Tips for Wine Tasting in Sonoma & Napa

Castello-di-Amarosa-by-Jim-Sullivan
Castello-di-Amarosa-by-Jim-Sullivan

Idyllic vineyards carpet gently rolling hills, shaded oak groves and the dramatic Northern California coast in the world renowned Sonoma and Napa wine country. With nearly 1,000 wineries to choose from, deciding where to begin can be overwhelming.

Healdsburg, known for delectable farm-to-table restaurants and artisan cocktails, is a friendly area to start your journey, with clusters of tasting rooms near the plaza and a lively atmosphere. Relax on the Russian River beach, conveniently located near Old Roma Station, which gathers eleven wineries under one roof.

The Silverado Trail is a beautiful opportunity to experience Napa wine country, with sweeping vistas and award-winning varietals, primarily Cabernet and Pinot Noir. If you enjoy cave tours, there are several along the route, including Wine Cliff Winery and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. For unique vistas, enjoy a colorful balloon ride far above the vineyards. To truly enjoy the Silverado Trail, join one of the tours or van shares, they know the best locations and will solve who to choose as designated driver.

Sonoma County Wine Road is packed with events: vineyard hikes, cheese making, chef dinners, passport tastings and other possibilities to make your trip special. Check their schedule for the dates you plan on spending in Sonoma wine country.

Rich soil and varied climates create a range of wine regions. For lush forests along a winding river, visit the Russian River region. To escape the heat, drive through the mist into Sonoma Coast, with dramatic rocky surf and fresh seafood. Sonoma Valley includes Jack London State Park and historical plaza for a change of pace. Perennial favorites in Sonoma County are Dry Creek Valley, Chalk Hill and Alexander Valley. Napa’s Pinot Noir regions are Carneros and Oak Knoll; for Zinfandel enthusiasts, drive North into the Calistoga region, also known for its relaxing mineral spas. For Bordeaux, St. Helena and Yountville are sure to please.

Stags-Leap-Wine-Cellars
Stags Leap Wine Cellars

The ultimate dining experience is in the Yountville wine region at The French Laundry, a world renowned restaurant with mouthwatering locally sourced dishes exquisitely presented. Their wine list is carefully curated and so large that it is presented on an iPad to guests. An evening at The French Laundry is a multi-course extravaganza of delectable dishes and desserts that deserves a place on your bucket list when visiting Napa.

Springtime in wine country can be enjoyed to the fullest at wineries with extensive gardens. Ferrari-Carano is an Italian inspired villa with formal tulip courtyards and an intimate tea garden of gazebos and benches. Korbel offers garden tours of roses and international themed plantings, surrounded by quaint ivy covered buildings. For exciting wine tasting on extensive grounds, visit Castello di Amorosa, a reproduction Medieval castle. Arrive for their jousting tournament with knights and feasting or tip-toe through haunted corridors at The Pagan Ball, a Halloween themed evening in October. Far Niente is a wildly spectacular winery with 13 acres of gardens filled with azaleas and woodlands to explore, but they do require reservations in advance.

When budgeting for your trip, keep in mind that tasting flights range from $10-20, and it is acceptable to share. Wineries often offer food, cheese or chocolate pairings, which augment their wines and are a delicious treat when out tasting for the day. They generally fall within the $50-200 range and are a good choice to break up straight wine flights. If you are traveling through the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, they allow one case of wine to be checked for free; bring your VinGardeValise to fill with wine to bring home—you will need it!

Sonoma and Napa are vast areas to play in for wine enthusiasts, packed with events, wineries, hotels and restaurants. For lush greenery, visit during May-June, classic golden California hills dominate the landscape in summer months, and to admire vibrant autumn colors, late October through early November are filled with red and orange leaves in vineyards. No matter the time of year you choose to visit, wine country is a treat for the senses and will create cherished memories.

IWA Wine Accessories (http://iwawine.com) is dedicated to creating a rich and cultured wine lifestyle through a wide selection of wine cellar and storage products, wine accessories and gifts. Visit the Design Center for information on building a custom wine cellar in your home.

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