Napa Valley grapes present the aristocrats of American viticulture. While California produces 663 million gallons of wine yearly, only 4 per cent comes from the elite Napa grapes. In this wine wonderland, Cab has ruled since 1976 when Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon beat Bordeaux’s best at a landmark tasting in Paris.
Despite $1,500 per bottle, much of Napa Valley remains rural. Residents enter their blackberry jam at the annual county fair, and families own 95 per cent of Napa Valley wineries.
Most wineries are open to the public, either for drop-in visits or by appointment. Although some wineries offer free tastings (including Sutter Home and Mason Cellars), fees are $10 to $50 or more. Many wineries lower the fee if you buy wine. These are our picks.
The tasting takes place in caves dug in the 1885 by Chinese laborers using picks and shovels. Utilizing a wine thief, the guide draws barrel samples so visitors can the taste the same wine, such as a single-vineyard Cabernet, aged in different woods. Del Dotto Vineyards has employed more than 50-barrel types from cooperages in France, USA, Russia, Hungary, and Italy.
Napa attracts as much attention for its architecture as its Cab Sav. Notable edifices range from a turreted medieval castle (Castello di Amorosa) to Moorish stronghold (Groth) to the re-imagined Persian palace.
With its façade and 18-foot columns, the design resembles Persepolis, the one-time capital of Persia (now Iran) dating to 522 BC. The architecture reflects the heritage of owner Darioush Khaledi, born in Iran’s Shiraz region, which is also said to be birthplace of the famous Syrah/Shiraz grape.