We were ringing out a great year with one last wine tasting tour through Napa. With our focus on tasting sparkling wines, we started our Tour de Champagne with the one winery that can’t be overlooked: Domaine Carneros.
Arriving at Domaine Carneros is something akin to arriving at Versailles. Driving along a pleasant road after a great first tasting experience at the Artesa Winery, and then WOW! All at once we came upon a massive, imposing structure, surrounded by formal gardens and sweeping walkways. Somewhat in awe, we made our way to the reception area and checked in. Every element of the winery seemed to have been transported from a French chateau from the era of the kings. Not stuffy, but definitely refined.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not attempt to visit Domaine Carneros without a tasting reservation. Even in the middle of winter, when most wineries are empty, Domaine Carneros is booked solid.
We had previously made a reservation for a tasting, so we were swiftly led to our private tasting table. We were thrilled to discover that we were seated by a roaring fire in the Club Room! During the summer months, access to the Club Room is limited to wine club members, but the uncertain weather of winter caused the winery to shift from partially outdoor to exclusively indoor tastings. This shift required the additional space of the beautiful Club Room, so we won! All of the cold and damp that had seeped into our bones was immediately banished. We settled in and met our wine guide Kathleen, who gave us a quick orientation on the very complete tasting menu and the various possible tasting options.
After talking with Kathleen and surveying the menu, we took something of a “try everything” approach to our wine selections. There were four tasting choices and four of us, so that answer seemed obvious. We also selected their Sparkling Wine Cheese Plate and their Charcuterie Plate from the pairing menu to give us something delicious to nibble on while we compared and contrasted everyone’s tasting flight.
Soon we each had four glasses in front of us, each positioned on top of a laminated placard describing each pour. Between us, we had wine ranging from the very lightest of sparkling to the most robust Pinot Noir in our memory. We also sampled the amazing cheeses made from goat, sheep and cow milk and remarkable artisan meats from a range of animals, serving as a refreshing counterpoint to the wines.
As we sipped and snacked, Kathleen gave us interesting tidbits about the various wines in our flights and some history of the winery. French champagne icon, Claude Taittinger, selected this site in 1987 and began producing sparkling and still wines from the best grapes of the Carneros region. The rest, as they say, is history. In her 20 years with the winery, Kathleen has seen a good bit of that history first hand.
Eventually our array of wine glasses was empty, our pairing plates scoured clean, and the refined-yet-friendly vibe totally soaked in. It was time to give up our table for the next tasters and head off toward our next champagne tasting.
Our thanks to Kathleen and the entire Domaine Carneros staff for an exquisite experience!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?