Travel is my preferred means of learning about the world of food and wine aside from the average cookbook read. A chef recently compared the food industry to music as an art form in which we learn from our peers and manipulate dishes to make our own taste. One note could change it all and in this case, one spice can be the defining difference.
In my recent trip to Napa Valley this became apparent even in wine. Every vineyard has its own form of growing grapes, different soil composition, and individual winemakers writing the lyrics to each bottle of wine. I’ve highlighted 3 of the 12 vineyards we visited based on varied standout points.
A windy drive up the hills of what felt like a sunny day out of a Twilight movie scene brought us to a black gate. Gated properties were trigger warnings for what we described as a “cult winery.”* The narrow road opened as the gates let us through to the beautiful view of Continuum’s vineyard.
We tasted wines overlooking a view stretched 2 hours out to San Francisco (see left). We drank my favorite bottle of wine from the trip at this vineyard- a 2014 Continuum red blend. The dense color of this wine is masculine, yet easy to drink solo or with a food pairing. We ate the olives grown on property and learned that the skin of an almond alters the tannins in wine, hence why most wineries only offer skinned almonds for snacking.
The olive oil at Continuum must also be noted. Just when a winery could've been satisfied with the taste of its wine, it delivers with the BEST olive oil. Italy has a distant competitor within wine country, and I’ve never been more sure of dropping $75 on a bottle of olive oil.
Greetings from yet another gate and a running hourglass set the tone early for the mystery under the skins of Hourglass' grapes. For a small-scale vineyard, these guys delivered the best wines of the trip across the board.
Some points during the trip I’d consumed so many wines that the descriptors start blending as the drunkenness kicks in. We were fresh into this tasting which helped immensely, but every wine got better by the pour. From the Sav Blanc to the oaky Cab, I was thoroughly impressed. When Ian asked the common Napa tour guide question, “Would you like to revisit any of the wines?" it was an immediate YES.
The tasting was the climax of this particular tour inside of its wine caves (see right). Good things happen when you have leftover dynamite from the original plan, people. They put it to use and hit a homer with a dim-lit tasting room fashioned with tall chairs, fur throws, a blue marble table and an exotic chandelier. Had cameras been brought in there, the next season of GOT could’ve been filmed on the spot.
3. Del Dotto
Silver Oak and Repris are runners-up to this winery for actual taste and experience; however, Del Dotto Vineyards delivered strong on its cave experience and barrel tasting. The inviting greens, marbled floors, ancient artwork, and dull lighting felt like a step into Italy in the Napa Valley.
Our tour guide, Chris, greeted our small group where we continued into the caves. The tour stood out to me because we were able to compare French oak with American oak, side by side. Each type of oak brings such unique flavor to the table, which was interesting to explore on the palate.
Napa Valley was full of surprises for me like it’s similar landscape to Tuscany, pleasant people, its wine over water mentality, and tour guides that drink on the job with you so they can “speak” about the wine. BS. You’ve been tasting this wine for 10 years- it’s textbook by now. But yet, they come along for the ride with you, which I lowkey loved.
If you love your vino, I highly advise to not nap on Napa. Doing your research prior to the trip is vital, but with great planning comes an unforgettable experience.
*A cult winery is exclusive to wine club members only or a friend of a member. It's a "who do you know here" kind of thing.