Sparkling Wine Country

We just got back from a weekend trip to Napa Valley during which we took Sunset Magazine’s advice and chose activities that followed a “sparkling wine” theme. That basically means we went to wineries that specialized in the méthode Champenoise, in order to compare different sparkling wines, and hopefully get a better sense of what we like (upshot: we like sparklers made from pinot noir more than chardonnay).

If you’re considering doing something similar, here are a few notes from our trip:

  • Mumm Napa: In addition to having a free tour, this winery has a great indoor/outdoor tasting patio where you can order of flight of three or four 3-oz. pours of wine (we did a flight of bruts and a flight of their Devaux line). The view west across the valley is magnificent. Also, there’s an art gallery with both a rotating exhibit and a more permanent Ansel Adams exhibit. It’s a good place to hang out while you’re sobering up from the tasting.
  • étoile: This is a restaurant located in the Domaine Chandon winery. Their menu is built to bring out the best in the paired wines, which is the reverse of what usually happens. We did the four-course tasting menu with wines paired with each course (except for the last dessert course). Some of the pairings, like an unfiltered Newton chardonnay with an earthy truffle papardelle, were inspired. We also got to try some of Chandon’s less-available sparklers. This is a great restaurant if you want to foreground the wines.
  • Schramsberg: This somewhat smaller winery combines a tour of their wine caves with an above-ground tasting of four of their sparkling wines. The gothic caves are both literally and figuratively cool, and our knowledgeable guide did a terrific job talking us through the various tastings at the end — much better than the typical pay-and-pour tasting experience.
  • Candlelight Inn: OK, this doesn’t have much to do with sparkling wine, but this is the bed-and-breakfast where we stayed. We were fortunate enough to upgrade to their detached cottage, where we had breakfast brought to our private balcony. Also, the decor is somewhat less Victorian than many B&Bs in the area (a definite plus for me).
  • Bouchon bakery, next to Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, turns out to be a great place to grab a quick lunch.

I’d recommend any of the things we did. My strongest recommendation for wine country, though, would be to pick a theme around which to build your own visit. Sparkling wine worked out really well for us, but next time we might decide to focus on wines made from a particular grape (pinot noir, maybe?) or maybe dessert wines. I think having a trip theme helped us get a bit off the beaten path.

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