Wine & Travel

Snooth User: tobypringle

West Coast Wine Tours

Posted by tobypringle, Feb 4, 2013.

Hi Everyone,

I´m recently joined to Snooth and fully motivated to get going. Having toured around Argentina and Chile tasting wines, my partner and I head up to San Fransisco to tour the US West Coast in March.

Does anyone here have a recommendation for one day circuits we could do? We probably have 2 days for California wines, and have been recommended Sonoma over Napa. We have one day for Oregon and one for Walla Walla.

At home we have a passion for good Malbecs - bottles by Lagarde and Gimenez Riili are recent finds. There´s often some Pinot Noir knocking around too; good bottles from Oregon make their way to the UK, but mostly the major brands. On white, we´re pretty keen on New Zealand Sauv. Blanc - Marlborough´s Oyster Bay springs to mind but we´re good with French Sancerre as well. Most grapes get a good look-in, but:

I have a bit of chip on my shoulder about Zinfandel as the UK got hit with uber-sweet bottles (Hello, Gallo and Blossom Hill) when I was a student ten years ago, and I never went back to them. I´m also a bit cagey about Cabernet Sauvignon and unless it´s exceptional, tend to prefer it blended. Given these are big hitters in California, I´m willing to have my perceptions challenged and mind changed!!

Walla Walla is just a name to me at the moment. Oregon seems like an embarassment of Pinot riches - where to begin?!...

Any other tips or recommendations greatly appreciated.



Reply by amour, Feb 4, 2013.

Do not forget Willamette Valley / Oregon!

Reply by EMark, Feb 4, 2013.

Toby, there are some Northern California correspondents who can probably give more specific advice, but here is mine.  Regarding your San Francisco adjacent visits, the closest portion of the Sonoma wine country is about a 1 hour's drive from downtown San Francisco.  Napa Valley is only slightly farther.  Sonoma County is much, much larger than Napa Valley.  So, you can do a lot more wandering there.  I say just get in a car and go to both.  Both are dripping with wineries.  It won't take long to find them.

I am totally ignorant about any California winemakers who offer a Malbec varietal bottling.  Maybe someone out there can offer some ideas.

A number of Napa wineries offer nice Bordeaux blends (sometimes they are called "Meritage").  One of my favorites is Oroppas from St. Clement winery, but Artistry from Girard is also very good.  The tariff on both of those is very reasonable.  From Sonoma County, I like Lyeth, which is very, very reasonably priced.  However, my quick internet search does not indicate that they have a tasting room for you to visit.  (Again, maybe somebody else can correct.)  Also, in that internet search, though, I saw reference to a Lyeth Malbec.  So, I've learned something new, today.

I will also add that Mrs. EMark's favorite domestic Sauvignon Blanc (and, incidentally, she is on the same page as you regarding NZ and Loire Valley SBs) is Grgich-Hills' Fume Blanc.  Grgich-Hills is right on the very beaten path in Napa Valley.  She also enjoys Ferrari-Carano which I believe in in in Northern Sonoma County and Kenwood which is in Southern Sonoma County.  (And the Kenwood is dirt cheap.)  I've never actually been to either of these two wineries.

The Russian River Valley area of Sonoma County is, of course, serious Pinot Noir country.  You're going to Oregon.  So, I'll bet that you are considering the opportunity to compare Sonoma Pinots with Oregon’s.  In all honesty I am not a big Pinot Noir fan.  So, here is a thought from a Pinot Noir non-fan.  Last summer I visited Merry Edwards winery and thought that (1) it was one of the best tasting room experiences I've ever had and (2) they had the best Pinot Noir I'd ever tasted. 

Visiting Sonoma County, of course, presents you with the best opportunity to overcome your previous bad experience with Zinfandel.  Ridge, whose tasting room is near the town of Healdsburg, is my favorite, and I don’t think you need an appointment.  Outthere and Foxall will surely chime in with other good suggestions.

Now, none of the wineries that I have mentioned is particularly esoteric or could be described as boutique.  I would not be surprised if some of them are available in the UK.  I feel that all of these offer very good wines at very reasonable prices.  Also, the tasting rooms at these wineries are all open to visitors without need of an appointment.   You might consider these destinations to fill-in where you have some time between other visits and, by coincidence, you’re going to be driving right past them.  

One problem you may encounter if you want to taste a specific wine at a specific winery with a "walk-in" tasting room is the fact that they may not be offering that wine in the tasting room the day that you visit.  So, you may not be able to taste the Fume Blanc at Grgich-Hills or the Oroppas at St. Clement.  They may not have any available.  I can pretty much guarantee that you will be able to taste Pinot Noir at Merry Edwards, and you will be able to taste Zinfandel at Ridge.  Both of these producers have multiple bottlings of these varieties.  Ridge may not be offering the Paso Robles bottling, but they will have multiple others.  Same thing with Merry Edwards—they may not have any of a specific vineyard, but they will have others.

Regarding Walla Walla, there will be no problem tripping over wineries, there.  I have very little experience with Walla Walla (business trips), but that experience has been wonderful.  Terrifically friendly and helpful people wherever you go.  Snooth has some excellent members up in Washington, and, so, I’ll let more informed commentators recommend specific wineries for you to visit.

One last thing.  After your trip, please come back here and tell us about it.  We all want to learn.


Reply by tobypringle, Feb 6, 2013.

Thanks, Amour, and Emark - thanks for your considered reply. The notes on Merry and Ridge are particularly well taken. I also found some really great information on . I'll definitely share our experiences after the fact. The only other thing I need to search for is a good wine bar in San Fran that can give an overview of the terroir in California with different wine flights. In Mendoza, Vines of Mendoza were an excellent introduction and in Santiago, Bocanariz wine bar also gave great overview tastings. I might do some independent research first before crowding out the forum though. Thanks again, guys.

Reply by EMark, Feb 6, 2013.

Toby, I hope somebody can jump in here and give you advice on Wine Bars in the city.  I live in Southern California and do not have much recent knowledge of S.F. spots.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 15, 2013.

Okay, couple wine bars in SF:  Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in the Ferry Building.  Decent retail operation, too. Rouge et Blanc on Grant and Blanc et Rouge in the Embarcadero--different operations, confusing enough, but both run by outstanding restaurateurs and sommeliers.  (Emmanuel Kemidji is the somm at R et B.)There's also RN74, a restaurant built around wine on Howard Street--Michael Mina is involved in it, Rajat Parr is the somm.  Press Club is in an alley off Market right downtown; it's essentially a tasting room, restaurant and club for about five wineries.  What makes it kind of fun is that they have wineries from Napa and the Santa Cruz Mountains; they also do events, but usually those don't get in the way of the front tasting area. 

I'm not a Malbec drinker, so I can't help you with that.  I've tolerated some from Cahors, seen a bottle or two made in California, and shun the Argentinian stuff completely.  I sound terrible saying that, but it's the truth.  I can talk about Sauv Blanc.  If you like the smoky, oaky stuff, Grgich is great, and Mondavi much the same for less.  For crisper but still fruit-laden styles, somewhat in the NZ mold but not quite as over the top, Mauritson in Dry Creek Valley is what the other DCV vintners drink.  Funny, because I think of Clay as a red wine maker. 

Which brings us to Zinfandel, where Clay Mauritson really shines.  Chances are really slim you'll be able  to buy any of his Rockpile Zins, but even his DCV Zins are really good. Down the road, I like Talty and Bella among others--the Lily Hill is really good.  And I like Gracianna, but they might not be open for a while. Ridge is of course the grand-daddy of "important" Zinfandel.  If all you've tasted was sweet-ish, or jammy, or blush, zins.  You owe it to yourself to try them again.  (If you had time to go to Amador County and the Sierra Foothills, there would be another bunch to try there, plus the great Rhone style wines of Terre Rouge/Easton.) 

Summer before last we took a trip to Portland and drove down 99 through the Willamette Valley.  Torii Mor, Domaine Serene, Drouhin, Sokol Blosser, Stoller, and a host of others are up in the northern end, so not very far from Portland.  If you get to the southern end, I say do not miss Amity--Myron Redford is a pioneer and character who has left his mark on wine, while refusing to build a fancy tasting room or even a permanent bathroom.  (It's clean and neat and in a mobile home they use for an office, but it's really no concession to expectations.) Coelho is also down towards the southern end, and makes some nice things, although they are in the middle of the Dois Irmaos controversy.

Reply by EMark, Feb 19, 2013.

Toby, I don't know if you noticed but there is an article in Snooth, today, on California Bordeaux blends.  You might want to take a look at that to see if it gives you any more good ideas. 

You might note that Ridge and Mauritson both received shout outs.  The other one mentioned in the article that is one of my favorites is Keenan.  Excellent wines and very reasonably priced.  Keenan prefers that you give them a call before visiting.  So, check their web site  The other thing about Keenan is that even though they are a Napa Valley winery, they are very much off the beaten path.  They are on Spring Mountain west of the town of St. Helena.  Then, if you want to continue in the Spring Mountain vein, continue up the road to the top and visit Pride.  Very outstanding wines, although, a spendier than Keenan.  Again, give Pride a call prior to your visit.

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