Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

It gets a little confusing writing about Stag’s Leap (https://www.stagsleapwinecellars.com/).  It’s all about the apostrophe.  The district or AVA it’s in is Stags Leap (no apostrophe), a simple statement that stags do leap. Stags’ Leap (with a trailing apostrophe) refers to the leap used by many stags and is also a different winery nearby, best known for its Petite Sirah.  And the leap used by a single stag – Stag’s Leap – is the one we’re talking about here.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is a winery of almost mythical importance in Napa Valley.  Started by Warren Winiarski in 1972, his Cabernet Sauvignon was the winner of the famous Judgement of Paris contest in 1976 that put Napa Valley solidly on the map of Wine Country.  In 2007, Mr. Winiarski sold Stag’s Leap to an international consortium and it hasn’t been the same since.

That last sentence might be interpreted negatively, but it was only intended to say that for the visiting wine taster, the experience is totally different from what it once was.  We make no secret about our nostalgia for the old Stag’s Leap and have written about it in the past.  It was the House that Winiarski built, made of wood and redolent of history.

Today’s visitor will find a modern, architecturally interesting building made of stone and glass.  After you park your car, you approach the building through a garden of desert shrubs.  If that seems a bit strange for Napa Valley, we think it’s just to set you up for the lushness of the vineyards on display behind the building.  As soon as you enter into the building, you’ll be welcomed by a concierge, as they call their greeters, who will first check if you have a reservation and then direct you to an server whoa will introduce you to their wines.  Through a vast glass window, you see some of the most storied vineyards in California: S.L.V. and Fay.  These have been producing top tier Cabernet Sauvignons for decades and each produces single vineyard wines.  (It was the S.L.V. that was the victor in Paris.)  They also make a wine called Cask 23, which combines the grapes from the two vineyards.  There is another nearby vineyard where they raise grapes for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s the reds that make Stag’s Leap famous.

 

Visitors are presented with all of these wines.  We recommend that you ask your server to pour all three of the Cabs at the same time so you can go back and forth and compare them.  We also suggest that you ask if they have any of their Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon available.  This wine is a blend of sourced grapes from around Napa Valley.  Call us Philistines but we often like this wine as much as its more reputed big sisters.

On the basis of several visits, we find that the servers are quite friendly but not deeply knowledgeable about the wines they are pouring.  They’re more hosts than educators.  But they are well-versed in the history of the winery and seem eager to make certain that you enjoy your visit to the maximum.

No, Stag’s Leap isn’t what it once was, but what is?  It is only fair to rate the winery on the basis of the experience and the wines that you have today.  And on both scores, a visit to Stag’s Leap rates high.

 

The Perfect Winery

With wineries shuttered in California and much of Europe, it seems somehow wrong to review a particular wine tasting establishment this month.   (Was it only a month ago that we were happily writing about Far Niente?)  So we have taken a backward glance at all the wineries we have visited over a lifetime of this wonderful diversion of wine tasting and suggest our idea of the perfect winery visit.  If there is a winery in heaven, this is it.

The perfect winery would definitely be situated in the midst of a verdant vineyard.  You’d enter the property up a long driveway, with vines on either side.  And of course, we’d be there in early September, so the vines would be heavy with grapes.  A good example can be found at Trefethen, in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll AVA.

Photo courtesy of Château Pichon Baron.

The building itself would be real, not a castle built to impress winery visitors.  Chateau Montelena in Calistoga is probably the most beautiful we have visited.  It was a rich man’s mansion in the 19th century and has been used for winemaking since the 1970’s.  Of course, it might actually be a castle, or rather a château.  There are many such to be found in Europe, especially in France of course.  It’s tough to choose just one, but we are especially taken by Château Pichon Baron in Bordeaux.

In addition to the beauty of the building, the perfect winery would have an artistic or cultural attraction at a level consistent with the quality of the wines.  A tour at Mouton Rothschild includes a visit to their museum of wine art, but we cannot think of a winery-cum-museum that can top Hess Collection in Napa.  The display of modern art, mostly abstract, would be right at home at any art institute in the world.

Photo courtesy of the Hess Collection.

The tasting room would not be a bar.  It would look like and feel like a plush but refined salon with beautiful furnishings.  You’d be welcome and made comfortable, with a server who has a great deal of knowledge not only about their offerings but about wine in general, a real sommelier or educator.  There are many tasting rooms like this that we’ve been lucky enough to see in our travels, but Jordan in Alexander Valley sticks in our mind as our favorite.

And then there would be the wines – what wines!  In the whites, there would be Dry Creek’s Sauvignon Blanc and Etude’s Heirloom Chardonnay.  Beringer Private Reserve would be the Cabernet Sauvignon they’d serve, and the Bordeaux blend would be (naturally) a Bordeaux from Château Margaux.  There would be some Boisrenard de Beaurenard for Rhone-style red wine.  Sangiovese fans would be treated to a well-aged Biondi-Santi Brunello and those with tastes for Spanish wine could enjoy a Vega Sicilia.  Oh, yes, there would be Château Yquem for dessert.

Photo courtesy of Château Yquem.

Hey, you can’t blame us for dreaming, especially in times like these.

 

 

Far Niente Winery

If you plan to visit Far Niente (https://farniente.com) for a tasting – and it is a very pleasant visit – there are a few things you should know.  For one, you really do need an appointment.  Tastings are restricted to no more than eight people at a time, which enhances the experience for those who do make reservations.  The second is to consult a map.  Maybe Google has improved its map service recently, but our experience is that following the GPS on your phone gets you way, way lost.

The Far Niente winery.  Photo courtesy of Far Niente.

Once you have found your way there, you’ll encounter a beautiful stone manor.  It is palatial, but it’s not a Napa Palace.  It’s a home that was built in 1885 and restored in the late 1970’s by Gil Nickel, the ancestor of some of the current owners.  It is surrounded by acres of gardens and the estate is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

On arrival, you are given the sense that you are guests in a gracious home.  There is no bar to belly up to; rather you are in a salon with a large table at one end set not for dinner but for a few glasses of wine.  Once all the visitors are assembled, you are given an introductory lecture on the history of the estate, the winery and Far Niente’s approach to sustainable agriculture.  You are then led on a winery tour.  It’s a fine enough tour, but with regard to winemaking it is generally similar to those given at other top-end wineries.  There is only so much variation on the theme of growing grapes and transforming them into wine.

A corner of Far Niente’s antique car collection.

But a tour at Far Niente has a unique attraction.  At a certain point in your tour you are ushered into a large garage – really more of an indoor parking lot – full of Gil Nickel’s collection of antique cars.  There are race cars, delivery trucks, touring cars and a few motorcycles and a Rolls Royce.  You are invited to ogle these perfectly maintained specimens, on the basis of “look but don’t touch”.  Rarely would we complain about moving on to a tasting, but you don’t get to see cars like these every day!

The tasting itself is a seated affair at the aforementioned table in the salon.  There will be a recent vintage Chardonnay, often a Pinot Noir and always one or more of Far Niente’s justly famous Cabernet Sauvignons.  Each wine is carefully explained by your host/guide/server.  Little extras, like a dessert wine from their sister vineyard, usually appear.

If there is any negative to your visit, it’s the somewhat heavy sales pitch of Far Niente’s wine club.  Joining is, of course optional, but just a brief mention might suffice.

This winery, nestled in the foothills of the Mayacamas, is a destination for those who enjoy the total winery experience, with fine wines as the main draw.  From cars to Cabs, it’s well worth finding your way there.

Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery

As you drive along Dry Creek Road towards the northern end of the valley of the same name, you suddenly come upon what appears to be a Tuscan villa.  It is, in fact, the Ferrari-Carano winery, which they call Villa Fiore.  Regular Power Tasting readers know that we are not big fans of Napa palaces, even when they are in Sonoma County.  But we make an exception for Ferrari-Carano.  Why?  Because it really is lovely and they don’t rub your nose in how wonderful they are.  They don’t pretend to be a Persian temple or a medieval castle.  They just serve wine in a very pretty setting.

The Ferrari-Carano winery.  Photo courtesy of Ferrari-Carano.

Before you enter, you pass through well-planted and maintained flower gardens.  The gardens are dotted with statuary; don’t miss the one of the seated wild boar.  You haven’t had a drop of wine yet and you already love the place.

The view from Ferrari-Carano’s terrace.  Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism.

Once inside, you have several choices.  On the main floor they serve their mass-market wines, which are the bulk of their production.  Downstairs is what they call the Enoteca, where Ferrari-Carano’s top-end wines are served.  Finally, you can sit on their terrace – oh, excuse us, Il Terrazzo – and sip while looking over some of their vineyards.  That view really is beautiful and should be taken in whether you taste on the terrace or not.

Before you enter, you pass through well-planted and maintained flower gardens.  The gardens are dotted with statuary; don’t miss the one of the seated wild boar.  You haven’t had a drop of wine yet and you already love the place.

Once inside, you have several choices.  On the main floor they serve their mass-market wines, which are the bulk of their production.  Downstairs is what they call the Enoteca, where Ferrari-Carano’s top-end wines are served.  Finally, you can sit on their terrace – oh, excuse us, Il Terrazzo – and sip while looking over some of their vineyards.  That view really is beautiful and should be taken in whether you taste on the terrace or not.

We recommend that you try the wines in the Enoteca.  For one thing, they are their better ones but are also more expensive.  That’s relative, though.  In these days when it is common for a winery’s top bottles to go for three digits, it’s refreshing to go wine-tasting somewhere where the most expensive current release wines go for under $70.  We don’t review wines, just the tasting experience, but it is fair to say that we usually find some wines we like and often buy a few bottles to take home with us.

That tasting room is well appointed and we have found the servers to be more knowledgeable.  (Or perhaps they just more enjoy talking about the reserve wines.)  On one wall is a painting that is reproduced on the label of Ferrari-Carano’s Bordeaux blend, Trésor, and is worth more than a glance.

There are many wineries, even ones we like, where we taste their wines quickly and then move along our way.  Ferrari-Carano was built for lingering.    The fact that the tasting fees and bottle prices are reasonable may inspire you to travel up Dry Creek Road.  The villa, the gardens, the fountains and the art are quite admirable and combine to invite you stay and sip.  We recommend that you accept the invitation.

Champagne Tribaut-Schlosser

This story begins in the province of Québec and ends in France.  About a year ago, a friend in Québec City told us about a great value for an inexpensive champagne she had tasted and liked very much.  It was called Tribaut and it only cost 40 Canadian dollars or roughly 30 American.  We tried it and liked it very much and have been buying it since then. So when we took a recent wine tasting trip to the Champagne region of France, we made a special point of visiting their winery.

The Champagne wine trade is concentrated in two cities, Reims and Epernay.  But the Champagne region is quite large and there are thousands of wineries there.  Many of them are small producers located in countryside villages.  So we did the usual 21st century thing and looked up Tribaut on the web, got their address and used Google Maps to lead us there.  Unfortunately, that led us to a winery called G. Tribaut in the village of Hautvilliers.  When we realized we were not at the place that we were looking for, they were kind enough to point us to Tribaut-Schlosser, not far away in Romery. Fortunately, the scenery in between was gorgeous. We were there during the vendanges (harvest) and were able to see the workers in the vineyards hand-picking the grapes, which we had the pleasure of tasting directly from the vine.

Between Hautvilliers and Romery

On arrival, we found a pretty house but hardly what we Americans think of as a major winery when we go wine tasting.  Tribaut-Schlosser is hardly small – they produce 350,000 bottles each year – but they are tiny compared with grandes maisons like Moet & Chandon or Taittinger.  Still, everything is low key at Tribaut-Schlosser.  When we entered, we found an empty reception area. We called out to see if anyone was there and a woman came down to greet us.  She was pleased to offer us a dégustation, since evidently they don’t receive many visitors who just happen to be passing through Romery.

Tribaut-Schlosser makes an impressive number of Champagnes.  Their basic offering, Origine, is an Assemblage (in this case, 50% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir).  Their Blanc de Blanc (which they call Blanc de Champagne) is the one we had tasted in Québec.  There’s also a rosé, a Blanc de Noir and a tête du cuvée they call Cuvée René.  They also have two limited edition Champagnes, a brut and a rosé they refer to as Les Cuvées Authentique which we did not try.  After a pretty thorough tasting, we found we preferred the Blanc de Champagne that we were already familiar with and which is available in Québec.

Even though they were all so busy with the harvest, we were treated like visiting royalty.  We were seated in a cozy tasting room, more like someone’s living room, on a sofa in front of a barrel that served as a cocktail table.  Our host thought nothing of opening bottle after bottle; she didn’t want us to sample any wines that had already been opened.  The assistant winemaker stopped by as did a member of the Tribaut family.  (It seems that a Tribaut ancestor married a Schlosser back in the early 20th century.)  They were all so charming, it was as though we had dropped in on old friends.

You’re really going to have to drive a bit to find Champagne Tribaut-Schlosser.  But we certainly found it worth the effort.

 

 

 

Louis M. Martini Winery

There are few if any wineries in Napa Valley with a heritage as long as that at Louis M. Martini, tracing back to 1922.  Visiting this winery was among our earliest experiences in wine tasting.  And the familiar bottles with a horse pulling a cart full of grapes were staples in many wine stores around America.  Today, the horse and cart are gone, replaced by a prominent crown.  This is emblematic of the change at Martini, just as the new Louis M. Martini is emblematic of the changes in Napa Valley.

The old and new labels of Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, with and without a horse drawn cart

There is still a Martini winery on the same property, a recently opened building covered in terra cotta tiles, with a large garden alongside.  The interior has majestic ceilings, beautiful appointments and some rather interesting wines.  Perhaps not so much on the outside, but this is truly a Napa Palace.  It is still named Louis M. Martini but the Gallo company that owns Martini has reinvented it; only the name remains.

That is not quite fair.  There is still the Monte Rosso vineyard just across the county line in Sonoma.  It had long been the source of the finest wines produced by Martini and still is today.  It was always best known for the Cabernet Sauvignon grown there and Martini still makes that wine.  But now Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Zinfandel and a red blend also come from this historic vineyard.  The Cabernet Sauvignon remains our favorite, but the others are quite good as well.

When you arrive at the winery, you are greeted by a host who directs you either to the Crown Bar or the Heritage Lounge.  While both rooms, as well as others in the garden and the library, are officially by appointment only, our experience is that visitors can just walk in.  However, we were there on a Thursday.  We are sure it would be tougher on a weekend and even more so in the summer.  So either reserve or call ahead.

The Crown Bar.  Photo courtesy of Louis M. Martini winery.

The Crown Bar is a beautifully appointed room with a wide bar and dramatic lighting.  This room features Martini’s recent releases, where you can sip some of your old favorites such as the Sonoma and Napa Cabernet Sauvignons.  We have nothing against these wines and have often bought them, but when we go wine tasting, we prefer to focus on the reserve wines.  These are served in the Heritage Lounge.

The Heritage Lounge

This room is also expansive and is furnished like an assemblage of living and dining rooms.  All tastings are seated.  Here you can taste the Monte Rosso vintages as well as Martini’s top wine called Lot No. 1, sourced from various vineyards around Napa Valley.  It is pure Cabernet Sauvignon and is twice as expensive as any of their other wines.  It is well worth tasting, but we will leave it to your tastes as to whether it is better than the Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon.

The new tasting room replaces a rather nice but more modest one on the same property, which in turn replaced the working winery where one tasted in the more distant past.  Our server told us that they refer to the new tasting room as Louis M. Martini 2.0, referring to their new tasting facility.  We reminded her that Louis M. Martini goes back to the 1920’s, so no, it is 3.0.

 

Pellegrini Vineyards

Wine tasting in New York’s Long Island is just like tasting anywhere else in Wine Country, except that almost anywhere else there is a long tradition of winemaking.   But Long Island’s North Fork has only been producing wine since 1973, when Alex and Louisa Hargrave opened their namesake winery.  Today, their son Zander is the winemaker at Pellegrini, so you might say their vines have roots.

The tasting room is a handsome place, with exposed wooden beams and a balcony overlooking the main room.  The tasting room lets out onto a colonnaded atrium with the working winery occupying two other sides, with the fourth opening to the road.  Some of Pellegrini’s vineyards (they have others elsewhere in the North Fork) are to the rear.  The total impression is that of a prosperous Northeastern farm whose owners hired an architect with a sense of place and tradition.

The tasting room at Pellegrini.  Photo courtesy of liwines.

You can stand at the bar and sip your wines or take them to a table (which for some reason calls for an extra charge) where you can sit and spend a while.  In fact, the whole atmosphere at Pellegrini is more like going over to a friend’s house for a few glasses, rather than walking into a commercial establishment.

One of Pellegrini’s strengths is the wide variety of wines available to sample.  It is also one of their weaknesses.  On our most recent visit, there were sixteen wines to choose among: six whites, seven reds and a rosé, plus two library wines.  It is very hard for vineyards anywhere to produce so many different grapes, with quality, and Pellegrini does not succeed with all of them.  (We find this a problem with many Long Island wineries.)  So choose among them wisely.  One of the advantages of standing at the bar is that you can ask the server to describe each wine before selecting.

Their tastings are limited to three or four glasses, both as a matter of prudence and to control the crowds on summer weekends.  If you visit most other times, especially out of season, the servers are not so punctilious; they’ll keep pouring as long as you look like you’re not over-indulging.  You can also buy wines by the glass.

One of the advantages of tasting at Pellegrini, in our opinion, is that it is all about wine.  There are no rock concerts, food trucks or picnics.  You come there for tasting the local product and that’s all.

The gazebo at Pellegrini Vineyards.  Photo courtesy of Newsday.

Well, not exactly all.  As with many Long Island vineyards, Pellegrini is the venue for many weddings.  The beauty of the winery and its atrium layout lend themselves to festive occasions.  Moreover, there is a gazebo nestled in the vineyard that has long been an attraction at this winery.  Whether you’re there for a wedding or not, it’s a pleasure to amble among the vines towards the gazebo, a North Fork landmark.

Taittinger

At the end of a long boulevard in Reims sits the Taittinger headquarters.  It sits on the site of a former Abbey of St. Nicaise that was destroyed by some zealots during the French Revolution.  Nothing remains of the Abbey, or at least not above-ground.  The ancient monks were winemakers themselves and they dug their cellars below their Abbey’s grounds, utilizing in part cellars created in the Fourth Century by the Romans, who were quarrying stone for buildings in the town.  So while all cellar tours are pretty much the same, a visit to Taittinger has quite a lot of history to it.

Stairs used by the monks of St. Nicaise to enter the cellars

Taittinger is one of Champagne’s largest houses, based on the number of cases produced.  Their wines are noted for their elegance and floral notes.  It is also the parent company of California’s Domaine Carneros.  Although anyone can reserve a tour and tasting, we used our membership in Domaine Carneros to obtain a private one.

Note that this storage cave contains 99,000 bottles of Comtes de Champagne

Today, the cellars in Reims are used solely to mature their top Champagne, the Comtes de Champagne.  Deep below ground (18 meters or nearly 56 feet) you will see stack after stack of bottles that they age for at least 10 years.  It is quite imposing.

But there are some things that you will not see.  For one, you won’t see the facilities for storing their other Champagnes, such as their Brut Reserve or their rosé.  For another, you won’t see the location where they actually crush the grapes and vinify their wines.  And you won’t see the Château de la Marquetterie that appears on their bottles, just as the Domaine Carneros winery appears on the labels of the American sparkling wines.  The château is actually in a small village called Pierry.  You cannot visit it, but you can look at it.

Château de la Marquetterie in Pierry

What you can see in the caves in Reims is a lot of history.  It does look yellow, because they use sodium lights to do the minimum damage to the Champagne.  You see stairways that the monks used to descend into the cellars.  You see beehive shaped vaults where the Romans excavated stone.  And you see the convocation area where the monks gathered centuries ago.

After touring you do get a chance to taste the Champagne.  The least expensive tour gets you a glass of the Brut Reserve, while the top-priced tour includes that wine plus the Comtes de Champagne, both white and pink.

Every trip to Champagne should include a visit to one of Grandes Marques, of which Taittinger is one of the leaders.  Alas, some of these are rather industrialized; the historical interest of the Taittinger caves gives you a reason to choose this one.

Oh, and by the way, Americans.  It’s not pronounced TAT-in-jer.  You should say tet-ahn-ZHAY.  It’s good to know if you go.

 

Zýmē

Located in the heart of the Valpolicella region in northern Italy, Zýmē (http://www.zyme.it/en/winery/) offers a rather unique wine tasting adventure.  First, though, the name needs explanation.  Zýmē is a Greek word for “yeast”, which aside from being a critical ingredient in wine is, according to the winemaker, Celestino Gaspari, a symbol of naturalness, a leading value of this winery.  It’s pronounced ZEE-may and is located in the village of San Pietro in Cariano, not far from Verona.

We have to be truthful and say that the winery you will visit is not the same one we did.  Zýmē has recently opened a new winery, very modern on the outside and ancient in the interior.  When we visited not very long ago, it was literally a hole in a hill and the winery itself was in a cave.  The cave-like atmosphere is still maintained but it is now carved out of an 15th century limestone quarry.  Like the prior winery, walking through the cavern is a unique and rather thrilling experience.  The pictures accompanying this article, courtesy of Zýmē, are very reminiscent of what we saw and give some idea of the impact of a visit there.

The décor provides the wine tasting experience, but it would matter little if the wine weren’t interesting as well.  Power Tasting does not review wines as such, but we can say that Zýmē makes excellent wines in the Valpolicella style from the corvina, corvinone and rondinella grapes.  These are only to found in the Valpolicella region.  But Zýmē goes further, making wines from rarely encountered grapes as well as more common ones not usually found in that region.

This level of quality might be expected once one knows the background of the winemaker.  Signore Gaspari worked for many years at Quintarelli, thought by many to be the premier Amarone maker.  In fact, Giovanni Quintarelli was his father-in-law.  Zýmē’s wines have a different character than Quintarelli’s but you can tell in a simple tasting that they are made with craft and pride.

In addition to the traditional wines of the region, Zýmē makes a wine called Oseleta, from 100% grapes of the same name.  According to Wine-Searcher, there are less than 20 hectares of these vines anywhere in the world, almost all grown near Lake Garda.  Once almost extinct, Zýmē now makes this unique wine, keeping a distinctive taste, unlike anything else we have tasted, alive for future generations.

Another special wine made by Zýmē is Kairos, a Greek word (again) for “the opportune moment”.  This wine is a power hitter, weighing in at 15% alcohol and is made from the kitchen sink of grapes: Garganega, Trebbiano toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syraz, Teroldego, Croatina, Oseleta, Sangiovese and Marzemino.  There has to be something in this wine to please everyone…or no one.

The Valpolicella region is not exactly unknown, but is generally not as well-regarded as Tuscany and the Piedmont.  That’s a shame, because there are some really spectacular wines to be tasted there.  And if you do go, you really should not miss a visit to Zýmē.

Domaine Chandon

For us, it is impossible to think of our experiences of tasting wine in Napa Valley not to think about Domaine Chandon.  It was the first place we visited on our first wine tasting trip to Napa Valley.  The site was beautiful; the education about making sparkling wine stayed with us forever; and the wine was first rate.  This was in the late 70’s and everything was new and wonderful, only enhanced by the haze of time.

It was the beginning of an avocation that has led to this e-magazine.

There are differences between that experience and the one you can have if you visit Domaine Chandon today.  At that time, the winery included a restaurant, Étoile, that closed in 2014.  Back then, the restaurant was the seat of haute cuisine in Napa Valley, and people flocked there to taste real French food (!) in America, washed down with real French Champagne (!!).

But real Champagne comes only from the section of France by the same name.  Domaine Chandon is a subsidiary of the French company Moet et Chandon and so they never describe their American product as Champagne (with or without a capital c).  Their labels eschew any description at all, except to say that they are Brut (or rosé) and Méthode Traditionelle.

The tasting room overlooking the gardens.

The educational experience at Domaine Chandon is also diminished from the olden days.  Then, a guide walked you through the winery and explained double fermentation, dosage and how they got that big cork into the bottle.  Today, you can walk through yourself and read the plaques as you go, but it’s not the same thing. After the tour you were invited to sit in the charming little garden under umbrellas and they would bring you a glass of sparkling wine, a little bowl of spread cheese and croutons.

After all about what it was, Domaine Chandon is still worth a visit today.  There are far more sparkling wines to taste than in the past, including Pinot Noirs that were not even thought of then.  The tasting room offers many wines to compare, including the Bruts from around Napa Valley.  Depending on the day, they may open wines from Yountville (the mother ship), Carneros or Mt. Veeder.  Their top wine was and is Étoile, in Brut and rosé, as well as the top of the top, the Tête du Cuvée (which is rarely available for tasting but is, of course, sold there).

The grounds are gorgeous, a sprawling campus with fountains, ponds and greenery that invite a long, lazy afternoon, sipping Champa…, oops, sparkling wine.  And Domaine Chandon makes that easy with a spacious veranda and seats around the gardens.

Unfortunately Domaine Chandon is to an extent the victim of its own success.  It was the first French winery to open in the United States and it has been a landmark for more than 40 years.  So people arrive in great numbers, especially on beautiful summer weekends.  If you are there on a busy day, you will be given your tastes but will feel rushed and you won’t be able to engage in much conversation with the server.  Maybe a rainy day in November is the best time to visit.  Our last experience at Domaine Chandon was not enjoyable because of all those inconveniences.  It was also so crowded that getting to the bar to ask for another tasting was almost impossible.

But try it, take in the beauty of the site and of the architecture of the tasting room and enjoy the wines.  You’ll become a part of California history.