A Relaxed guide to Napa winetasting

Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley

There’s no disputing that Napa and Sonoma are home to a veritable glut of wineries. There are many places to choose from that you can make the mistake of trying to pack in as many as you can into a day. But that’s not the point of wine, is it? It’s about kicking back with some friends, enjoying good conversation and the sunshine. So I’ve put together the relaxed guide to Napa winetasting for you. It’s features a couple of wineries that you won’t quickly forget, and a great spot for brunch or lunch.

RELAXED GUIDE TO NAPA WINE TASTING

It took me just under three years of living in San Francisco to visit Napa. I know, it’s almost blasphemous, but every time I tried to book, it was a public holiday that would be super-busy and Mr M and I don’t do crowds well. So when my Aussie cousin and her friends came to visit, I knew it was my chance for a proper day out in wine country. My navigational abilities (or lackthereof) got us off to a rocky start – we may have circled the same city block a couple of times. And I was the designated driver, which meant tiny sips of wine and not drinking everything that was put in front of me. But it was still an awesome day.

Things To Know

Before you jump in the car and race off to some wineries, there are a few things that you need to know:

  1. Most wineries require you to book ahead for a tasting
  2. You’ll have to pay for your tasting (between $20 and $70 depending on the package you choose and the winery you visit)
  3. Think about the Napa Wine Train, which stops at the at a couple of wineries
  4. Try visiting mid-week to avoid crowds
  5. Bring a jacket! Even if it’s a hot day, you’ll be wandering into caves, which can get a little chilly

Mid-morning winery: Castello di Amorosa

We started our day at a castle, since I figured it was more likely to get busier as the day went on. Despite its medieval look, Castello di Amorosa took 15 years to build and was completed in 2007. It’s based on a 13th Century Tuscan architecture and the owner made sure that it was authentic down to some of the construction methods used to build it. It’s got five towers with battlements, so you can already tell that this isn’t just some measley structure. It’s got 107 rooms, 95 of which are used in the winemaking process and the doors were hand-hewn in Italy. I guet the feeling that this place is the true meaning of “no expense spared”.

Inside the walls of Castello di Amorosa

Head up to the battlements and you’ll see vineyards and mountain ranges laid out beneath you like it’s been painted.ย Unfortunately, due to a traffic jam and my aforementioned navigational issues, we arrived at Castello di Amorosa almost an hour late for our tour. So we didn’t get to visit all the rooms and learn about them – and there are a bunch from the church, to the watch tower, torture chamber, loggia and secret passageways. Instead we made a beeline for the tasting room, which turned out to be a fantastic idea.

Wine tasting at Castello di amorosa

Castello di Amorosa makes a wide variety of wines, including Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Cabernat Sauvignon. That’s not even half of the types that are on offer though. I’m not a wine conniesseur. I can’t stand around swirling it round my glass, sniffing for hints of ochre or charcoal, or whatever else. I know that I liked all of the wines we tasted and that the more expensive they got, the more I liked them. Kudos to our French sommelier, who explained everything to us and wasn’t pushy at all. The best thing about wine tasting here (as opposed to Australia) is that you’ve paid for your tasting so you get a pretty good amount of wine in your glass, as opposed to the couple of drops I’m used to at home.

The vineyards surrounding Castello di Amorosa

We spent a little time roaming around the castle, checking out the nooks and crannies. Apparently this place is a bit of a drawcard, it’s been visited by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Giuliani, Jon Bon Jovi (now that’s a claim to fame), Sir James Galway and Robert Redford, to name a few.ย  It’s a great place to visit if you have to drag your kids along with you. There’s a drawbridge and a little section with farm animals as well.

Banquet Hall at Castello di Amorosa

Meander Through Downtown Napa

If you have the time, don’t miss the chance to go for a stroll through downtown Napa. It feels like a slice of Europe was plonked in the middle of Northern California. Downtown Napa has a high street that reminds me of Winbledon’s – full of boutique shops and pubs with names like the Dog and Fox or the Rose and Crown (both actual pubs I walked past to get to Wimbledon Common many times).

This is the place to splurge a little if you’re so inclined. Have dinner at one of the Michelin starred restaurants, like Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s celebrated eatery, Morimoto. If you’re not quite hungry yet, a stroll through Oxbrow Public Market will set your tummy rumbling. It’s a gourmet food market in every sense, featuring charcuterie, organic produce, bread and olive oil. But if you’re here for some window (or actual) shopping, there are plenty of boutiques to drop in on and practice your posh accent.

Lunchtime

It was getting a little late in the day for us intrepid travellers, and we definitely needed some sustenance to prepare us for our second winery of the day. We chose a refurbished roadhouse called the Boon Fly Cafe on a whim, and it turned out to be a great decision. By the time we arrived it was later in the day – around 3pm – but the lunch rush was still in full swing on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a modern dining room, painted white and furnished with wooden tables and chairs that make the place feel crisp and comfortable at the same time. Plus we nabbed the last seats at the bar, which gave us a great view of the mixologists at work, putting together drinks out of some things that probably shouldn’t be in a tipple – like bacon for instance. It was an education to say the least.

The Boon Fly Cafe's Boon Fly Benedict

I’d like to say that ordering the Boon Fly Benedict was a case of my eyes being too big for my stomach. Unfortunately, my stomach is well-versed in eating huge portions (now more than ever) and I absolutely demolished it in no time flat. Which was a good thing since we were slightly late for our next winery. I’d tell you what else was eaten, but I was too busy eating my lunch to notice.

Mid-Afternoon Winery: Domaine Carneros

While we were touring grand wineries, we couldn’t miss out on Domaine Carneros in Napa. This is the place where you can really do things at your own pace, and I recommend whiling a few afternoon hours away here. Depending on the time of year, you can sit out in the courtyard overlooking the vineyards and bask in some sun, or sit inside the elaborate tasting room with a few friends.

Domaine-Carneros-Winery

Domaine Carneros is all about the sparkling wine, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cater to those who are less inclined towards the sweeter things in life. Let’s start with the building and grounds though. In keeping with our theme of buildings that echo famous architectural styles of the ages, this Chateau is inspired by the Chateau de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France and was completed back in 1989. It’s as imposing as you’d expect a French chateau to be, sitting atop a knoll, surrounded by formal gardens and outdoor terraces, filled with marble and gold accents.

Wine tasting at Domaine Carneros in Napa

While there is a tour available at Domaine Carneros, we retired to the terrace and got straight to business. There are four smapler menus available here that caters to different tastes – Sparkling wine, red wine, Chateau and Grande. If you don’t fancy getting a flyte (which is what I’m calling it from now on), you can also order wine by the glass, which is especially useful if you already have your favourites picked out.

Domaine-Carneros-Terrace-Fountain

We visited on a beautiful summer’s afternoon so it was nice and sunny with a little breeze to go with it. The perfect spot, and we managed to stay for a few hours without even noticing the time go by. Our sommelier, whose name I regretfully forget but it could have been Matt or Ryan, was knowlegable, friendly and funny. Which is all I could ever ask for in someone serving me wine. I inadvertantly threw shade on American men (sorry Mr M, I didn’t mean it) and he didn’t let me forget it. As he souldn’t have.

Make your trip to #Napa a slow day and enjoy every second

 

45 thoughts on “A Relaxed guide to Napa winetasting

  1. I like your stress-free approach to wine tasting, which should be relaxing, after all! Never having been to Napa or even Southern California, I am rather amazed by the elaborate castle and chateau recreations which must have cost a mint. The views from Castello really do remind me of Tuscany. Looks like an enjoyable day of wining and dining was had by all ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I know, I totally didn’t expect the tasting rooms to be this fancy at all! So I was really lucky to have locals to consult before we went otherwise I probably would have just driven around and stopped at one of the places on the way.

  2. I just returned a few days ago from a trip to northern California. I didn’t make it up to the wineries this time, but I’ve loved it when I’ve visited in the past. Such a beautiful part of the state. I hope it stays safe from the fires.

    1. It’s one of those things that you have to have a full day for, otherwise it just feels like you’re rushing! I hope you had a great time on your trip up here anyway Kristin ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Wine tasting would probably be one of the few things I’ve yet to do in the US, I’d love to visit the Napa Valley region sometime. It’s fascinating and so different from the wine regions of Australia and France.

    SSG xxx

    1. Visiting the wine regions in France would be amazing! Have you done that as well? I’ve been to the Hunter Valley in NSW, but that’s about the extent of my Australian wine tasting experience.

  4. Sounded like it was a good tour…the more expensive the wine, the more I liked it…mmmm.

    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek Next week’s optional prompt is “Famous People I Have Met”. Denyse

  5. Ooh, this has my name written all over it. I love visiting vineyards. I was surprised to see a photo of a castle, I live in Portugal and it’s normal here but the US! Lol, guess it’s slightly newer than ours. Thanks for the tip about booking in advance, I probably wouldn’t have thought of that!

    1. I had that same reaction too Sarah! I’ve tasted wine in castles in Italy and Germany, but I would never in a million years would expect it in the US. It was a pleasant surprise!

    1. Luckily I didn’t drink very much so I could remember most of it ๐Ÿ˜‰ AND I had such great company, which made it even better.

    1. I tasted Ice Wine near Niagara Falls in Canada earlier this year. It was slightly too sweet even for my tastes, but it was so great to see the vineyards out there even when it was freezing cold!

  6. I shouldn’t be reading this type of blog when I am hungry, haha! Great photos and I love your relaxed approach. I’ve been to Napa Valley once, did some tastings, and loved them. I was there for a seminar so everything was organized for us. I want to go back with my husband one day. Saving your guide for when we go. Thanks for the info!

    1. I know what you mean. Luckily there wasn’t too much food involved. You’re so lucky to have done some tastings while you were out here. I hope you get back here with your husband soon Bea.

  7. This is sort of a dream trip of mine. I’ve never been to Napa but it’s been top of my list ever since I saw The Parent Trap as a kid. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m going to save this post for later – a relaxed wine tasting day is right up my alley. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Isn’t it funny how much movies influence us? I was talking to someone about living in the US the other day and we both remarked on how it’s kinda like living on a movie set because you recognise so many places from films!

  8. Interesting that not only they have imported the wine culture from Europe but they have also taken the time and spend money to recreate an authentic European village. THis only should be a reason to visit. And obviously the wino…

  9. Yes, last time I went to Napa I overdid it and it wasn’t a pretty site. I liked your relaxed approach or I would love to do the wine train. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. Ugh, well I’m such a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. So it worked out well that I was designated driver, otherwise I would have gotten very messy indeed.

  10. The details in that dining area of the castle are S T U N N I N G. My jaw dropped when I saw that room! It sounds like you had an incredible trip. I’d definitely have to take it slow on the wine…I’m such a lightweight. ๐Ÿ™‚ Adding Napa Valley to my “must see” list!

  11. Napa has been on my bucket list forever! The castle looks amazing! I think its an added plus that I could bring the kiddos along to explore as well. So beautiful. #Theweeklypostcard

  12. Great experience in Napa, even it took 3 years to get there:) Stunning photos, especially of Domaine Carneros. Great tips about bringing a sweater or jacket. I remember that experience between the contrast of hot and cold when I visited a while ago. Thanks for the recommendation for Boon Fly Cafe. Keeping it in mind for my next visit!!

  13. Oh, this looks absolutely delightful. I love wine tasting! Did you know that in South Africa you can go wine tasting for as little as โ‚ฌ3 (at really good vinyards!), for that amount you can sample 3-5 wines! Crazy (and lovely… and dangerous, haha).
    #TheWeeklyPostcard

  14. So funny, we lived in Wimbledon for years, so know the pubs! Just been to Russian River and Sonoma, have two kids in California so we visit a lot. Fabulous area and love your recommendations for Napa. Know where I am going next time!

  15. I like the idea of visiting wineries and tasting wine at a relaxed pace. Plus, it’s fun to find new places like the Boon Fly Cafe and discover that you made an excellent choice.

  16. I love Napa Valley! Our son went to college in Angwin, just up the hill from St. Helena, so we used to visit that area quite often. We’ve done a week-end tour of some of these wineries a while ago, but totally missed Castello di Amorosa. It seems to be quite spectacular and I’m sorry we didn’t have time for it. I find the wine-tasting in Napa very expensive though. It’s more than double that what we paid in other places.

  17. Dude, this is good. I live just a couple hrs away and badly need to get back to Napa… and this kinda trip is wayyyyyyy better than the winery-hopping frenzy we usually do! Itโ€™s so fast itโ€™s hard to enjoy it all…

  18. I was the designated driver because I don’t drink – plus, I enjoy driving. Despite not drinking wine, I really enjoyed my time in the Napa area. However, I do wish I had read your post first! I think we missed some of the better stops!

  19. I’ve heard so much about Napa and it’s great that I came across your post here. I’m not a wine conoisseur too but love to sample a few glasses here and there on a wine-tasting tour. Love that photo of Domaine Carneros – look at the clouds! ๐Ÿ™‚ #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. I know! We visited on such a beautiful day. What are the odds fo getting clouds like that? We took advantage of it though, and took WAY TOO MANY photos (as if that’s even a thing).

  20. Wow! You obviously had a blast there, Katherine! I love such relaxed yet detailed guides which will make the whole wine tasting experience more enjoyable! Is it possible to find good accommodation and stay there for several days?

    1. Oh definitely Lydia! We didn’t have time to stay overnight but there are heaps of great places to stay in and around Napa.

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