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Jackie Mar 22nd, 2009 03:07 PM

Foggy memories of wine tasting in Napa & Sonoma
Been back a week from a trip to California wine country. Gotta say it went a lot differently than I had expected, but I loved it anyway.

I thought I was on a bargain trip with cheap flights out of Boston and a 2BR condo with a full kitchen at $90/night. My mission was twofold 1) to eat at some of the restaurants that I’d seen recommended here and 2) to find a good $12 everyday cabernet. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be drinking the cheap wine once I arrived.

We arrived on a Saturday in the middle of barrel tasting weekend. For people who bought tickets ahead of time, the tickets were at the bargain price of $20 which entitled you to wine tastings for the entire weekend at well over 100 wineries.

We set out on Sunday to Healdsburg Square. I thought the barrel tasting meant you just drank the wines that were still being fermented in the barrels, but that was not the case. Most of the tasting rooms were offering flights of about 5 tastings plus the barrel taste; some also offered food. Needless to say, I bought my wristband for $30 for the day. I just counted the list and there were 19 wineries in Healdsburg alone. Our first stop was Kendell Jackson and they even opened a $110 bottle for us to try. It was amazing. Of the 19, I tried wines at 9 of them that day. Must admit, by the end I couldn’t tell them apart. Also, we didn’t feel like eating, so it was day 1 without trying any of those good restaurants.

My favorites wines day 1 were Rosenblum Zinfandels, Topel’s barrel wines, and all of the Murphy-Goode wines—they had a petite verdot which I had never heard of before, nor have I been able to find since.

The barrel tastings were really interesting. They let you try ones that are close to bottling and then the same kind of wine from a previous year, some were better, some were just awful.

Gotta go, will finish up later.

Kal Mar 22nd, 2009 03:42 PM


You are so evil!!!!

Rosenblum, Rombauer, Roshambo, Ravenswood, Ridge....Some of my fave Zins.
What's up with all the "Rs"?

Looking forward to the remainder.

Jackie Mar 22nd, 2009 05:17 PM

Evil, that's funny; I was thinking more like lush. The trouble with posting my escapades is that people will think I have a serious drinking problem. Oh, well, think what you may--I was there to find my $12 cabernet.

As we were walking from one tasting room to another, it made me recall a thread I read here from some folks from Australia (or New Zealand) who asked about the safety of driving when you've been tasting. I seem to recall everyone saying it wasn't a problem because you could pour/spit it out. I poured out alot of wine, but it didn't matter, I was still feeling it.

Day 2 (barrel tasting is over and we now are paying at each winery) we headed over to the coast, but didn’t make it that far. I had copied one of the scenic routes written up in Fodors, but we traveled with a GPS, which didn’t always take us on the route with the wineries I wanted to visit. Since I wasn’t driving (thankfully, so), I just took a lot of deep breaths and tried to go with the flow. Stopped at Gary Farrell and Ariste. Was headed to Hop Kin, but were told Arista had better wine. Gary Farrell was the prettiest setting we visited. They used Reidel glasses and changed the glass each time to match the wine. They gave us 3 of something (chards or pinots—it’s a blur), so that we could taste them side by side. The tastings were about one/third glass each. They have a $10 tasting and a $15 one; we did the $15. They were okay, but not one where I picked up the forms to join the wine clubs.

I don’t know if it was the time change or if yesterday’s tastings were still in my system, but I was wined out. For the champagne drinker among us, we stopped at Korbel. They have a great delicatessan and we had a late lunch here, which turned out to be one of my better meals.

I really wanted to find a fantastic cabernet, but cabs weren’t served in either of these places. I was told I’d have to go to Dry Creek for that, so when I went back to the condo and mapped out all the wineries in Dry Creek for another day. (I must say, my traveling companions didn’t really appreciate my planning skills)

We went up to Armstrong Woods and that was pretty neat. From there we stopped at an ATM machine in Guerneville; the machine ate my card and that was the worst disaster of the trip. I think if Gary Farrell hadn’t been so generous with their pourings, I wouldn’t have forced my card in the little red slot and heard it clink as it hit the bottom of metal bin. Lesson learned, if there is no logical place for an ATM card, one should put it back in one’s wallet.

From here, we drove to Santa Rosa to meet up with some friends we had met on a trip to Belize about 5 years ago. As we waited for them to arrive,, we found a tasting room and checked out some restaurants. It was dead there and I feel no desire to ever return. Friends were later than we expected, so we went back to our place in Windsor and prepared to gather for a barbecue at the condo. Now, that was my best meal. We had appetizers, steaks, tomatoes, roasted bliss potatoes and Hershey bars for dessert. Wine selection included: Rosenblum Merlot, Arista Ascenion, Topel’s Mark’s Blend Super Tuscan, and a Murphy Goode zin. It may not have been the meal at French Laundry I would have loved to go to, but it was fun, relaxing, and we didn’t have to drive.

Be back later with more

Kal Mar 22nd, 2009 05:58 PM

Evil....lush....either way you're amongst friends! >:D<

Excellent report.

Jackie Mar 22nd, 2009 06:21 PM

Took a break to get my daily fix. Drinking a glass of Four Vine's Biker Zin; didn't find it in Sonona, but at the Boston Wine Expo. It is good stuff.

Day 3 we head down to Napa. First stop is Sterling ($20). I use to like the Sterling chardonnary; not sure I will buy it again. This was my least favorite stop. It is a huge winery with a mass production feel. To date all the places we visited, have you walk up to the bar to be served with the opportunity to be educated and ask questions. Here, they seat you in a large room at a table (on this day, there are 6 of us). I believe they poured 5 wines for each of us; I poured them all out. Our pourer was pleasant and knowledgeable, I just wasn’t feeling it. We leave and head off to Silverado Road (?) and first stop is Rombauer.

Ah, Rombauer ($10),.. It was my favorite chard prior to my trip and continues to be my number1 favorite. They serve you in a nice glass and let you leave with it. They were also pouring a merlot and a sweet zin. The hostess let us try a zin that is not yet available; it was fabulous. Of course, it will be available only thru the winery. (As an aside, the hostess steered us to the Wine Garage in Calistoga to find less expensive wines. We stopped there and I asked for a chard that would be close to Rombauer, she pointed me to Razi, which I bought for $25+ tax. I haven't opened it yet, but in retrospect, it wasn't such a good deal, cause I can get Rombauer here for $30 inc tax.)

From here, off to Stag’s Leap and Pine Ridge. Disappointed with Stag’s Leap wine, loved Pine Ridge. Their Cab tasting was $25. I don’t think they sell a wine for under $40; so I’m still looking for $12 favorite.. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m not a wine connosuer by any means.

By this time, it is about 2:30 and we need food. We get sandwiches at the Oakville market; another good deli meal. We are running out of time as the wineries close at 4; I’m feeling panicky, so many more places to go see/taste. Someone wants to go to Cakebread. We have no reservation, but they take us anyway. Again I was disappointed. I think I was spoiled by our first day in Healdsburg where the settings seemed more intimate.

We go back to the condo, drink more wine, eat more Hershey bars and wheat thins and talk about where to go to dinner. We try to make reservations at Zin, they have a private party and are closed. By this time it is 8:30, so we just try downtown Windsor. The town is closed up tight at 8:30; we find a pub. I order fish and chips, thinking we’re pretty close to the coast, who couldn’t do fish and chips, wrong. Another missed opportunity for a good meal.

That's it for today; will try to finish tmw.

Kal Mar 22nd, 2009 06:35 PM

Did you try the Cakebread Chard? I like theirs and Romabauer's.
I'll have to find some Razi.

A client of Mrs Kal gave her a bottle of Biker for Christmas. Agree with your eval.

It might be time to top the old Wine Os thread?

We watched "Bottle Shock" last night. Pretty good movie.

Jackie Mar 22nd, 2009 07:01 PM


Yes, I tried the Cakebread chardonnay; had heard good things about it and expected to like it. Maybe because It was the end of the day and I'd mostly been drinking reds, I didn't appreciate it. I Like rombauer enough that I wouldn't need to try the cakebread again.

I'm off to search for the Wine Os thread.

Jackie Mar 22nd, 2009 07:06 PM


I found the wine o thread. It has 1100 responses and at the end you were noted as among the missing!

Austin Mar 22nd, 2009 07:14 PM

Jackie, My go-to Cab that is $11 is McManis. Try it sometime, if you haven't already. Pine Ridge has a pretty good Chenin/Viogner blend. I like the Rosenblum Zins too. I tasted my first 16% alcohol Zin at their tasting room in Healdsburg.

Sometimes out plans just don't pan out. Still can't take away from the beauty of that area.

Kal Mar 22nd, 2009 07:22 PM

It was probably back when I was in a self imposed "time out" from Fodor's. It worked wonders for me.

And wasn't Betty Ford! [-X

I had breakfast with Mr. Rombauer one morning in Yountville at the Pacific Blues Cafe... He sat at table #3 and I sat at table #7.
Ha ha ha...

kiwi_rob Mar 22nd, 2009 08:55 PM

Jackie. I would like to award you my personal 5 star rating for stamina! That's a fair heap of tasting that you have managed to squeeze into a few days! I'll also give you four stars for the willpower to pour out so many tastings.

I was the one concerned about the aspect of driving around the tasting venues. We now have our plans pretty well finalised for our visit in September. We will be basing ourselves in Healdsburg for a few days and hope to stage a few lightning raids on the wineries in that area. Thanks for the leads.

Jackie Mar 23rd, 2009 03:15 PM

Austin: I've had the McManus Chard and will have to give the Cab a try. Thanks for the recommendation. One of the things I wanted to do was have a really nice meal with wine pairings--we just kept running out of hours in the day to get that in. That was my only disappointment, otherwise, I loved everything about the area.

Kiwi: I really enjoyed Healdsburg and liked that we could try to many wines without the need to drive from one winery to another. Hope you pace yourself better than I did.

Day 5, we head over to the ocean starting with Bodega Bay and go a little north of Jenna. It was absolutely breathtaking to see the trees, the cliffs, and the ocean together. On the way back we stopped at the Tides seeking lunch. I don't know what it was about our schedules, but we got there about 3:45 and the sandwich shop was closed. The restaurant was open, but we wanted to sit outside and they wouldn't serve us there. We ended up buying cheese, bread and some salmon from the fish shop and drinks and calamari from the bar. This is my idea of a perfect day: sitting outdoors by the water with blue sky, sun, good food, good drinks, good friends. It was my birthday and a fitting one at that. This is the night I thought I would get THE meal. Nope, we ended up eating by the condo; it was good but not wine pairing I'd been wanting.

Day 6, our friends from Belize left, half our party went hiking, and my sister and I get dropped off in Healdsburg Square to do some shopping with plans to take a taxi home. Here we think we will get the perfect meal. We try Cyrus's--not open for lunch; somone else sends us to Manzita---not open for lunch. We are told Heraldsburg (HBG??) has the best burgers; it is open with a nice outdoor seating section. I go with the fish and chips again--it must be one of those east coast/west coast things, where they cook it differently on each coast. I had to remove the breading to eat it. My sister's burger was nothing special. Finally, its late enough where we feel we can go taste more wine.

I found my perfect shop!! Wiliamson Wines. They were pouring about 7 wines. They would pour some wine, have you sip, then give you a food item and have you sip a second time. One of the foods was as simple as cheese with a pickle on it. I was finally getting my wine and food pairing in. They had a great Cab, but I couldn't bring myself to pay $50 for a bottle of wine. My sister and I ended up ordering a case from here--shipping cost alone was $50.

The day gets even better. When we left the shop, we discovered they had public transportation. We were able to catch a bus from the square to Windsor--leaving us with a 20 minute walk from the drop off point. (Why take a taxi when you can take a bus?)

By the time the hikers get home, everyone is too tired to go out to eat. So, we make a salad of all the left overs and call it a day.

Next day we head out to Muir Woods and SF. SF was stressful,I would have been content staying in Sonoma another night. When I was doing my research, I'd read that 3 days was enough, I don't agree with that. My perfect trip would be a week long, a driver at my beckon call, picnic food in the trunk and dinner reservations every night. Maybe next time...

For any of you still with me, I'd love your recommendations for a fabulous $12 bottle of Cabernet.

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