Thursday, April 2, 2009

Touring Napa Valley: The best of the best

Friends from Virginia are heading to Napa Valley to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and they've asked me for a list of wineries to visit. So I am sharing this with you. For those unacquainted with Napa Valley geography, the first thing you need to know is there are two highways in the Valley: Highway 29 on the Westside, and the Silverado Trail on the Eastside. There are connector roads along the way. So my list of wineries is grouped by highways and connectors.

Now, as for how I picked these: It is about the wine. Not the cutsy tasting rooms or the zillionaire's art collections. It's the wine. Nor do I have any prejudice on grapes; all of the best types of wine Napa Valley offers are represented here. And this is my list - no one else's - based on many a trip to Napa Valley; this is subject to change based on the next trip. No one is paying me for these plugs, and there are no Robert Parker style ratings here. And you are free to post your own picks on the comments section, and let me know what you think of any of these wineries.

Enjoy your journey and the wine! And remember to drive safely, and taste the wine, not guzzle it; eat food, and take your time to enjoy everything along the way. And be forewarned, the California Highway Patrol is everywhere in the Valley. 

Here is my list of the best-of-the-best:

Highway 29 (St. Helena Highway)

Cakebread (Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, everything)
Hours: By Appointment Only
8300 St. Helena Highway Rutherford, CA 94558
(800) 588-0298

Grgich Hills (Savignon Blancs and Cabernets)
By appointment at 11am and 2pm Picnic Area: no
Hours: Daily 9:30am to 4:30pm
1829 St. Helena Hwy. Rutherford, CA 94573
(800) 532-3057

Heitz Wine Cellars (Cabernets especially)
Daily 11am to 4:30pm
436 St. Helena Highway St. Helena, CA 94574
(707) 963-3542

Whitehall Lane (Cabernets and the meritages are superb)
Daily 11am to 5:45pm
1563 South St. Helena Highway St. Helena, CA 94574
(800) 963-9454 x19

Silverado Trail:

Chimney Rock (Cabernets, Zins)
Hours: Daily 10am to 5pm
5350 Silverado Trail Napa, CA 94558
(800) 257-2641

Clos du Val (Great Cabernets in the French style)
Hours: 10 am to 5pm
5330 Silverado Trail

Rombauer (incredible Chardonneys)
Hours: Daily 10am to 5pm
3522 Silverado Trail N St. Helena, CA 94574
(707) 963-5170

Stags Leap Wine Cellars (Cabernets and, really, everything)
(not to be confused with the other Stags Leap to be avoided)
NOTE: This is the best of the best, no doubt in my mind. Go for the $30 wine tasting – be sure to sample Cask 23.
Address: 5766 Silverado Trail, Napa CA 94558_Phone: 866.422.7523 (toll free) OR 707.261.6441
10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week._Call for operating hours on/around major holidays.


Silver Oak
(Cabernets, and the new tasting room is open)
915 Oakville Crossroad
Oakville, CA 94562
Tasting Room: 707.942.7022

(Cabernets, Merlots)
$35 Daily at 11am and 2pm Picnic Area: no
Hours: Appointments are recommended but may accept walk ins.
1000 Lodi Lane St. Helena, CA 94574
(888) 354-8885

Far Niente
(great Chardonneys only)
Hours: By Appointment Only
1350 Acacia Drive Oakville, CA 94562
(707) 944-2861