Day 3: Three perfect days in Napa and Sonoma Valley

This is Day 3 of our recent wine tour to the Napa and Sonoma wine regions. Napa Valley can get a little crowded on the weekends, so we like to head over to nearby Sonoma Valley which features a lot of great wineries, more reasonable prices, and fewer people. Gotta love that combination!

Valley of the Moon. Our first stop of the day was terrific. Their tasting room is a two-fer: you can taste Valley of the Moon wines and Lake Sonoma Winery wines. It's interesting to compare and contrast the two styles. Linda, our host, played along and poured several of the varietals side-by-side, so we could blind taste them and try to guess which was which based on the descriptions. Lots of fun! The stand-outs for us were the super refreshing 2008 'So Co' Pinot Blanc that was very crisp and would go well with lighter foods. We also enjoyed their 2007 'So Co' Sangiovese. Sangiovese is a very versatile red wine, and this one had a nice oaky finish that will allow it to go well with pasta. Finally, we really enjoyed the Lake Sonoma Winery 2007 Dry Creek Zinfandel which has 94% Zinfandel and 6% Petite Syrah to give it some bigger tannins and a little complexity.

Benziger. Plan a trip here if words like "organic" and "biodynamic" ring your bell. You may also want to try Benziger if words like "really good Pinot Noir" and "big, big Cab" resonate with you. Either way, they make good wine. Our favorites were their 2007 Giusti Vineyard Pinot Noir which had deep fruit and a very Pinot earthy finish. Their 2006 Gordenker Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was a BIG cab that hits you with lots of fruit (without being too jammy or showing too much alcohol) and smooths out on the finish. Their 2006 Port was made from late harvest Syrah and Petite Syrah and has a nice balance: not too sweet and not too tawny (think caramel).

Artesa. There's a lot to love about Artesa, from their sweeping vistas, to their beautiful tasting room, to their outstanding wine. Even with a large Saturday afternoon crowd, our wine host, Marie, was very attentive and informative. We particularly enjoyed their 2005 Tempranillo and their 2005 Cabernet Franc. Tempranillo tastes like a Spanish cousin to Sangiovese, though a bit bolder. It is a well-balanced red without too much fruit or too much tannin, and would go well with a variety of richer foods. The Cabernet Franc has a lot of deep fruit on the mouth and finishes softly (for a Cab Franc). Yum.
We found an awesome place for lunch called Sage Fine Food and Provisions. This is really just a fancy deli that has tasty sandwiches made with fresh ingredients and a variety of salads. It's directly across the street from Gloria Ferrer (which we did not enjoy - it's really a wine bar rather than a tasting room). Dinner was at Brix in Napa. The ideal time to go to Brix is in the Spring or Summer, when you can stroll through their vegetable garden while you wait for your meal to be served. It's a different experience in the winter, but the food is outstanding California Bistro fare and the service is always very professional and attentive.