Bold, captivating and voluptuous — that will cover the Cabs. Lush, complicated and Burgundian — that should take care of the Pinots Noir. And crisp — with a hint of honeysuckle and hazelnut — ought to handle the Chardonnays. With a cleansed palate and a list of adjectives, we’re ready to embark on a one-day tour of some of Napa Valley’s 200-plus wineries. It’s 10 a.m., and the first stop is St. Clement Vineyards, located at the northern end of the 56-kilometre valley. Robert Parker — the wine critic who makes or breaks vintages based on his 100-point rating — has anointed St. Clement’s Armstrong Ranch Cabernet with a 92.
“We are always happy to tell people what Parker said, but we also encourage them to simply drink what they like,” says wine educator Bob Childs. On that note, it’s time to swirl, sniff and sip the St. Clement Oroppas — a sweet blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. There’s an aromatic hint of blackberry and a flavour hit of caramel, but the reported notes of dark chocolate escape me.
Like perfume — where one can develop an appreciation for identifying the notes — wine-tasting skills can be learned (or so Childs assures me). That said, in the wine world, there are super-tasters, tasters and non-tasters. Based on studies from Yale University School of Medicine, 35 percent of women are super-tasters, while only 10 percent of men are blessed with heightened senses of taste and smell. So stick that in your snifter, Parker!
Next stop: Beringer Vineyards, one of the oldest wineries in the valley. Our host, CJ Friedman, escorts us into the tasting room of the beautifully restored Hudson House, which was purchased in 1875 by Jacob Beringer. After sampling their finest Cabs, Chardonnays and Merlots, we head to chef David Frakes’ private dining room for lunch. While Beringer also boasts high Parker ratings — the 2001 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon scored a 96 — Friedman is most inspired by wine’s poetic offerings. “As Robert Louis Stevenson said, ‘Wine is bottled poetry.’ It’s more than something to drink.”
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Image courtesy of Foster’s Wine Estates
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The final stop on our wine tour is Etude Wines, a boutique winery that opened in 1982 and is located at the southern end of the valley. When it comes to waxing poetic about grapes — especially Pinot Noir — Jon Priest, Etude’s winemaker, rivals Miles, Paul Giamatti’s character in Sideways. While Miles describes it as “haunting, thrilling and brilliant,” Priest describes the It grape as “ethereal, intellectual and complicated.” Having worked with the demanding fruit for more than two decades, Priest welcomes its new A-list status. “It has always been a pioneering grape, but now it has taken on a whole new life,” he says. “All it took was a movie for it to be widely appreciated. Why didn’t we think of that 20 years ago?”
ELLE’s top 3 wine-themed hotels:
• Executive Hotel Vintage Park
Sponsored by 35 regional wineries, the hotel’s bedrooms are decorated with artwork, labels and other winery finery. If the daily wine reception tickles your palate, ask the concierge to book you on a wine tour in the Okanagan Valley. From $159 per night.
• Hotel du Vin
This charming Georgian hotel, with its pretty walled garden, was the first property in the award-winning Hotel du Vin stable. Once you’ve sipped in the champagne bar and supped in the cozy bistro, you can stroll upstairs to relax in your own wine-inspired suite. From $270 per night.
• Hotel Rathaus Wine & Design
This 1890 gem features 33 rooms inspired by Austrian vintners, a schnapps distiller and a champagne maker. Browse through the wine-themed photos in your room while blind-tasting the star vintage stocked in your fridge. From $200 per night.
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Image courtesy of Foster’s Wine Estates
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