Note: Due to Covid-19 restrictions, please check individual websites for schedules and reservations.
The Zinfandel grape has made a comfortable home in both Lodi (specifically with Old Vine Zin) and in the Dry Creek Valley AVA in Sonoma. It is a bit of an endangered species in Napa, which is even more a reason to visit. A scavenger hunt for a shiny treasure, where the journey to get there is as rewarding as actually finding the pot ‘o gold. Speaking of the journey…
There are quite a few lodging options in Napa Valley and the Embassy Suites by Hilton Napa Valley is an oasis to call your home away from home. From your car to your suite, you might encounter vibrant rose bushes, the chef’s garden, and mill pond complete with swans. The property sits a few minutes from downtown and in 10 minutes flat, you can be in a tasting room enjoying a flight of wines. This all-suite hotel gives you ample space to spread your wings, including a comfortable living area, kitchenette, private bedroom, and a modern, well-appointed bathroom.
For a totally different experience in Napa Valley, step away from the main highway of Cabernet Sauvignon and head off the beaten path to Zinfandel. Zinfandel is a chameleon of a grape, capable of producing a juicy and fresh red wine; but is also happy to venture to the dark side of ripeness with spiciness and concentrated, sometimes cooked fruit notes. EVERYONE comes to Napa for King Cab. But the cool kids come for the heritage Zinfandel.
Robert Biale Vineyards
4038 Big Ranch Road Napa
Tasting fee: $40
While sitting on the outdoor patio at Robert Biale Vineyards, and you might be tricked into thinking you’re in the Italian countryside. Bob Biale’s family came from Italy in the 1920’s, and his grandfather honed in on grapegrowing and wine making. “Gallina Nera” or black chicken in English, was the code word on the party line when someone wanted a jug of wine during Prohibition. Their Zinfandel dominant flagship wine still holds the name: Black Chicken. The Biale home vineyards are planted mostly to Zinfandel. They source most blenders from other vineyards as they want to stay focused and not get distracted. The silver lining of COVID is that they realized their outdoor patio was the golden ticket. Now, most tastings take place there, versus inside in the tasting room. Of Zinfandel, Bob said “We love it and we take it seriously. It’s a pleasure, an honor, and a responsibility. I’m a steward”.
Grgich Hills Estate
1829 St. Helena Hwy, Rutherford
Tasting fee: $50
Mike Grgich made the award-winning Chateau Montelena Chardonnay at the Judgement of Paris in 1976 and the accolades that came from that competition allowed him to birth Grgich Hills Estate. With Chardonnay as the base, the portfolio is rounded out with Cabernet Sauvignon, a healthy dose of Zinfandel, and even a late harvest wine. The Old Vine Zinfandel gives beautiful notes of a blueberry coulis or a reduction. That gorgeous dark, stewed fruit that you expect from Zin. Focusing on outdoor tastings, their Acoustic Sundays at the Ranch House have become quite popular.
3522 Silverado Trail North, St. Helena
Tasting fee: $20
For a true “off the beaten path” tasting experience, a visit to Rombauer Vineyards is in order. Following the GPS directions, you might think you made a wrong turn or lost cell service. Unending greenery and tree covered windy roads lead the path to your tasting where you feel like you’re the only person for miles and miles. Like Grgich, their calling card is Chardonnay, but if you come for the Chardonnay, you stay for the Zinfandel. There’s always a handful of Zins to try, including their Napa Valley Zinfandel, all sourced from Calistoga. A beautiful ripe and deep fruited Zin that just calls for simple barbeque fare…..perhaps chicken thighs and grilled vegetables? Truly a peaceful tasting experience. And an excellent location for a picnic.
Frank Family Vineyards
1091 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga
As the third oldest winery in Napa Valley, there is clearly a long history here. And upon visiting, you see the history live and in person: from the over 100-year old historic stone building to the red Craftsman building dating to the 1930’s. Picnic benches line the outdoor grassy lawn where you can enjoy the Estate tasting of their highlights, including the Chiles Valley Zinfandel. This grown-up Zinfandel offers depth and a fruit concentration to satisfy even the most discerning taster. The tasting staff is warm, attentive, and well-versed on the wines and the property. Truly a complete and well-rounded experience when you make a trip to Frank Family.
Dining choices abound in Napa, but your wine country trip would not be complete without a visit to the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. This food hall style marketplace features outdoor dining overlooking the river and a plethora of food vendors to choose from. After a full day of wine tasting, sometimes a delicious meal in a casual setting…..with a glass of Zinfandel, is just what you need.