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Five Tips for Flawless Wine and Cheese Pairings

February 11th, 2014 No comments

8354435679_02e6638c08_oWine and cheese is a classic combination. Whether it takes the form of a lavish spread laid out at a cocktail party, or a simple and elegant course at a dinner party, a wine and cheese pairing is something no guest is ever disappointed to see. But making the perfect wine and cheese match can be intimidating. These five tips break down the process and making finding the perfect wine and cheese combination a snap.

1. The only rule is: there are no rules.

Rules and tips can help you, but they can also make you feel paralyzed. That’s why it’s important to keep in mind that the rules are meant to be broken. The most essential thing about choosing a wine and a cheese to pair is to pick something that tastes good to you. Trust your taste buds: if you want to come back for a second bite, your guests will too.

Here are some helpful tips for food and wine pairings.

2. Choose matching intensities.

You don’t want your wine to overpower your cheese or your cheese to overpower your wine. If one flavor swallows up the other, the balance will be lost. The best way to avoid that is to aim for the intensity of your wine to match that of your cheese. Mild cheese pair better with lighter wines, and pungent cheeses tend to pair better with more robust wines.

3. Go by region.

One good standby technique is to pair wines and cheeses from the same region. Similar soils and growing conditions tend to result in flavor compounds that are the same between the wines and cheeses from a specific region. For example, a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon from the Pacific Northwest region should pair nicely with a local smoked gouda.

4. Think about presentation.

The saying is true: we eat with our eyes. No matter how beautifully your chosen cheeses and wines work together, your guests just won’t fully appreciate them if you serve them with a flimsy knife for cutting, and crackers that don’t do them justice. Use a wood or marble cheese platter on which to display your cheese, with plenty of cheese knives, and a variety of crackers or a simple french baguette, sliced thinly.

5. Temperature is important.

It will be impossible to appreciate the full flavors of your wines and cheeses if you serve them at the wrong temperature. White wine should be served at 45-50°F, red wines at 50-65°F. Cheese should always be served at room temperature: bring it out of the fridge an hour before you plan to serve it to take the chill off.

How to Navigate a Wine List

January 15th, 2014 No comments

Even the most confident of wine lovers can get bogged down by a wine list that reads like a novel. Here’s how to safely navigate a restaurant wine-list and pick a bottle that’s sure to please everyone at the table.

Step 1: Choose a Color

Start by choosing between white or red by considering what you’ll be eating. You’re out to dinner, after all: the most important thing is that your wine complements your food. But feel free to throw that old “red wine with red meat, white wine with chicken and fish” adage out the window. A better method is to base your wine decision on your dish’s most prominent flavor. A chicken breast simply poached in white wine, for example, calls for a white wine that won’t overpower the flavor. The same chicken breast topped with a Marsala sauce, with its reduced wine and hearty mushrooms, is bold enough to stand up to a red.

Step 2: Balancing Act

Next, consider the heartiness of the dish you’re eating: the dish and the wine should match each other in body or richness. One of the best ways to do this is to consider your sauce. The simple buttery, garlic-y wine sauce in a bowl of linguini with clams plays well with a white wine with some heft, like a California Chardonnay. A pasta primavera with a simpler olive oil-based sauce, however, needs the lighter touch of something like a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Step 3: Match like Flavors

Here’s where you can get really creative. You can match the flavors and aromas in a wine to ingredients in your dish. A dish spiked with verdant cilantro, for example, can go well with a white wine with herbal, grassy notes. A steak topped with a sauce studded with currants would pair perfectly with a Cabernet rich with berry flavors.

Step 4: Think about Structure

The perfect pairing will result in a food and wine match that’s perfectly in balance. Certain components of the food you’re eating can  increase or lessen the acidity, sweetness, and bitterness of  the wine you choose.

Acidic ingredients like citrus juice pair well with acidic wines, making them taste softer and better-balanced. However, if a wine is already balanced, acidic foods can make it fall flat. Likewise, the tannins in a wine interact with the fatty flavors in a dish. Rich foods like steak diminish the appearance of tannins in wine and make it taste smoother. Salty and spicy foods, on the other hand, interact poorly with tannins, and can make a wine taste harsh.

With these four steps, you’ll be able to successfully choose a wine to pair with any dish on the table. But as with all things wine, we encourage you not to feel limited. If you don’t like red wine, don’t let that stop you from ordering that porterhouse. After all, what matters most is that you enjoy yourself. Choose a wine you’d drink by itself, and you’ll always be happy.

See our recommendations for local San Diego shops that carry the wines we love!

Jake’s Corner: Cabernet Around the World

December 12th, 2013 No comments

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the vine

One Monday evening last month, six people sat down for a blind Cabernet (and Cab-based blends) tasting. There were no experts on the panel. There were two people that prefer whites to reds. There was one experienced craft beer person, and there was me, representing Vintage Cellars (and I hold an advanced certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust).

The one amazing thing I enjoyed in the tasting was watching the participants get more excited as the tasting progressed. There was one cheat sheet with basic descriptions of primary to secondary red wine aromas and tastes. The cheat sheet was in constant use as the participants tried to figure out smell and taste. Each person became more and more involved and interested as we progressed through the wine. Keep in mind, this was a completely blind tasting.

The instructions were simple: Note the sight (color), smell(aroma) and sip(taste) of each wine. Each time, we had to guess which wine we had just tasted (we had a list of the six bottles) and also guess the price point. Here are a couple of points I discovered:

  1. With a few exceptions, everybody was within $10-15 when guessing the price point of each wine.
  2. With one exception, everybody was able to guess the Bordeaux.
  3. The most guessed right was four of six. The beer guy had two of six.
  4. Most were amazed at the quality of the Cabernet from Mendoza (Argentina), as their familiarity with Argentinian wines is “cheap.”

Here are some combined notes on each wine:

2008 Melanson Vineyard Matthews Block Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

  • Deep purple with long legs on the rim. Allspice, blackberry jam and dried fruit on the nose. A hot smell from the alcohol. Blackberry and prune on the palette start fading to leather and smoke. Fruit forward with soft silky tannins and a nice long finish

2009 Chateau Martinat Cotes de Bourg

  • Tawny color fading to brown on the rim. Cedar planks with an earthy animal nose. Very light on fruit with a hint pepper. Very dry with under developed tannins, tar, pepper and barnyard characteristics with little discernable fruit. This was the least favorite wine tasted by the group (of course I had a budget, so it wasn’t a first growth).

2011 Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Mendoza

  • A deep intense ruby color. Aromas of blueberry, blackberry and full of herbs: sage & basil. A deep silky texture that took over your mouth with a sweetness of dried fruits like raisins. Attractively sweet like blackberry cobbler. A long finish with smooth tannins that develop a thought of violets.

2007 Korbin Kameron Cuvee Kristin Sonoma Valley

  • Equally split between ruby purple, with aromas of black cherry, chocolate and tobacco. All fruit on the palate, concentrated cooked down blackberry, boysenberry and dried cherry. The tannins are soft and well-rounded.

2007 Guilliams Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District

  • Intense purple that appears almost black. Pepper, blackberry and chocolate on the nose with hints of cedar & cigar. It’s chewy like stewed black fruits. Hints of licorice, almonds and even basil. Very tannic with a dry finish. More licorice on the finish.

2088 Mazzei Philip Cabernet Sauvignon Toscana

  • Garnett in color. Black cherry, baked red apples, even dark red Jolly Rancher. Lots of black fruit aromas. A peppery zing when it first hits your palate with spice, chocolate and young firm tannins. A spicy finish.

Overall, there were three first place votes for the Korbin Kameron, two for the Melanson and one for the Susana Balbo. As mentioned in the tasting, the Bordeaux was the least favorite on each scorecard.

I’m looking forward to setting up a white tasting with Rieslings from around the world. Want to be invited?

-Jake

Categories: Tasting Wine Tags: ,

How do I know if my wine’s gone bad?

October 22nd, 2013 No comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re out to dinner at a restaurant and are served a bottle of wine you’ve never had before. The waiter arrives and pours you a taste. You take a sip. The flavor is…strange. Is the wine just new and unfamiliar, or is something wrong with it? Unsure of what to do, you tell the waiter it’s fine, then spend the rest of the dinner wondering if you did the right thing.

We’ve all tasted wine that’s gone unmistakably bad. But it isn’t always easy to tell. Here are our most frequently asked questions about wine faults, so that you never wonder again.

1. What is “corked” wine?

Corked wine is wine that has been contaminated with a chemical compound called TCA, commonly referred to as “cork taint.” TCA is formed when fungi (which often occur naturally in wine) come in contact with certain chemicals in wine sterilization products. Infected corks will taint the wine. You’ll know a wine is tainted if it has the smell and taste of damp, soggy, or even rotten cardboard. Cork taint also dampens the fruity taste of wine. Neither pieces of cork floating in the wine nor mold on the top of the cork means that the wine has been tainted.

2. My wine has crystals in it — what does that mean?

Sometimes, you’ll get a bottle of wine with what looks like sugar crystals in the bottom. They are called tartaric acid crystals or “tartrates.” Tartaric acid is naturally occurring in grapes. When wine becomes very cold, or old, it can crystallize. Tartrates are not harmful to the drinker or the wine. In fact, they can be a sign that the wine is high-quality and has not been over-treated while it was being made.

3. My wine is cloudy — is that bad?

Cloudy wine usually indicates that yeast or another kind of bacteria is growing in the wine. Fizziness in wine can signal the same thing. While cloudy or fizzy wine likely won’t hurt you, it probably won’t taste very good.

4. I know it’s bad if wine tastes like vinegar, but what does it mean?

Vinegar-tasting wine means that the wine has been infiltrated by a bacteria called Acetobacter. It usually happens when a bottle has been left open for too long, or can also be a fault of the wine-making process. The reaction of Acetobacter with oxygen creates vinegar, and is actually how vinegar is produced.

5. Can a wine be too old?

Aging wine isn’t always a good thing. Over time, wine undergoes oxidation (this process can happen faster than it should if the cork doesn’t fit correctly or the wine is stored improperly). Wines that have been spoiled by oxidation taste dull and flat, and often turn brownish in color.

6. My wine tastes like struck matches. What happened?

Nearly all wines are made using sulfur dioxide, which helps prevent oxidation. But too much sulfur dioxide causes unpleasant aromas in wine, which smell like struck matches, or sometimes, rotten eggs. Occasionally, the smell is accompanied by an unpleasant tingling sensation in the nose.

Tips for Hosting the Perfect Wine-Tasting Party

September 12th, 2013 No comments

 

Drinking good wine with good friends is one of life’s greatest pleasures. If you love to entertain, but hesitate at the work and expense of hosting a dinner party, try a wine-tasting party for your next get-together. With just a few glasses, some bottles of wine, and perhaps a snack or two, you’ve got the makings of a memorable night. Here are our favorite tips for hosting a successful wine-tasting party:

  • Start by choosing a theme. Try tasting all wines from Tuscany, or comparing Cabernet Sauvignons from different parts of the world.
  • When shopping for the wines you’ll taste, look for a wine merchant that displays staff tasting notes, or hosts tastings itself–both good indications that the employees are knowledgeable wine enthusiasts who can make good recommendations.
  • Limit your tasting to five or six wines. More will overwhelm the palate.
  • Keep it simple by providing one Bordeaux glass for each guest to use for the whole tasting.
  • Cover the table with white tablecloth–it’s the best background against which to judge the wine color.
  • Traditionally, a tasting pour is two ounces. A standard-size bottle will provide a taste for eight to 10 guests.
  • Make sure to provide a bucket into which guests can to dump unwanted wine.
  • A good rule of thumb: put reds in the refrigerator 15 to 30 minutes before guests arrive. Take whites out of the refrigerator a few minutes before you pour them to take the chill off.
  • To help your guests cleanse their palate between tastings, set out bread and water. In case they want a little something more to nibble on, serve a few snacks, too. A few ideas: a plate of olives, a charcuterie board, a few cheeses, a selection of crostini.
  • Work from dry to sweet white wines, and from light to heavy reds. It’s also best to start with younger wines and progress to more mature ones.
  • Make a tasting card (or print out this one from Epicurious.com) that lists the type of wine, the year, the vineyard that made it, and a brief description of the wine’s attributes. Or keep the cards blank and put each wine in a bag (or cover it with foil) to create a blind wine tasting.
  • Serve a popular wine from the tasting to guests who want to linger afterwards.

Do you have any tips for hosting a great wine-tasting that we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments!

Wine Review: 2008 Creō Clajeux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

August 30th, 2013 No comments

For many years, experts thought that the only worthwhile wines in the world came from Bordeaux, France. All that changed in 1976, at a wine competition in Paris known as the “Judgement of Paris.” There, French judges did a blind taste-test that pitted Bordeaux wines from France against Cabernet Sauvignons from California. Much to everyone’s surprise, the California wines blew away the competition.

Since the Judgement of Paris, California has been recognized as one of the world’s best wine regions. One grape California is especially known for is Cabernet Sauvignon. Different California regions produce different kinds of Cabernet Sauvignon. The hillside vineyards in areas like Howell Mountain and Mt. Veeder have thin, less rich soils, producing intense wines that, very like the wines of Bordeaux, need to be aged for years to come to maturity. In contrast, wines from the more mountainous vineyards are often big, bold, and fruity, with deep, dark colors and intense berry characteristics.

In Healdsburg, California, above the Russian River Valley, below the hills of the Mayacamas Mountains, and east of the ocean, sits Clajeux Vineyards. Well-drained, rocky, volcanic soils and cooling breezes late in the day make this area a fantastic producer of Cabernet Sauvignon.

One wine that truly showcases this area is the 2008 Creō Clajeux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has aromas of red licorice and black fruits that are sweet like jam or preserves. There is a hint of flowers: violets and roses. On the palate, the 2008 Creō Clajeux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is loaded with blackberry and black cherry. The finish is long and complex, with solid but soft tannins.

The 2008 Creō Clajeux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a rare wine that is suited to both be drunk while young, and also being aged for several years. If you want powerful fruit, drink it now. However, this is also an age-worthy Cab from the Mayacamas, and is likely to benefit from six to eight years in the cellar. For maximum enjoyment, purchase a case: drink one now, and open another every couple of years to experience how this wine changes with age and judge when it has matured to perfection.

 

Two Wines Reviewed by Chris Noel of Vintage Cellars

July 2nd, 2013 No comments

For me, going wine tasting to me is like heading out to find new friends. You will find plenty that you only keep around for a short time, but every now and then you find those lifelong relationships that you want to last for years. I had the fortune to attend a wine tasting a few weeks ago, and just so happened to come across a couple of those wines I want keep around for a long time.

The first was the 2002 Lail Vineyard J. Daniel Cuvée. Lail Vineyards in California’s Napa Valley, and can trace its origins back five generations to 1879. Their 2002 Lail Vineyard J. Daniel Cuvée is made from lots of Cabernet Sauvignon. Abundant sunlight this season allowed the grapes to get extremely ripe. 900 cases of this wine were produced.

The wine is elegant and stylish, with a delicate, creamy texture leading to a tasty core of mocha-laced currant, anise, wild berry and plum flavors. The tight focus keeps the flavors flowing on a long luxurious finish. If you’re not in a hurry to enjoy this lovely wine, I would recommend laying it down for another 3 to 5 years to see its full potential.

Montalcino Italy

Montalcino, home of Brunello wines

The second wine that I enjoyed was a Argiano 2001 Brunello di Montalcino from Italy. Montalcino is well-known for its Sangiovese grapes. What might not be familiar to some is the name, “Brunello di Montalicino,” which is a red wine produced from grapes grown in the vineyards that surround the town of Montalcino, in the wine region of Tuscany. Originally, it was thought that a unique type of grape grew in this area, and it was given the name “Brunello.” But in 1879, experiments showed that Brunello grapes were, in fact, Sangiovese grapes, and now, “Brunello” means that the wine was produced with 100 percent Sangiovese grapes.

When tasting the Argiano 2001 Brunello di Montalcino, I received intense aromas of fresh raspberry and sliced mushrooms and a hint of black olives. The wine is full-bodied, with chewy tannins. It’s long and structured. This wine would pair perfectly with a hearty Italian gravy over your favorite pasta on a Sunday afternoon with family and friends. I really enjoyed this selection.

If you’re looking to add some new wines to your cellar, you can’t go wrong with these two choices. Cheers!

Jake’s Corner: A Great Cabernet Sauvignon

May 21st, 2013 No comments

Cabernet Sauvignon is often referred to as the “King of Red Wine Grapes.” Though it’s grown in nearly ever major wine-producing country, it is most famously cultivated both in the soils of the Left Band of Bordeaux and California’s Napa Valley, Cabernet is one of the world’s most sought-after wine grapes.

Part of what makes Cabernet so special is its versatility. It yields many different styles of wine, from fruit-forward, smooth styles to big, complex wines that showcase their tannins. The flavors it imparts commonly include blackcurrant, plum, raisin chocolate, blackberry, spice and leather.

There are four distinct styles of Cabernet Sauvignon. First is the fruity, fresh, and easy-drinking style. These make great everyday wines, and are smooth with little to no tannins. Then there is the intense fruit category, which makes a big impact on the palate and has detectable tannins. Third is a more complex and elegant style, with soft tannins and smooth, rich fruit flavors. This type tends to be excellent with food. The fourth style is a big-bodied, dense one. These Cabernets tend to be big, with distinct tannins that soften well with aging.

Like most people, I love Cabernet Sauvignon, and am always on the hunt for a great one. On Saturday, I decided it was time to open my only bottle of Backus by Joseph Phelps. Back in 2007, I purchased one bottle of the 2004 vintage and have cellared in ever since waiting for the right time. Well, Saturday, with a dinner of a ribeye, creamed spinach and scalloped potatoes, was it. Here is my opinion:

The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Backus is absolutely mind-blowing. It has a deep ruby color with blackberries, licorice, and black cherry, with a hint of chocolate on the nose. The fruit is extremely well-focused and balanced. The 2004 Backus is a powerful wine with soft, elegant tannins. It is silky, yet pleasantly sweet. It’s a full-bodied, powerful Cabernet — very fruit-forward with balanced acid. The wine danced on my palate with cedar, ripe plums, black cherries and currant.  The finish had a nice hint of mineral a sweetness that lasted a long ten seconds.

After enjoying a wine like this, it makes me wish I had another glass (and an unlimited wine buying budget). If you can get your hands on a bottle (or a case), I’d highly recommend this great wine.

Jake’s Corner: Wine Spectator Grand Tour

May 2nd, 2013 No comments
Jake Austad at Wine Spectator tasting

Vintage Cellars’ Jake Austad at Wine Spectator Grand Tour

Last Saturday, on a warm Las Vegas evening, representing Vintage Cellars, my wife Lindsay and I were able to attend the Wine Spectator Grand Tour.  Wines were poured from more than 225 producers, representing 15 countries and four states.  If you’re interested in good wine or learning about good wine, this is the place to be.  Though I think it’s impossible to taste 225 different wines in 3 hours, by the end of the night, it looked like some people tried.

As for Lindsay and I, we had a specific tasting plan that started with Champagne/Sparkling wines.  I was pleasantly surprised by the Nicolas Fuillatte Brut Rose.  I wanted to do a true side by side comparison of the Pinot Noir grape.  I selected Louis Latour Chateau Corton Grancey Cote-D’ Or (France), Kosta Brown Russian River Valley (CA) and Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills (OR).  The Latour was a deep ruby color & showed a great expression of red fruits, raspberry & strawberry.  The silky tannins were exactly what I expected from a Burgundy Grand Cru.  The Domaine Droughin was a vivid red with berries fading into a very floral nose.   I picked up cola and licorice on the palate.  And finally the Kosta Brown had a ruby red color with nose and palate moving to from red to black fruits, strawberry to dark cherry.  I loved the long mineral, spicy finish.  I knew from the start I was destined to return to the Latour for another sip before the evening ended.

At this point, I had to change up my palate.   We were pleasantly surprised by the light buffet provided at the event.  From artisan cheeses, a couple of pasta dishes, a carving station and desert plate, it was enough to satisfy our dinner plans.  Just a quick stop before we were back focused on the next stop.

Next was the face off of California Cabernet and Bordeaux.  Though the list was extensive (and we eventually tasted more), I focused on 2 of each to start.  From France,  I selected Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Chateau Lynch-Bages.  From CA, I selected a couple of Napa Cabs, Kathryn Hall and Joseph Phelps.  To be completely honest, the Bordeaux’s were young and they need some time to rest.  Sure it would have been nice if there were a Premier Cru there, but I guess when you sell bottles for over $1000, you don’t pour them in Vegas.  I enjoyed the Joseph Phelps but the 2009 Kathryn Hall Napa Valley Cabernet stole the show.  A deep ruby-red. Ripe aromas of dark fruits, baked berries and a hint of chocolate. Sweet , intense but balanced and ends a hint of oak, coffee and black licorice.  This was powerful wine with plenty of ripeness and depth.  In my opinion, buy now or forever hold your peace.  Put a case in your cellar and enjoy today, opening one every year to follow its development.

From this point on, I was done with the “professional” portion of the evening.  Lindsay had been enjoying all along and it was time for me to drink the wines and not spit.  Together we did a tour through Italy, Spain, Portugal and some new world wines (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa).   I found the Sangiovese grape to be a favorite, especially from Brunello di Montalcino.  Riojo might be my favorite region in Spain, especially the Grand Riserva’s which have a minimum of 5 years of aging.  There is so much more “research” to be done in both of these countries.  I enjoyed the Graham’s 20 year Tawny Port, but then again, who doesn’t like the rich toffee notes a good tawny provides?  As for the new world, I found something I don’t like, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  I couldn’t find any fruit notes over the green pepper and jalapeno nose.  The palate had an intense salsa punch.  I like salsa with chips but not in my Sav Blanc.

Of the 225 producers, we did our best.  I took tasting notes on 37 wines (remember, I had to spit for about half of those).  One last highlight, we did finish with the 2005 Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes.  If you have no experience with Sauternes, I highly recommend you take your nose and palate for a ride.   We are looking forward to the event again in the future.  The Grand Tour was classy, with quality wines, good food and surprisingly not crowded (even though the tickets were sold out).  A fantastic experience, as long as you can control yourself in the casino before the 7PM start time.

Jake is Vintage Cellars’ Wine Cellar Specialist.  Each month in Jake’s Corner, he shares his wine insights, reviews, and tips with you! Check out Jake’s last post here.

Jake’s Corner: Three Days in Wine Country

February 12th, 2013 No comments

Our very own Jake Austad, master of custom cellar designs, is an expert at touring wine country, and wants to share his tips and tricks. Jake has insider advice on the best vineyards to visit, the best places to eat, and tourist traps to avoid. So pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of your favorite vino, and hear how an expert does wine country. Check back, because Jake will be blogging regularly in our new “Jake’s Corner” posts.

Day 1:

I would start the morning up north in Calistoga at Chateau Montelena, known almost more for its historical value than for its wines. The winemakers at Chateau Montelena are part of the group that started the Napa Valley wine boom. Tthe first thing I’d do would be to make a noon reservation at Duckhorn (reservations are required). Reserve the estate tasting and tour for a great experience. To learn something a little extra, do the food and wine pairing.

If you managed to resist the food at Duckhorn, I would travel into St. Helena for a late lunch at Brassica (Now called Cindy Pawlcyn’s Wood Grill and Wine Bar). It’s a Mediterranean place that has received rave reviews, and is a personal favorite of mine to boot.  At this point in time, you probably only have time for one more tasting. I would finish at Hall in St. Helena. Since Hall has no appointment needed and stays open until 5:30 PM, you won’t be tied to a tight schedule.  One of Hall’s new releases, a cab, was in the top 10 wines of 2011.

Since I’m a huge Iron Chef geek, I would eat dinner that night at Morimoto. It’s also in the revitalized river walk area in Napa, so if you’re looking to take a stroll before or after your meal, it’s a great place to do so.

Insider tip:  Don’t fall victim to the lure of the Napa Valley Wine Train. This tourist trap has three main pitfalls: 1. Trains are really not that romantic. 2. Unless they have improved the menu dramatically since 2000, the food is awful. 3. The wine list is not that impressive, and what is impressive is so marked up that you can’t bring yourself to drink it.

Day 2:

I would head up the Silverado Trail, especially if it’s a Saturday. The less inexperienced wine tasters will be driving up the 29, so this is a nice way to avoid them. Start the day with a 10AM appointment at Quintessa. It’s a property and vineyard tour, along with the wine caves and a tasting of three or four vintages. Like Duckhorn, it’s appointment-only, so you have to make a reservation in advance. I know the wine are fabulous. It’s also one of the few places in Napa that does estate-grown only. Quintessa is a Bordeaux-style blend that makes only one blended wine every year, so the vintage tasting will be unique.

After that, start heading back to Napa again, and hit Mumm just to clean the palate with some bubbly. It should be time to grab lunch, so I would cut over on Rutherford Road and hit Rutherford Grill for lunch. I love Rutherford Grill, and never miss an opportunity to go. There is a decision to make at this point. Option 1: One more tour at Chappellet, a unique experience that puts you up in the hills, and has some pretty good wine to boot. After a 90-minute tour and tasting, you should have enough time to hit Miner. If you are “toured out,” do Option 2: hit Miner on the way back towards Napa on the Silverado Trial. Most likely, you’ll make a quick visit, since you don’t want to miss your 2:30 tour reservation at Staggs Leap. Again, I’m a sucker for history, and Staggs Leap is another historic winery that started it all and has been around for over 100 years.

After Staggs, your last stop will be Darioush.  This winery doesn’t close until 5PM, and if you have anything left on the palate, they do some great cabs that are always cracking the top 100 wines of the year in the Wine Spectator. Take a nap after before hitting the French Laundry for dinner.  If super-rich French food is to much to stomach, try Coles Chop House or the Napa Valley Grill.

Day 3:

At this point, I’d pack the bags and drive over the mountain to Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley. Make a reservation at Charlie Palmer’s place, Hotel Healdsburg. Start at Zichichi and then drive south down West Dry Creek Road (eventually turning into Westside Rd). It’s a small, twisty, windy road but a offers a unique change from the large-cellar, big tour, big tasting rooms in Napa with little cottages and family-owned wineries. I’d go all the way down to Porter Creek Winery a few miles down. You taste their wines in a little cottage, and often, the winemaker is the guy pouring the wines. Porter Creek is also a fully organic place, tends to bottle a lot of grapes that are normally blended (like cab franc).

From there, start making the venture back towards Healdsburg.  Another great stops on the way is Williams Seleym (always a top 100 producer). It’s not a bad idea at this time to go park back at the hotel and walk around the square in Healdsburg. There is Stephen & Walker, which has a fabulous port, and several other places to check out. And if you need to switch to beer, there is a brewing company in the square. This way, you can take a day without reservations or a schedule, and just do whatever you want,  from a simple sandwich lunch to a pastry at the downtown bakery, to Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen for dinner.