I was a little surprised when the sales director of a Napa Valley winery recently referred to wine tasting in the valley as “Adult Disneyland.” But I didn’t disagree — nor would anyone who’s spent half a Saturday in the tasting room of one of Napa’s faux chateaux, elbow to elbow with a merry band of bachelorettes or tourists red of face and teeth whose eyes fairly blaze with the words free bar.
And that — along with fear of traffic — is probably why you never go. But after recently sampling the wares at a few wineries along Napa’s Silverado Trail, I think Adult Disneyland deserves another chance. The scenery, and more importantly the wines, can be truly transporting. I suggest going on a weekday afternoon (come on, you can play hooky for a few hours this summer, can’t you?) and visiting two wineries at most. This will allow you to fully experience the wines, and depending on where you go, you can follow up your tasting with picnic onsite. The three wineries featured here all charge $10 per person to taste, but for this Wineau-friendly fee you’ll get to soak in the valley’s beauty and sample wines retailing for upwards of $50. Francophiles will bask in the Provençal vibe of Clos Du Val (5330 Silverado Trail, Napa, 800-993-9463, ClosDuVal.com). Here, the tasting fee can be applied toward the purchase of a bottle; pick the wine you like and then drink it with your bread and cheese in the winery’s olive grove. Winemaker John Clews suggests pairing the palate-cleansing, bone-dry 2007 Searle Carneros Pinot Rosé ($18) with a ham sandwich (although out of the mouth of this Londoner by way of Zimbabwe, “ham sandwich” sounds like pheasant under glass). Among the reds, make sure to try the 2004 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon ($70), and savor the notes of chocolate.
Proudly waving its Wineau flag further up the road is the unfussy Miner Family Vineyards (7850 Silverado Trail, Napa, 800-366-9463, MinerWines.com). Here, $10 gets you a generous taste of roughly half of Miner’s thirteen varietal wines on offer, and their hillside location affords a great view of the valley. My favorite was the 2006 Gibson Ranch Sangiovese ($24), a nicely balanced wine with a characteristic medium body and an unexpected complexity.
Miner also is known for Chardonnay, but its is mellower than the lush oak bomb you probably think of as a classic Napa Chard. For that experience, you’ll have to venture further up the road to Rombauer Vineyards (3522 Silverado Trail, St. Helena, 800-622-2206, Rombauer.com). The money shot of the valley from a few hundred feet up is well worth the trip, and the 2006 Carneros Chardonnay ($29.75) lives up to its reputation — I enjoyed the lovely lemon and floral aroma and syrupy richness. The other contender for my favorite at Rombauer was the 2005 Carneros Merlot ($32) — which, tasting blind, I would have pegged as a Napa Cab. Try it when you’re craving a high-alcohol berry burst.