Knowing ahead of time how easy it can be to get overwhelmed with all the wineries around Napa, we decided to narrow down our list. We had four, but after taking into consideration tasting fees, travel time, and alcohol intake (on my end), we ended up focusing on two. We'd gotten a few recommendations for Domaine Chandon, so off we went to our first winery.
First of all, as evidenced above, the estate is hauntingly beautiful. I suspect a big part of why people come here is to enjoy the scenery. It's spacious, bright, open, and while the staff is less than ecstatic, the visual surroundings tend to take your mind off of other matters. But onto the wine.
Domaine Chandon is best known for their sparkling wines, especially the Brut Classic, which my companions claimed was the most popular due to it being well stocked at corner stores. We opted for the Classic Tasting ($18), which included half pours of the Brut classic, Blanc de Noirs, Rose, and Extra-dry Riche, plus a souvenir Chandon flute glass.
The inside restaurant Etoile seemed to be well rated, and I could easily imagine a leisurely afternoon lunch on their gorgeous patio with a (few) glass(es) of sparkling wine. At $18-25 for their tastings and a mark-up rather than a discount at the enclosed store, while I'm glad I went, I'm not sure I'd rush back here on future trips to Napa.
Next, we headed to a personal favorite of my San Franciscan host, who chanced upon it during a bike ride and has been a fan ever since. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars immediately had a much more rustic feel, as evidenced by the heavy wooden gate door, earthy tones, and even the name. The staff here also knew more about the estate's history, dating back to the 1976 Paris Tasting, when in a blind tasting, the American S.L.V. beat out French wineries for the first time, proving that the areas for good wine production had finally expanded.
A friend and I split the Napa Valley tasting ($15), which gave us two glasses each, one of the 2006 Merlot and one 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Artemis. Stag's Leap produces more Cabernet Sauvignons, and I detected lingering hints of chocolate or cocoa powder.
Knowing their history, I had to try their signature Cask 23. The tasting notes alone sounded amazing, of "warm berries and concentrated cassis, chocolate fudge, violets, and barrel spices", even if I didn't have the requisite $195 for the bottle. But we did go back with a bottle of the Stag Leap Artemis to pair with our dinner. Perhaps it was the "warm pie crust" tasting note that jumped out and caught my curiosity that time.
At this point, I was pretty much done, as I am a bit of a lightweight. Nevertheless, it was such a fun experience. I had a mission to finally visit Napa wine county after hearing so much about it, since I'm still new to wine and I believe in learning through first-hand experience. Not only that, but I hadn't anticipated just how pleasant and beautiful the scenery is in Napa Valley.
My friend Barce was the designated driver throughout the day, exhibiting a will of steel against our offers to taste the wines. In his typical good nature, and as a further sign of his hospitality, he even made us dinner that night. Home cooking is a treasured and rare experience for me, since I never cook at home for myself.
There was an immense satisfaction in popping open the bottle of red wine from his favorite Napa winery to go with our home-cooked meal. I had the fortune of dining on a juicy chicken breast with homemade gnocchi from scratch, dressed with a sauce of onions and mushrooms. For dessert, we continued our wine streak with Ciao Bella Blackberry Cabernet gelato, and I produced a box of Chateau de Margaux Armagnac soaked cherries.
Between our afternoon of wine tasting, the Chardonnay in our cooked meal, and the different alcoholic desserts, I think I've reached my wine quota of the month. Until my next visit, Napa Valley. I'll be nursing my liver in the meantime.
Domaine Chandon Winery
1 California Dr
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
5766 Silverado Trail
Napa, CA 94558