Napa Valley has a well-earned international reputation for brilliant wines, gourmet food, and blissful accommodation options. A Napa wine tasting is the perfect thing in this environment. You already know about the established wine icons of this valley, the ones who dominate the media coverage, holding center stage among wine aficionados and tourists alike.
However, the Napa Valley's beautiful natural landscape has a secret. Nestling amongst its 400 or so wineries are less-heralded winemakers pursuing their calling with a passion and purpose. These hidden oenological gems offer delightful, tasting experiences for wine buffs in search of tasting room staff who share a devotion to their craft, love meeting people and discussing wines, and are knowledgeable about their wines. We have selected five unheralded wineries representing the essence of a true Napa wine tasting.
If you enjoy a combination of outstanding wines, bold architectural statements, and stunning views, then Artesa Vineyards is a mandatory stop on your Napa wine tasting expedition. Their signature Pinot Noir is done in a classic style and keeps excellent company with their pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, albarion, merlot, syrah, cabernet franc, tempranillo and sparkling wine styles.
Exiting Highway 121 on Napa's Old Sonoma Road, you pass back-country roads flanked with wildflower fields until you burst upon a modern-art-inspired winery built into the side of the hill garlanded with a stylish reflecting pool. Interiors reminiscent of the 1960s, feature bold colors, angular, clean-lined furniture and graphic paintings, completing the fusion of art and wine.
With its combination of outstanding wine, sculpture garden, art gallery, and luxury inn, Cliff Lede Vineyards is more a getaway than a simple wine tasting. The winery's determinedly non-conformist approach is reflected in its location, on a sixty-acre estate in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, away from the heaving wine epicenter of the Napa Valley. A restored 1913 Craftsman-style building reflects the vineyards relaxed atmosphere.
Inside, Bordeaux varietals sauvignon blanc, claret, cabernet sauvignon and petite syrah wait their turn at the tasting line-up, along with the Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, Lede's elegant and stylish flagship wine, with its enticing aromas, bold blackberry flavors, and firm, ripe, integrated tannins. Best value is the claret at $35 per bottle, thanks to its smooth, low tannins and unusual aromas of fig, cassis and oolong tea. After your tasting, peruse the lovely gardens, which are peppered with fun sculptures from Lede's personal collection.
After your Napa wine tasting, take a stroll and enjoy the enchanting gardens with their fun sculptures from Mr. Lede's personal collection, or explore the art gallery's exhibits. Savvy wine lovers will arrange their tasting day to end at Cliff Lede Vineyards and spend the night at the Poetry Inn. The luxurious getaway, situated on Poetry Vineyard, features the opportunity to select rare wines from the private cellar. Your stay includes a three-course gourmet breakfast, a perfect start to another brilliant day of Napa wine tasting.
Only 15 minutes out of Napa on Mount Veeder, the delightful forest scenery leading to The Hess Collection is a great mental preparation for the historic former Christian Brothers building. Extensively renovated in 1986, the sense of in timelessness is abruptly arrested by the modern art touches in the tasting room. A standout wine to be had on the seriously cool maple bar in the historic stone distillery is the Dry Creek Zinfandel. Not your typical fruit bomb, the Dry Creek creation is wonderfully smooth and earthy.
Similarly, the Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, Hess's signature flagship, is brilliant, with dark chocolate and berry flavors balanced with almost chewy tannins. Hess also makes a fine pinot grigio, chardonnay, and petite syrah.
After tasting, visit the modern art gallery sprawling across the second and third floors. The art is drawn from Donald Hess's personal collection. Hess began collecting art in 1966 and his collecting style reflects his deep interest in his preferred artists. Hess limits his focus as a collector to just 20 living artists whose work he supports long-term typically for decades.
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The drive up the charming Deer Park Road from Saint Helena to Burgess Cellars gives you plenty of time to channel its mountain calm. Once you arrive, the entry to the winery is more like being ushered into a private estate. An old wooden door recessed in a stone wall ushers you into the tasting room. Inside, the winery is cozy, intimate, and definitely low-key exuding a laid-back, non-intimidating vibe.
With cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and a red blend in the lineup, Burgess Cellars is best known for its merlot, and it delivers. Offering quality wines on a small scale at fair prices, Burgess Cellars couples an inviting, peaceful atmosphere, with delightful conversation, and complimentary tasting. Good times, great Napa wine tasting!
Honig Vineyard & Winery is a good example of not judging a book by its cover. While it may resemble a small office building conversion project, this Rutherford operation produces a creditable 60,000 cases a year. This discipline, focus, and subversive humor are reflected in its winemaking style, too.
Honig only makes sauvignon blanc and cabernet, but it does so with creativity and flair. These two styles of sauvignon blanc represent sharply contrasting styles. The first, is a classic "grassy" sauvignon blanc, while the second is executed in chardonnay style aged in oak for a creamier sauvignon blanc. The result will surprise and delight adventurous Napa wine tasting enthusiasts, as will the amusing posters ridiculing chardonnay that hang in the winery which revels in Honig's laid-back, fun atmosphere.
An unlikely journey leads intrepid oenophiles to Cartlidge & Browne. Set off Green Island Road in American Canyon, Cartlidge & Browne is more post-industrial chic than picturesque old world winery. True believers in outside-the-box thinking, Cartlidge & Browne offers a little of everything at a great value: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, syrah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and a unique red blend named Rabid Red. However, their signature wine is chardonnay, which displays classic citrus and tropical fruit flavors.
The Cartlidge & Browne credo is to craft dry wines that are food-compatible, 100 percent varietal, with an alcohol percentage lower than the 14 percent industry average, and to exceed expectations with their high quality. Tasting is complimentary, and the collection is budget-friendly, irrepressibly fruity, and unabashedly drinkable now. The winery is west of the Mayacamas, just a bit into Sonoma, and just past the Redwood Highway.
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