Visiting Viader, Robert Sinskey & Ridge Wineries

Stunning lake, hill and valley views from Viader

•  Viader is among the finer wines in Napa… and the place to go if you can’t stand California wines and remain married to old world, French sensibilities. Tucked up in the hills of Deer Park (between St. Helena and Calistoga), it’s a wonderland of mossy oaks and stunning vistas. Last month, founder, Delia Viader’s, daughter took my small group of friends on a private tour of the grounds and caves, while we sipped their catalog of wines. Delia story, launching the winery back in the ’80’s as a single mom with a passion for French-style wines, is truly inspiring, as it was to hear it directly from her daughter.

Enchanting picnic area at Viader

Though by appointment only, it’s a destination wine lovers would do well to plan towards. The $35 per person tasting fee is waived if you purchase 6 bottles or more. If you don’t, the experience is still well worth it.

Driving up a winding road, enter the drive, then walk an enchanting path of mossy oaks, arriving at a lovely stone house with airy main room facing a patio overlooking the Napa Valley with literally breathtaking views.

Then there’s the wines: a reasonable ($40), winery-exclusive Dare Tempranillo has berry aromatics but spice and cardamom notes. Balanced with a long finish, it’s the best value on the list for the money and was one of my favorites.

Tasting in Robert Sinskey’s caves

At the high end, it’s a pleasure to sip $120 “V”, a Petite Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend showcasing the former varietal. Comparing signature Viader ($100): both the 2006 and 2005 versions are refined blends of Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon. The ’05 has subtleties of currant, tobacco, mocha, and refined tannins. The ’06 hits more floral, lavender notes with hints of cigar, spice and bittersweet chocolate.

•  Robert Sinskey is nestled in idyllic rolling hillsides off Silverado Trail, our private food and wine tasting set in their caves. The staff is fun, engaging, and could not have made the five of us feel more welcome. We started with a silky, bright ’08 Pinot Blanc. Seared skirt steak in olive butter paired ideally with an ’07 Pinot Noir, subtle with cherries and winter spice, and with a ’98 Cabernet Sauvignon redolent of earthy berries. My tops was ’05 Marcien, a Carneros proprietary red with notes of cassis, tobacco, plum, smoke.

•  It’s been a couple years since I’ve done Sonoma’s Barrel Tasting March weekends, which only continue to grow in size (now over 100 wineries participating) and crowds. Though free bites and barrel tastings inside caves and wineries is a great time with friends (this year was no exception), a reasonable $20 price tag brings out a slew of young, soon-to-be alcoholics partying it up with as much as they can drink. Choose wineries wisely, however, and miss some of these crowds, finding instead a mellow party, chilling to good tunes in the cool of the caves.

Sonoma sunset

Since barrel wines are not yet mature, you have to envision how they might taste, potentially investing in futures. I prefer moving on to final product from the bottle. Mixed in with a slew of “ok” wines, a couple highlights included Ridge Lytton Springs, where I paid a little extra to sample a $175 bottle of award-winning, earthy Monte Bello. Though I wasn’t connecting with any of their reds, Stonestreet’s (not participating in barrel tastings) ’07 Red Point Chardonnay (a hefty $55 a bottle) tasted of Summer with creamy peach. I enjoyed a number of Mauritson’s wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and especially their Syrah.

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