The more wineries I visit in Calistoga, the more convinced I become that it’s the hidden value area of Napa. Bennett Lane was not on my radar before I began planning an itinerary for the weekend; I just happened to notice that it was directly next to where the Spire Collection holds its tastings. It isn’t as ostentatious as other wineries, but it makes solid wines that balance the fruit development with the weight and acidity on the palate. And if you are a patient buyer, you may find discounted bottles on distribution sites, such as Vivino, and use the opportunity to stock up! Having tasted at the winery and enjoyed several bottlings through online purchases, I highly recommend you visit and taste for yourself!

What is in a name? Well, for some it’s the most effective branding possible. The name “Villaine” is enough to grab any wine collector’s attention. Though, they normally associate it with a Burgundian winery that just happens to produce some of the most expensive wine on Earth (Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti). Though, that association is exactly what the owners don’t want, even though the winery is related to that Villaine! The character of the terroir between the Cote de Nuit in Burgundy and Carneros in Napa are very different and you should expect very different wine because of that. And while the wine isn’t as good as DRC, it also doesn’t cost $20K+ a bottle either. I think what you do get with these wines is old world elegance, finesse, minerality, and a complexity that doesn’t over-index on the fruit character, thanks to the Burgundian traditions applied to Carneros fruit and terroir. Do I recommend you visit? You bet I do…

It’s a shame that some of my favorite wine experiences are those that leave me unable to take quality tasting notes. Traditionally, those are wine festivals and smaller walkaround tastings. This is an example of the latter. Most wineries offer member benefits to only their winery/brand/label. But because Beringer and Penfolds are owned by the same parent (Treasury Wine Estates), Beringer Reserve Club members had a rare opportunity to explore the full portfolio of Penfolds at no cost. While I can easily point to the Grange as the highlight of the evening, I thoroughly enjoyed tasting the other wines and even purchased some. Bottom line with Penfolds is that they make really good value wines and their premium bottles are priced that way for a reason.

This tasting wasn’t supposed to happen. During a previous trip to Napa, my group and I happened to have the opportunity to try a bottle of Arcudi while at Fantesca because there wasn’t enough of their 2015 Spring Mountain Cabernet to serve for the tasting. We found out Tony also produces Fantesca’s Pinot Noir and immediately signed up for his mailing list because both wines were delicious. Soon after our first order, Tony reached out to personally thank us for the support and offered to host a visit whenever we were next in town. I am sorry, but not sorry, to my friends because as soon as I found out he was recently hired as the consulting winemaker at Kapcsandy, I used any excuse to come to town and take him up on the offer, even if it was by myself… Let’s just say, we need to make a second trip.

I’ve enjoyed several bottles of Clos du Mont Olivet in the past, so the trip to Châteauneuf wouldn’t have been complete without stopping by. And without Google Maps, I never would have because this place is hard to find… I don’t recall there being a clear sign outside directing visitors, but the door was branded in the same style as their wine labels, so I knew it was the right place when I knocked on the door. Do not expect much in the way of aesthetics, but be prepared to taste solid wines that are steals at their price points. And with a production of 50,000+ bottles a year, you should be able to find their wine back in the USA too. So enjoy the irony between their office and quality/production while sipping on some serious wine.

The tasting at Domaine Durieu provided a perfect foil to my tasting at Beaurenard in that it served as proof that the wine tasting experience can have as much impact on the customer as the quality of the wines themselves. And nothing is more important to the wine tasting experience than the quality of the wine ambassador giving it. It didn’t hurt either that he took me through their entire portfolio while rock music from the 60s set the mood in the background. And at 20€ to 30€ a bottle, the wines were nice QPR darlings. The 2012 Traditional CdP also provided a glimpse of what aging would do to these wines (spoiler alert: great times ahead). Domaine Durieu is worth the stop while in town and may end up surprising you in a great way!

Not every tasting experience is going to be amazing. The positive way to look at it is that it helps to emphasize the other places that you did like… All things considered, I think Domaine de Beaurenard was my least favorite tasting in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Granted, I did not make an appointment, but I was also the only visitor at the winery when I arrived. There was a tasting tour group (one of those that you can purchase/schedule online that originates from Avignon) that came in 30 minutes after me, but even then the guide did most of the talking rather than the winery ambassador. I learned more from him than I did from my tasting and the notes provided about the winery. The wines were also a bit austere compared to others. You win some, you lose some!

If there is one winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape that reminds me of Napa Valley, it’s Domaine la Barroche. And when I say “Napa Valley”, I don’t mean the large wineries that host hundreds of people for walk-in tastings each day. I mean the top quality estates where you are the only people on the tour, everything about the winery is dedicated to making great wine, and the wine is fantastic… In addition, the wine here is more fruit driven and pure than many other estates in the area, so it will greatly please the Napa lovers out there. If Clos Des Papes was my favorite tasting experience, this may have been my favorite overall experience. Do NOT miss Domaine la Barroche during your exploration of the area.

Unfortunately, I was not able to visit the Beaucastel Estate, even though I tried to make a reservation… So if anyone reading this article does manage to make it onsite and get the full treatment, please send me some pictures and let me know how it was! If you are told to visit their wine shop in Châteauneuf-du-Pape instead, you’ll likely experience something similar to me! Luckily, finding the Famille Perrin wine shop in town is not hard. In fact if you head to the circle in the city center, you cannot miss it. The shop is literally right next to one of the main restaurants there and is open most of the day (except during lunch time). Since they taste more than just their Beaucastel label, it’s worth dropping by to experience parts of their vast portfolio.

If you were in Châteauneuf for only a day, Roger SABON needs to be on that list of three wineries to visit. The wines served aren’t as pricey as Clos Des Papes and others, but you will have a fantastic experience with the tour, the different varietals, and the styles of wine they have on their menu. You should absolutely make a reservation here to guarantee an English-speaker for your guide. And if you are lucky like me, you’ll have the winemaker himself showing you around the facility, explaining what he aimed for when he made each of the wines, and answering any/all questions you may have. As a wine student, this was definitely my most educational tasting in Châteauneuf.