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A Good One Day Napa Valley Itinerary for First Timers

Last Saturday I led a group of five friends on a wine-tasting trip through Napa Valley. I always enjoy doing that. It’s an added treat when the people haven’t spent much time there before. In that case, I try to provide a variety of experiences that show the diversity of the region’s wines and wineries while busting some of the stereotypes. While it’s interesting for Napa Valley veterans to check out the latest exclusive winery, under-the-radar winemakers or wines made from unconventional varietals, people new to the region’s wine don’t have the background to fully enjoy those experiences.

I usually limit the itinerary to four wineries per day for trips like this. Doing more doesn’t allow the leisurely pace most enjoyable for new visitors and casual tasters. Even at four, there isn’t time for an extended lunch or going to wineries that are very far apart. Still, on this Saturday with having shared some tastes, each person tried more than 30 different wines.

Here are the wineries I selected:

Domaine Chandon: The only special request I was given for the weekend was that we taste some sparkling wine. So, we started at Domaine Chandon. They offer a wide array of sparkling wines, a flexible approach to tasting and are more centrally located than the other sparkling houses. Sparkling wine sets the mood, readies the palate for higher alcohol wines and is best tasted before bold, tannic red wines.

It's a lovely walk from the parking lot to the hospitality center at Domaine Chandon.

Robert Mondavi Winery: This is the winery that began Napa Valley’s modern era with respect to wine, wineries and international recognition. The building is a 1960’s riff on Mission architecture that still looks great today and is set within one of the valley’s most significant and historic vineyards (To Kalon). The Reserve Tasting Room offers one of Napa Valley’s best opportunities for tasting back vintages of top wines.

A Quick Lunch: There a several good restaurants for lunch in Yountville, plus the Rutherford Grill in Rutherford. However, if all you have time for is a quick sandwich, I think the best bets are the Yountville Deli (co-located with Ranch Market Too) and the Oakville Grocery. Both have pre-made and made-to-order sandwiches available along with other tasty treats (including espresso!). You can eat in or take away.

A Quick Detour: On the way from Robert Mondavi Winery to Tres Sabores, I made a quick left into Rubicon Estate. [Well, I actually missed the turn on the first pass. The Rubicon name has been painted over on the walls near the entrance in preparation for putting on the new/old name: Inglenook.] The Rubicon-Inglenook winery is one of Napa Valley’s most historic. The wine is well worth trying of course, but if there’s no time for that a drive through the parking lot gives visitors of a taste of the beautiful grounds and estate winery building, one of the valley's most splendid.

Tres Sabores: This winery is proof that Napa Valley is about more than big wineries, shiny tasting rooms and $150 Cabernet Sauvignon. Tres Sabores is a small, family-run winery committed to organic viticulture and wines that have complexity and power but also excellent balance. Tastings are by appointment only, but are relaxed, personal and informative. If the timing is right, your visit may include not just tasting but a vineyard walk, meeting the sheep, or tasting estate pomegranates. Every time I’ve taken people to Tres Sabores, it has been their favorite stop of the day.

Alpha Omega: This is a good place to end a day of tasting. Alpha Omega offers several different varietal bottlings, including a good Sauterne-style dessert wine. Overall, the flavors at Alpha Omega are bold and the textures silky. The wines are in the modern, international style but not over-the-top. It’s well-located just off Highway 29 in Rutherford. The tasting room is open until 6PM so a stop there can lead into dinner nicely.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to All photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.