Whether you’re one of the many uninitiated wine tasters or an aspiring sommelier, we’ve put together a short list of the best wine tasting experiences in Napa Valley. While there are many wineries that deserve mention, this short list represents a good sample of the many experiences one would expect from other similar wineries.
Even if you haven’t been schooled on how to taste wine, each vineyard has been very accommodating.
1. Joseph Phelps Winery
Joseph Phelps, who also ran one one the largest construction companies in the US, built the 600-acre winery in 1973 . The following year, it crushed grapes for its first harvest for its first wine Insignia – the vineyard’s flagship wine which continues to be recognized as one of the world’s great wines of today.
The winery does terrace and private wine tastings that are considered one of the more formal experiences but, rest assured, it does not intimidate newcomers. We found ourselves learning more about how the wine gets its flavors all under a seated intimate setting with an informative tour guide who breaks down each glass pour.
The tasting includes a wide range of wines which also include the famous Insignia. There’s even a chance to experience the winery’s timeline by tasting past, present and future versions of the Insignia wine.
Additionally, aspirational wine experts will also enjoy putting their nose to the test “Wine Aroma Challenge” where the taster tries to identify several white and red wines which is a fun experience.
2. Robert Mondavi
Established in 1966, Robert Mondavi is one of the more recognizable names in wines and is also one of the first to offer tours and tastings in its winery.
Mondavi believed in combining the newest techniques and technology with time-honored winemaking traditions and it’s definitely reflected in the rooms
The Robert Mondavi wine tasting experience requires no reservation off the bat unless you want to go for the basics in how to taste wine. While the Joseph Phelps goes into the details and history of each taste, wine tasting in Robert Mondavi provides a more casual experience.
The tastings can be experienced in three rooms that range from a casual patio to a wine tasting library where visitors get a chance to experience older vintage wine. Naturally, each room also increases in price range but there’s enough variety for those looking to jump into the wine tasting wagon without feeling a little intimidated. Most beginning wine tasters get their start here.
3. Castello di Amorosa
Located in Calistoga, Castello di Amorosa is a unique winery that opened its doors in 2007 as Dario Sattui’s pet project which has now gained notoriety for having a 300-year-old iron maiden sit in its winery. Sattui is also the owner of a much older winery (V. Sattui) which was established as far back as the late 1800s.
See picture above. Before wine tasting even begins, your eyes get a treat. Castello di Amorosa is an actual castle comprised of hand built bricks made the old way while providing a medieval vibe and a torture room to boot. Of course, that is not to take away from its wine tasting – all of which we’ve found the wine hosts to be as informative as the rest of those on this list.
It can be crowded during certain days because of its family friendly atmosphere but its wine tasting experience is probably one of the most entertaining (if not the most) on this list. If you’re looking into something much more casual and full of intrigue with the friends who are staying in town to visit, this is the place to take them.
Launched in 1995, winemakers Linda and Gerhard Reisacher specialize in handcrafted luxury red wines from select vineyards throughout Napa Valley and Knights Valley. Gerhard, an eighth generation winemaker, has prided himself in producing what their site describes as “expressive red wines” to which Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker agrees as having “magnificent aging potential”.
Delectus is best described as wine tasting at its most personal level. Having a wine host is one thing but having the creator of the wine you hold in your glass is another experience in itself. Gerhard is a one man show with big personality and his wines are reflective of it. Winemakers who’ve been in the business for decades describe Gerhard’s wine as some of the best deep flavors you’ll taste which are specifically designed to age. On top of the delicious wines, Gerhard takes you deep into the wine making process himself and have you participate in harvesting the grapes. If you’re one of the lucky ones to taste with Gerhard as your guide, you may even get some his own barbecue short ribs to go with your wine.
While those of us at the Wine Tasting Network have our favorites, this particular winery gets the nod from some of our staff as a Top 5 winery. Located in east of the town of St. Helena, Heitz Wine Cellars is described by Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia as being the “master of Grignolino”. The winery receives awards from a variety of publications and has won competitions such as the Japan Wine Challenge.
While Heitz is one of the few family-owned wineries that also offer tiered wine tasting experiences – one of which is free. While that may mislead some to believe that it is of lower value we can attest that it is not. Coupled with killer views out the back of the tasting room that stretches towards the Stag’s Leap District, Heitz tasting experience is one we describe as serene and inviting without the large crowds and noise.
Heitz wine hosts are some of the most knowledgeable of the bunch but goes out of its way to entertain its visitors. Locals have yet to fully embrace this hidden gem but this list might change that.
What do you think? Tasted at a winery that deserves mention? Leave a comment below.