Strawberries and Champagne | Not Always The Perfect Pair?

Strawberries and Champagne | Not Always The Perfect Pair?

Strawberries and Champagne

With Valentine’s Day already just a few weeks away (wasn’t it just New Year’s?) you’ll need to be getting into a romantic frame of mind very soon if you haven’t already. I myself am trying to get prepared and just ordered some tasty looking chocolates for my significant other.

I’m also looking forward to selecting a good bottle of bubbly, most likely one of these great sparklers. What I won’t doing however, is the clichéd yet quintessential Valentine’s Day pairing of Strawberries and Champagne!

Strawberries and Champagne

Why, you might ask? Because despite the popularity of pairing Strawberries and Champagne, they don’t actually work all that well together. The problem is that most Champagne’s we drink today are actually quite dry as well as being naturally high in acidity.

When you combine something high in acidity with something sweet, like candy or a strawberry, you get a less than desirable puckering sensation and you really lose much of the delicate flavors of both the strawberries and Champagne! Champagne actually fares far better balancing the rich sauces of a heavy meal.

So if you’re wondering how such a fundamentally flawed pairing like Strawberries and Champagne can be so popular – you have to look to the history of Champagne for the answer. Whereas most Champagne today has less than 12 grams of sugar per bottle, it used be considerably sweeter with usually more than 30 grams of sugar per bottle.  In those days, Champagne was more often enjoyed as a dessert wine.

A sweeter Champagne does actually pair better with strawberries so if you in insist on Strawberries and Champagne this Valentine’s Day – try going with an Extra-Dry or Sec Champagne which is sweeter than the more common Brut Champagne. And don’t forget to explain to your date why Strawberries and Champagne don’t mix – they’ll surely be impressed!

- Cheers and Happy Valentine’s Day! -

Strawberries and Champagne

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet | Costco Wine Review

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet | Costco Wine Review

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet

After having such great success with the Northstar Merlot from Columbia Valley Washington, I decided it was about time that I try another Washington State wine – except this time I wanted to try a Cabernet and wanted the price to be around the $10 range rather than the $20 price range that the Northstar Merlot falls in at Costco.

It’s tough enough to find good Cabernet around $20 so as you can probably imagine it can be quite a bit more challenging to find a well-made, quality Cabernet Sauvignon around $10.

To keep the playing field level and to get a great price, I went back to the Costco Wine Section and chose the Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 for $10.99. I’m pretty intrigued to see how this popular Columbia Valley Cabernet offering stacks up against others in this highly-competitive price category.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet

Appearance: A nice dark garnet red.

Nose: Approachable and juicy with interlaced notes of red and dark fruit, spice and toasty vanilla.

On the palate: The 2012 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet is a medium-bodied effort in a ripe, accessible style. It is quite appealing for it’s flavors of black cherry, black currant, kirsch, cocoa and vanilla. It’s smoky and softly spicy at the core with a smooth, soft finish.

Varietal Composition: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot and 2% Syrah

Vintage: 2012

Origin: Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Valley, Washington

Value Rating:  5 / 5

Where I got it: Costco (Arlington, VA)

Price: $10.99 ($15 Retail)

Score: 90

Should you buy? Absolutely! The Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet is a well-made, easy to drink Cabernet and another stellar value at Costco’s price. It’s combination of accessible, smooth flavors at a very reasonable price point make it immensely desirable.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet

Value Proposition - Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet 2012 | Costco Wine

It seems we have another winner from Washington State on our hands! I served the Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet to guests and they found it incredibly smooth and drinkable with a nice medium-intensity berry and cocoa profile that kept you reaching for another sip. Fortunately, at under $11 it’s a solid value and one that we can all afford to sip throughout the week.

Trentatre Rosso 33 Review | Trader Joe’s Wine

Trentatre Rosso 33 Review | Trader Joe’s Wine

Trentatre Rosso

Apparently I’m the last one to arrive at the Trentatre Rosso party… But I do rather enjoy a good party so better late than never, right? Previous vintages of the Trentatre Rosso by Santini Wines have been praised by quite a few fellow wine bloggers and frankly all of the publicity has me just that much more curious as to how good it could be. It was also highly recommended by the in-store Trader Joe’s wine representative who has assisted me in cherry-picking the best Trader Joe’s wines.

The name Trentatre is of particular significance because it translates to ‘thirty-three’ in Italian. The reason for the namesake being that Trentatre Rosso is a blend of three different varietals, each representing 33% of the total composition. It also hails from Southern Italy, like the Grifone Primitvo, which was a solid value in the Trader Joe’s Wine Section. At under $7 let’s see if we have another winner on our hands with the 2012 vintage of the Trentatre Rosso 33!

Trentatre Rosso

Appearance: A nice deep garnet red

Nose: Its quite aromatic with a nose of ripe red and black fruit, chocolate, herbs and spice.

On the palate: The Trentatre Rosso is quick to please with raspberry, plum, black cherry, black berry and milk chocolate notes in a medium to full-bodied package. The mouthfeel is smooth and rich with a supple, dry and spicy finish.

Varietal Composition: 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 33.4% Montepulciano

Vintage: 2012

Origin: Apulia, Southern Italy

Value Rating:  5 / 5

Where I got it: Trader Joe’s (Clarendon, VA)

Price: $6.99

Score: 88

Should you buy? Buy as much of the Trentatre Rosso as you can afford! This is a stonking value that offers significantly more drinking pleasure than it’s modest price suggests.

Trentatre Rosso

Value Proposition - Trentatre Rosso 33 | Trader Joe’s Wine

Simply put, I can certainly see what all of the fuss is about and frankly all of the publicity surrounding this wine is well deserved. I will be stocking up on the Trentatre Rosso 33 personally on my next trip to the Trader Joe’s Wine Section! This is eminently quaffable with good concentration and a more refined mouthfeel than most wines in this price range.

It further reinforces that when shopping in the Trader Joe’s Wine Section it is best to avoid the highly-commercial brand names and go off reservation with gems like these. The Trentatre Rosso might just become my new house wine!

Northstar Merlot Review | A Merlot for Cab Lovers?

2010 Northstar Merlot Review | Northstar Winery

Northstar Merlot

Two of my best friends are decamping the Washington D.C. area and are relocating to Seattle sometime this year. While I’m not exactly thrilled that they are moving to the other side of the country, it will give me a great excuse to visit beautiful Washington State from time to time and perhaps even explore it’s burgeoning wine country – where Northstar Merlot is produced.

Already big wine-lovers, their impending move has them drinking almost exclusively Washington State wines these days. It has been great fun to pop the cork on several different examples and most of them have been great if not excellent. One of their favorite go-to bottles has been the Northstar Merlot, which they regularly find for under $30.

But then they told me that the highly-acclaimed 2010 Northstar Merlot was being sold in the Costco Wine Section for under $20! So naturally I jumped at the opportunity to grab a case before it sold out – as the best deals always seem to do.

Northstar Merlot

Appearance: Dense and quite dark at the core making way to a crimson red rim.

Nose: The mildly perfumed nose reveals vanilla, blackberry, blueberry, pine needle, dusty cocoa and baking spices.

On the palate: The 2010 Northstar Merlot is a powerful, tightly-wound wine even at over 4 years old. The mid-palate develops with copious blackberry and black cherry flavors before revealing notes of pine needle, graphite, molasses, cocoa and clove. The tannins are firm and drying. After an extended decant the silky texture begins to reveal itself. While this is enjoyable to drink now I believe it has great aging potential and would benefit from several more years of bottle age to soften the tannin.

Varietal Composition: 78% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot

Vintage: 2010

Origin: Columbia Valley, Washington

Value Rating:  5 / 5

Where I got it: Costco (Arlington, VA)

Price: $19.99 On Sale (Regularly $24.99 at Costco ) – Standard retail from Northstar Winery is $41 for the most recent 2011 vintage release.

Score: 93

Should you buy? Absolutely, this is a Cabernet lover’s Merlot! Even if you only buy the Northstar Merlot to prove to yourself that all Merlot mustn’t be soft and boring. This is a stellar value at Costco’s price.

Northstar Merlot

The Northstar Winery is wholly owned by Washington’s largest winery: Chateau Ste. Michelle. It was founded with goal of producing premium, first-class Merlot from top vineyards in Columbia Valley. Some fun facts about Washington State:

  • Washington State is the second largest wine-producing region in the U.S.
  • The Columbia Valley is the largest wine region within the state of Washington with over 11,000,000 acres.
  • 40,000 of those acres are planted to vine.
  • The Columbia Valley AVA includes an astounding 99% of the total vineyard area within Washington State.
  • A small section of the Columbia Valley actually lies within Oregon.
  • The Cascade Mountains shelter Columbia Valley from much of the harsh storms originating in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Eastern Washington is a semi-arid climate receiving only 6 to 8 inches of annual rainfall.

Northstar Merlot

Value Proposition - Northstar Merlot 2010 | Northstar Winery

If the 2010 Northstar Merlot is any indication, Northstar Winery is not just producing world-class Merlot but is setting the standard. This is excellent Merlot – structured, elegant and complex with real aging potential. Truly a Cabernet lover’s Merlot, the Northstar Merlot has just enough of that silken texture to remind you what you’re drinking. Even Miles might approve of this one!

My suggestion is to check your local Costco Wine Section to see if they have gotten any of the Northstar Merlot in stock. If so, stock up! This is an incredible buy for under $20 and will not last. The 2010 Northstar Merlot even boasts a solid 93 point score from Robert Parker. If you can’t get it in the Costco Wine section, then don’t hesitate to pay a little more for the Northstar Merlot – at under $30 you can rest assured that this is still an excellent value.

A Taste of Stinson Vineyards | Rose & Meritage Review

A Taste of Stinson Vineyards | Rose & Meritage Review

Stinson Vineyards

The Historic Piedmont House originally built in 1796. Photo credit:

Stinson Vineyards is a small, family-run winery located in Crozet, Va. The father/daughter winemaking team of Scott and Rachel Stinson sought to produce fine wines in Virginia with a winemaking philosophy that is strongly influenced by those of the French, and especially the controversial ‘garagiste’ winemakers of France.

Rather appropriate then is the fun fact that the winery at Stinson Vineyards is actually built into an old 3 car garage on the 12 acre property. That may be all they have in common with the garagiste winemakers however as Stinson Vineyards focuses on “…European-style wines that emphasize subtlety and complexity rather than power and super-ripeness…” The latter attributes essentially being the goals of the French garagiste winemakers who defy mainstream, more traditional French winemaking practices.

Stinson Vineyards has garnered critical acclaim for their wines and have developed a nice following from visitors who appreciate the boutique, historic setting with it’s stunning vistas and reportedly excellent wines. And on that note, let’s see just how good their wines are!

Stinson Vineyards

2013 Rose | Stinson Vineyards – A beautiful medium-pink color in the glass with very good clarity. Produced from 100% Mourvedre, the perfumed nose reveals juicy white peach, melon, rose petal and a hint of nectarine. Those notes translate well into flavors on the creamy, smoky palate. This is medium-bodied and has a nice balanced and refreshing profile that finishes dry.

The Mourvedre used to make the Stinson Vineyards 2013 Rose was sourced from Muse Vineyards in Woodstock, Va.

Price: $17.99 (Sample)         Score: 90

Stinson Vineyards

Stinson Vineyards
2012 Meritage | Stinson Vineyards – A nice medium garnet-red in the glass with a nose redolent of potpourri, bright red fruit, cherry liquor and a bit of smoke. The palate is framed by a core of red fruits such as raspberry, red currant and cherry along with subtle notes of red beet, licorice and smoke. It’s a nice, balanced effort with a medium-body and a lingering, spicy finish.

The Stinson Vineyards 2012 Meritage is composed of 38% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petit Verdot, and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. Muse Vineyards provided the Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet while the Cabernet Franc was sourced from Benevino Vineyards in Winchester.

Price: $25.99 (Sample)         Score: 88

Stinson Vineyards

Value Proposition - Stinson Vineyards Rose & Meritage

I try to make it to Virginia wine country about once a year, although this past year my group opted for a trip to visit some great Long Island Wineries instead. Virginia wines, especially reds, have had a reputation of inconsistency in the past but that has mostly changed for the better.

I’m happy to report that both of these wines were quite good and the 2012 Meritage is certainly amongst the better reds I’ve tasted from Virgina. The winemaking techniques that Stinson Vineyard utilizes such as whole berry fermentation for their red wines and sur lie aging for their white wines surely help them to produce more distinctive, complex wines.

As a resident of Washington D.C. and a life-time local, I’m always an advocate of Virginia wine and the progress that it has seen. These wines are further evidence of that progress and I hope to get to visit the winery one day.

For a modest tasting fee of $7 you can taste at Stinson Vineyards. For more information on visiting, click here.

Louise d’ Estree Brut Review | Trader Joe’s Wine

Louise d’ Estree Brut Review | Trader Joe’s Wine

Louise d' Estree Brut

So I’m back in the Trader Joe’s Wine Section looking for another solid sparkling wine bargain after having some success with the La Granja 360 Cava I discovered a few weeks ago. For only $1 more I spotted the rather regal-looking Louise d’ Estree Brut and wondered if it might be another great Trader Joe’s Wine discovery.

The Louise d’ Estree is not Champagne but rather a French sparkling wine. I’ve has some pretty tasty French sparklers from outside of the far pricier Champagne region before so I thought I’d investigate whether the Louise d’ Estree is as royally good as it’s label seems to suggest!

Louise d' Estree Brut

Appearance: A very pale yellow with good effervescence and tiny bubbles.

Nose: Uncomplicated, pure aromas of green apple and pear with just a touch of lemon.

On the palate: The Louise d’ Estree Brut is defined by sweet orchard fruit and notes of lemon rind on the mid-palate. It finishes dry with some alcohol coming through on the somewhat unbalanced, short finish. It’s a simple, quaffable sparkler with no discernible secondary flavors.

Varietal Composition: Unknown

Vintage: Non-Vintage

Origin: France

Value Rating:  3.5 / 5

Where I got it: Trader Joe’s (Clarendon, VA)

Price: $7.99

Score: 84

Should you buy? ~Maybe~ The Louise d’ Estree Brut is an uncomplicated, easy to drink sparkler with an enjoyable mid-palate but the unbalanced finish leaves a little something to be desired. Consider it along with other options in the Trader Joe’s Wine Section.

Louise d' Estree Brut

Value Proposition - Louise d’ Estree Brut | Trader Joe’s Wine

While the Louise d’ Estree boasts both tiny bubbles and a tiny price, I don’t think it’s as good as the regal-looking label might suggest. If you need a no-nonsense sparkler with fancy, French label under $10, then this is definitely a pretty good option. It would make a great base for Mimosa’s or Bellini’s, too. Having said that, I would rather spend even less and get the La Granja 360 Cava as it is a slightly better made, more interesting sparkler.

Whitehall Lane Cabernet Review | Whitehall Lane Winery

- Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Review | Whitehall Lane Winery -

Whitehall Lane Winery

On my most recent trip to Napa Valley I had driven past Whitehall Lane Winery in Rutherford several times. The thought occurred to me that I had surprisingly never tasted any of their wines so I decided to stop in one night around 5:40 p.m. while on our way back to The Carneros Inn after seeing that they were open until 6 p.m. This is pretty late for wine tastings as most wineries close their doors between 4 and 5.

Although the sign stated that Whitehall Lane Winery was open until 6 p.m., I was kindly informed that they actually do their last tastings at 5:30. I couldn’t help but thinking that I had just committed the wine tasting faux pas of showing up to taste at the last minute while everyone is trying to close up and get home.

Yet any mild embarrassment I might have had was quickly quashed by the friendly tasting room staff who enthusiastically invited us back for a tasting the following day, on the house. This is just the kind of great customer service that is so refreshing and all to often hard to find on busy and super-touristy HWY 29 in Napa. So I made it a point to come back to Whitehall Lane Winery and taste their wines. The verdict: I’m sure glad I did!

Each and every wine in this small, family-run winery’s portfolio was incredibly well-crafted and was a relative bargain compared to many of it’s nearby neighbors. Further adding to the tasting experience was Luke, who by my take manages the tasting room at Whitehall Lane Winery. He was an excellent brand ambassador and had extensive knowledge not just of the wines he was pouring, but of the competing pours in Napa. It was he who recommended that I visit Palmaz Vineyards and that also turned out to be a great experience!

One of my favorites wines of the tasting was the Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2011!

Whitehall Lane Winery

Appearance: A dark, nearly opaque color turning ruby red at the rim.

Nose: Bright and sweet red fruits are interlaced with dusty black fruit along with notes of camphor and graphite.

On the palate: The Whitehall Lane Cabernet is on the fuller side of medium to full bodied. The mid-palate is juicy and quite silky with just enough grip from it’s polished tannin. There are vibrant raspberries and plums before evolving to notes of kirsch, sweet cassis, black licorice, juicy blackberries and just the slightest hint of tobacco before a lingering soft spice on the finish. The Whitehall Lane Cabernet has a nice earth component with elements of crushed rock and a bright acid profile. This is somewhat reminiscent of a Left Bank Bordeaux for me and is really fun to drink.

Varietal Composition: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 3% Malbec

Vintage: 2011

Origin: Napa Valley, California

Value Rating:  4.5 / 5

How I got it: Sample

Price: $40 Retail (Although widely available ~$30 according to Wine-Searcher)

Score: 92

Should you buy? Absolutely! The Whitehall Lane Cabernet is a great value in Napa Cabernet from a solid, family-owned producer in Rutherford. If you think that 2011 Cabernet’s aren’t worth buying then you must give the 2011 Whitehall Lane Cabernet a shot!

Whitehall Lane WineryValue Proposition - Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 | Whitehall Lane Winery

This is an excellent Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon exhibiting both an expressive and refined personality. Considering the modest price point relative to most Napa Cab’s, this has certainly benefited from Whitehall Lane Winery’s extensive portfolio spanning 140 acres of prime valley floor vineyards.

The fruit used to make the 2011 Whitehall Lane Cabernet was sourced from St. Helena, Calistoga, Oak Knoll, Yountville and Rutherford. It was aged for 20 months in a combination of American and French Oak before final blending to attain the ideal balance.

It is almost certainly in part due to the early vineyard acquisitions by the Leonardini family in the 1990’s that Whitehall Lane Winery is able to produce such a fine Cabernet Sauvignon from such prestigious vineyards at less than much of the competition.

So even if you only come to Whitehall Lane Winery for the informative, laid-back and warm wine tasting experience, you’ll more than likely want to leave with a few bottles of Whitehall Lane Winery’s award-winning wine. Frankly, if they’re able to accomplish such a good Cabernet in one of the most challenging vintages in Napa Valley’s recent history, then I can’t wait to try their wines from the rock star vintages of 2012, 2013 and 2014!

For Tour and Tasting information at Whitehall Lane Winery, visit here.

Spiral Cellars Cabernet Review | Trader Joe’s Wine

- Spiral Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley | Trader Joe’s Wine -

Trader Joe's Wine

After really enjoying the Spiral Cellars Chardonnay a few weeks ago I was pretty intrigued to try the Spiral Cellars Cabernet offering. It just happens to be from an incredibly good vintage at an incredibly low price, from one of the historically most expensive places to both grow and buy Cabernet Sauvignon.

It’s pretty rare to see Napa Cabernet under $10, but Spiral Cellars and Trader Joe’s have succeeded in making this bottle of Spiral Cellars Cabernet available to us for $9.99. Let’s see if it’s worth your hard earned Alexander Hamilton!

Trader Joe's Wine

Appearance: Dark ruby red

Nose: Aromas of black cherry, juicy black berries, cola and raspberry make for a pleasant nose.

On the palate: The Spiral Cellars Cabernet is juicy and fruit forward with decent concentration and a creamy, smooth mouthfeel. There are blackberries, cherry cola, black currant, new wood and hints of milk chocolate and spice. There’s lots to like here but the finish has a slightly oaky, coarse finish that somewhat detracts from the whole package.

Varietal Composition: Cabernet Sauvignon

Vintage: 2012

Origin: Napa Valley, California

Value Rating:  4 / 5

Where I got it: Trader Joe’s (Clarendon, VA)

Price: $9.99

Score: 86

Should you buy? This is a pretty decent Cabernet Sauvignon for the modest price point but it isn’t my absolute favorite either. Consider it along with other options in the Trader Joe’s Wine Section.

Trader Joe's Wine

Value Proposition - Spiral Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley | Trader Joe’s Wine

Don’t get me wrong, this is a pretty tasty wine with a great nose and a pretty enjoyably juicy, creamy mid-palate. If the Spiral Cellars Cabernet has a more refined finish this would be a screaming value in the Trader Joe’s Wine Section.

The problem I’m having with it is that for a few dollars more, there are many compelling options from Paso Robles or even the Trader Joe’s private label Cabernet’s. Then there’s the Costco Wine Section which sells the always dependable Hess Select Cabernet for under $13. Having said that, if you must have Napa Valley Cabernet and need to spend under $10, the Spiral Cellars Cabernet is still a good option.

Top Wineries | Highlights from Napa Valley

| Best Wineries in Napa Valley – Castello di Amorosa, CADE Estate & Palmaz Vineyards|

Winter in most places isn’t terribly beautiful or comfortable, unless of course you’re in Napa Valley! My partner and I were married on 12-13-14 and on the 27th of December we made a trip to Napa Valley to celebrate our honeymoon. We chose to stay at the beautiful Carneros Inn in Napa.

Best Wineries in Napa Valley

The lounge chairs outside of the Hilltop Restaurant at The Carneros Inn

Because we were mostly kicking back and celebrating, I wasn’t planning on doing any write-ups like I might normally do. Having said that we were fortunate enough to visit some pretty special wineries and I felt compelled to share these amazing spots with you! Ranging from spectacularly touristy to just plain spectacular, the following are some of the Best Wineries in Napa Valley we visited during this trip.

Best Wineries in Napa

One of five defensive towers at Castello di Amorosa

Castello di Amorosa - Best Wineries in Napa Valley

If you’re looking for a lesson in medieval architecture, wine-making, or just some good old-fashioned wow-factor, then Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley is not to be missed.

Aptly nicknamed ‘The Castle’, Castello di Amorosa began as a modest vision by proprietor and Napa Valley native Dario Sattui. You may know him from the wildly popular V. Sattui Winery in the heart of Napa.

Best Wineries in Napa

Dario Sattui had a dream of honoring his Italian heritage and building a Tuscan Castle where he could produce wines from varietals indigenous to Italy. While his original idea called for a structure measuring around a more modest 5,000 square feet, Dario’s passion for wine-making and Italian architecture snowballed into what stands today: a sprawling, 121,000 square foot 13th century era medieval Tuscan-inspired architectural masterpiece crafted from handmade materials, many of which were actually imported from Italy.

Best Wineries in Napa

The Great Hall – Historically the most well-appointed room and used for social gatherings

Over 200 shipping containers were imported to craft ‘The Castle’ with such items as antique bricks, windows, tiles, doors and authentic furnishings.

A true labor of love, Castello di Amorosa required nearly as much labor to construct. While 30 years in the making, it took an impressive 15 years of actual construction time with a team of dedicated architects, engineers and carpenters on staff, many of whom lived on property during the construction.

Best Wineries in Napa

The Large Format Room

Some fun facts about Castello di Amorosa:

  • The structure spans 121,000 square feet which is the equivalent of 3 acres worth of rooms.
  • There are 5 defensive towers, a moat and a drawbridge.
  • The hand-hewn doors to the castle weigh 2,000 lbs. and were imported from Italy.
  • There are 107 total rooms, with 95 entirely devoted to winemaking.
  • There are 8 total levels with half of them underground.
  • The property consists of 171 acres of land, with 30 of those planted to vine.
  • Their goal is to make classically styled, Italian varietals such as:
    • Pinot Grigio
    • Pinot Bianco
    • Sangiovese
    • Super Tuscan Blends
    • A late harvest Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend
  • While Castello di Amorosa honors traditional wine-making techniques, they utilize modern technologies where it improves wine quality.
  • Castello di Amorosa utilizes a sustainable approach to wine-making and vineyard management practices.

We opted for the guided tour and premium tasting, at $35 per person. Our tour guide was passionate and incredibly knowledgeable about both the history of the property and the medieval history it honored.

The tasting at the end of the tour was conducted in one of several subterranean private tasting rooms. We were able to choose 5 wines to taste from the extensive tasting menu. My favorite wines were the IL Brigante (a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot) and the Cabernet Sauvignon, priced at $37 and $49 respectively.

Should you find yourself short on time, you could just taste for $20 per person or upgrade to a reserve level tasting for $30 per person. For more on Tours and Tasting information, click here.

Best Wineries in Napa

Make sure to say hello to the Emu’s on the way out!

Castello di Amorosa is both a feast for the eyes and the palate. If you haven’t carved out a spot for Castello di Amorosa yet in your Itinerary, make sure you do. Even if you only come for the impressive sights and intriguing history, you’ll surely leave with something to sip and savor long after you’ve visited one of the best wineries in Napa.

CADE Estate Winery - Best Wineries in Napa Valley

Best Wineries in Napa

A native Manzanita tree at CADE Estate Winery

If I can recommend that you visit just one winery in Napa Valley on your next visit, that one would be CADE Estate Winery on Howell Mountain. Despite being corporately owned by the Plumpjack Group, which ironically also owns The Carneros Inn, CADE Estate impresses in every way possible without ever feeling the least bit ‘corporate’. Quite simply this off the beaten path winery is firing on all cylinders.

Best Wineries In Napa

From it’s commanding views down to Napa Valley to it’s stunning modern architecture all executed with the utmost sustainability in mind, CADE Estate begs for your attention. Did I mention the gorgeous setting nestled on Howell Mountain surrounded by native Manzanita trees?

Best Wineries in Napa

Inside the caves at CADE Estate Winery

While you can taste current releases in the lounge for $40, I recommend the CADE Estate Cave Tour and Tasting. For $70, visitors are greeted with either a glass of the CADE Sauvignon Blanc or Adaptation Chardonnay before touring the wine-making facility and caves.

Make sure to arrive early so that you can take in the views by the outdoor fire pit or reflecting pool before your tour begins. After the tour, visitors are treated to an intimate group-setting tasting consisted of four wines paired with delicious small bites. We tasted:

  • 2011 Adaptation Chardonnay ($28)
  • 2013 CADE Sauvignon Blanc ($28)
  • 2011 CADE Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($60)
  • 2011 CADE Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($80)
  • 2011 Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($150)

Best Wineries in Napa

Being corporately owned and with such impressive views, my honest expectations for their wines were merely average… However I was beyond pleasantly surprised! Their entire portfolio, from their Sauvignon Blanc to their 100% estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon were impeccable and incredibly well-crafted, both of which just happened to be my favorites.

Best Wineries In Napa

The Estate Cabernet was incredibly rich and powerful yet with a weightless mouthfeel that completely belied it’s depth and complexity. Their Cabernet was the best I tasted on the entire trip, and we tasted some compelling Cabernet’s!

CADE Estate is easily one of the best wineries in Napa to visit. You would be hard pressed to find a more perfect combination of stunning vistas and stunning wine. It only further enhances the experience to know that the vineyards are organically farmed and the winery is LEED Cerfified. I know I will certainly be back and I hope to be able to feature their wines on The Fermented Fruit someday!

Palmaz Vineyards - Best Wineries in Napa Valley

Best Wineries in Napa

Entrance to Palmaz Vineyards

Many wine lovers know about the more recent Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976 where Chateau Montelena and Stags Leap Wine Cellars beat out the French for their Chardonnay and Cabernet, respectively. It was that surprising outcome from the now infamous tasting that put Napa Valley on the map and cemented it’s reputation as a world-class producer of wine, especially Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

But long before the 1976 competition the historic property now known as Palmaz Vineyards was owned by vintner Henry Hagen. It was known then as Cedar Knoll Vineyards and it just so happened to be producing award winning wines before Palmaz Vineyard’s ever came to be. At the Paris Exposition of 1889, Cedar Knoll Vineyards took silver medal for it’s wines.

Even after surviving the devastating Phylloxera epidemic it was Prohibition that shut down Cedar Knoll Vineyards for good. After several changes in ownership and 80 years time, the historic property fell into disrepair. Now fast forward a few years…

Best Wineries in Napa

Looking out onto Palmaz Vineyards

While you may or may not have heard of Dr. Julio Palmaz, you have probably heart of the heart stent which he invented. Intellectual Property International Magazine described Dr. Palmazez invention as one of the ‘Ten Patents that Changed the World” in the last century.

While originally from Argentina, the Dr. Julio Palmaz completed his residency at UC Davis, where his love of wine initially began. He and his wife Amalia continued to visit Napa over the years and would spend their weekends tasting wine in Napa.

Then, after years of work travels and residing in Texas, Dr. Palmaz sold his heart stent patent to Johnson & Johnson for hundreds of millions of dollars. Amalia had one request: That they retire to Napa Valley and make wine. It was she who found the historic property where Palmaz Vineyards now lies nestled alongside Mount George in prime Cabernet country.

In 1996 Palmaz Vineyards was born. And what do you get when a genius doctor retires after giving the world an incredibly advanced technological breakthrough and decides to pursue his love of wine?

Best Wineries in Napa

Fermentation Tanks Operate on a Mechanized, Computerized Conveyor System

Palmaz Vineyards is an incredible 100,000 square foot winemaking facility/underground complex consisting of an impressive 24 stories, most of which (15 stories) were drilled underground into Mount George. It was completed at an estimated cost of approximately $20 million and some of the construction work was so challenging that it has since been featured in scientific journals.

Featuring the most technologically advanced winemaking techniques I’ve ever seen, Palmaz Vineyards seeks to produce world class wines in the old-world, lower-alcohol style that is so uncommon today in Napa Valley.

Best Wineries in Napa

Fermentation Tanks in the High-Tech Fermentation Dome

The winery actually features a silo-like structure which houses a mechanized fermentation tank system whereby each individual tank for each specific vineyard lot parcel can be brought to the freshly picked and hand sorted fruit rather than the other way around.

Their fermentation tanks even feature remote sensors which can monitor everything from live temperature readings at the top and bottom of the tanks as well as the brix levels (sugar) of the wine.

Additionally, the entire winery is designed to utilize a complex gravity-flow method of transporting the wine. Most winemakers believe that the more you have to handle and transport and potentially bruise your fruit, the lower the quality of the finished wine will be. Dr. Palmaz believes that utilizing gravity is the gentlest and best method to move wine, and his winery certainly embodies that philosophy.

Best Wineries in Napa

The Underground Caves Offer Extensive Wine Storage for Barrel Aging

Our private tasting hosted by the knowledgeable and easy-going Andrea featured their excellent Riesling, Cedar Knoll Cabernet (a second label which pays homage to the historic Cedar Knoll Vineyards) and the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon which was expertly paired with a small bite menu designed by Mrs. Palmaz (a chef herself who even personally prepares meals for wine-club events).

Best Wineries in Napa

Our 2015 Winter Tasting Menu consisted of:

  • Southwestern Chicken Salad on an Apple Slice paired with the 2013 Palmaz Vineyards Riesling ‘LOUISE’ ($55)
  • Smoked Megret Duck Breast with Crème Cheese, Fig Preserves and Chives paired with the 2011 Cedar Knoll Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)
  • Piave Vecchio with Jerky Sprinkles and Dark Chocolate Palmaz Cabernet Truffle from Annette’s Chocolates paired with the 2011 Palmaz Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($120)
  • Almond and Apricot Biscotti paired with the Muscat Canelli “Florencia” ($55)

I really enjoyed the dry Riesling with its lemon, white peach, white flowers and mineral components. The Cedar Knoll Cabernet was another favorite with a fragrant nose of lavender and rosemary and delicious secondary flavors such as sandalwood, dark cherry, tobacco and leather. The flagship Cabernet was quite nice as well but drank more youthfully than the Cedar Knoll and I would love to re-taste it again after it has spent some time in bottle.

Tastings are by appointment only for $60 per person at Palmaz Vineyards and can be scheduled here. This is an exciting winery that is easily one of the best wineries in Napa.

Despite the large investment that was made here, one gets the sense that this is a true labor of love. It was a great way to end our trip. If you know of a more interesting story of how a winery came to be coupled with such beautiful wines, please let me know! For more about the Palmaz Vineyard’s story, click here.

Best Wineries in Napa


Where To Buy Wine | My Comprehensive Guide

- Where To Buy Wine | My Comprehensive Guide -

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “Where do you buy your wine?” This is an incredibly important question and it was about time I put an answer in writing!

Whether you’re a regular wine drinker or a special occasion wine drinker, the question of where to buy your wine can be a tough one, especially if you want great selection paired with great prices. You might be surprised just how much wine prices and breadth of selection can vary.

But fortunately the wine buying landscape has changed for the better and has almost become exciting. With the proliferation of the internet wine retailers, flash sale websites and big box wholesale spaces, your options are far more varied than they were merely ten years ago. The following are my favorite options for where to buy wine:

Where To Buy WineCostco | Big Brands, Costco Prices - Where To Buy Wine

Costco has become the number one retailer of wine, worldwide, and the reasons become clear after just one visit. With a great selection of highly commercial wines as well as constantly changing under-the-radar gems, Costco has become a favorite when the question of where to buy wine arises. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Costco has a self-imposed restriction on their profit margins (~13%) for each product they sell!

Oh and don’t miss the Kirkland Signature wines either! From a $4 Costco Pinot Grigio to a $1,400 bottle of Chateau Latour, Costco has something for everyone. For more check out my posts on Shopping for Wine at Costco and my Guide to Costco Wine Prices and Top Recommended Wines.

Where To Buy Wine

Trader Joe’s | No Longer Just ‘2 Buck Chuck’ - Where To Buy Wine

Though the ever popular grocer built it’s reputation as a prominent wine retailer by exclusively selling the famously inexpensive Charles Shaw wine brand, there are far more reasons to shop here than just the ‘2 Buck Chuck’. Though the selections still focus on value-oriented offerings, there is a great deal of interesting wine to choose from. If you’re looking for a good wine and you’re on a budget, Trader Joe’s is hard to beat. Check out my Guide to Trader Joe’s Wine Prices with Top Recommended Wines!

Where To Buy Wine

Wines Til Sold Out (WTSO) | The First Online Wholesaler - Where To Buy Wine

Wines Til Sold Out is one of my favorite places to buy wine. This no-frills online approach to wine buying features one wine at a time, discounted from 30% to 70% off of retail, until it’s sold out. The prices are tough to beat and if you buy the minimum (usually 3 to 4 bottles) there is no shipping cost!

They pioneered the now popular online wine wholesaler/flash sale space and are still leading the pack with a loyal following, tremendous pricing power and first rate customer service. I buy quite a bit of my wine from WTSO and it keeps me drinking well and enjoying wine for less!

Where to buy wine

Last Bottle | A Well-Connected Napa Based Wine Wholesaler - Where To Buy Wine

Think of Last Bottle as being similar to Wines Til Sold Out, but with a slightly more upscale twist. Based in Napa Valley, the owners of Last Bottle are self-described wine drinkers, collectors and damn fine tasters. They leverage their extensive industry relationships to source all sorts of mouth watering deals, with especially great finds coming out of Napa Valley. The prices are usually quite good, although not always as compelling as WTSO.

What also makes Last Bottle fun is that if you happen to be the lucky guy or gal to purchase the “Last Bottle”, you receive a credit of $25 in your account. Having said that I’ve purchased a good amount of wine from them and have yet to purchase the Last Bottle! But there is also a 2% instant account credit for every purchase made on their site. So if you make a $100 wine purchase, you will instantly receive $2 to use on your next purchase, and refrigerated ground shipping is free with a reasonable minimum purchase. I definitely recommend that you check out Last Bottle. To get an account credit just for signing up, click here!

Where to Buy Wine

Wine Library/Cinderella Wine | Brick and Mortar & Online Power-Retailer - Where To Buy Wine

If you’ve heard of The Wine Library, it probably has something to do with their affiliation with Gary Vaynerchuck. Gary Vaynerchuck has become somewhat of a social media/branding powerhouse. It was he who transformed his father’s Springfield, NJ liquor store into the mega wine-retailer it is today, in part through his popular Wine Library TV podcasts.

While Gary has moved on to focus his energies on his consulting project VaynerMedia, Wine Library has continued to grow and be a great source for top-flight wine at great prices, like the Domaine Lafage Cuvee Nicolas pictured above. They also have a great website for online shopping as well.

Cinderella Wine is an arm of Wine Library, and is much like WTSO and Last Bottle in that it features one bottle or wine assortment at a time, at a heavily discounted price with free shipping. I have picked up some great finds at incredible prices on the Cinderella Wine website and it is worth following.

Where To Buy Wine

Wine Shopper |’s Answer to the Flash Sale Website - Where To Buy Wine

Wine Shopper features a daily assortment of wines that is deeply discounting and offering with free shipping when your order totals $99. Offerings range from inexpensive table wine options to high end wines from prestigious producers.

Although the deals have become somewhat less compelling Wine Shopper is still a pretty decent website to find good value wines. If you’re selective and patient you will likely find some great deals. To get a $10 account credit just for signing up, click here.

- The Following Have Become Fading Stars Amongst My “Where To Buy Wine” Favorites –

Where to Buy Wine

Total Wine & More | The Wal-Mart of Wine Stores - Where To Buy Wine

Total Wine was once one of my absolute favorite places to shop for wine. With literally thousands of different wines to choose from and prices that were tough to beat, I was like a kid in a candy store. They even host weekly wine tastings which are posted on their calender of events!

Unfortunately however my love of Total Wine has somewhat faded. As they have become increasingly popular and have expanded their “Winery Direct” wine program (where they cut out the middle men), their prices have subsequently increased. I even mentioned to one of the employees that their prices had gone up pretty significantly and he simply agreed with me.

And what I especially don’t like is how they advertise having the best price for a list of popular, highly commercial wines. These bottles are indeed slightly cheaper thanmuch of the competition and are usually the bottles with a price ending in *7 yet other bottles are not always priced as competitively. These other bottles comprise the majority of the selection at Total Wine and those are often the ones being recommended by the staff.

And on that note… I often go by the recommendations of those working in a wine shop. They usually know their selections pretty well and have tasted through them prior to selling them. Having said that, several of the bottles that have been recommended to me were not good and if I had gone with my own instinct and buying experience I would have been much happier!

Wine.Woot! | Woot Is No Longer Such a Hoot! - Where To Buy Wine

Wine.Woot was another online favorite for quite some time. They used to offer great wine selections at pretty unbeatable pricing, and shipping was never more than $5! Another big Wine Woot advantage is that most of the wines you buy are shipped directly from the winery’s cellars, meaning that the provenance is excellent and you can rest assured that your wine hasn’t been sitting in a dusty corner for years at a wine shop!

Unfortunately since being acquired by Amazon, the quality of the deals and the pricing has become considerably less exciting. By all means don’t give up on Wine Woot entirely, but be mindful that some significant corporate changes have taken place at this famously quirky outpost.

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