberal arts from Johns Hopkins University and a master's in film and video from American University. She is an award-winning writer and editor living in Sun Valley, Idaho. Besides writing on fine arts, lifestyle, home and garden, entertainment, philanthropy and business, she enjoys teaching film and writing screenplays. Sabina has served as the arts and events editor and living writer for the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper, a twice weekly national award-winning newspaper serving Idaho's Wood River Valley. Sabina adores mountain town living where she is an active snowboarding, skier, mountain biker, hiker, supporter of the arts and an avid seeker of practical living ideas.  

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