We’re going to take a step back from ice cream for this post, and that’s quite a momentous occasion a) because I’ve barely had time to post lately, and b) I eat a lot of ice cream. I don’t, however, drink a lot of wine, although that may very swiftly be changing now that I’ve spent a day hopping from vineyard to vineyard with Ann Marie this past weekend.
We planned our day carefully, and were out our San Francisco doors by 8am on Saturday morning. That meant that we pulled up to the driveway of Sterling Vineyards by 9:45am (and were momentarily terrified that we weren’t going to be able to get inside, because our path was blocked by a horde of bikers, lord knows why.) We were the first people in line to buy tickets for the aerial tram tour when the ticket stand opened at 10am. The lovely aerial tram gets you up the hill in about 60 seconds – time for snapping just a couple beautiful photos – and then drops you off at the first stop of your five-taste tour of Sterling. It’s nice to be able to take your time and taste at different stations throughout the winery, and they have little videos with fun facts along the way. AMOS and I were impressed by the Sterling wine, especially the Pinot Gris and Sangiovese, but our hearts were stolen in the end by the final wine: the Malvasia Bianca. A sweet, fruity, sparkly wine, the lady who poured it for us knew that we were smitten. I guess it was the giddy giggles and lip-smacking that did it. We each bought a bottle (and applied a $5 discount that you get for buying the aerial tram ticket.) Overall, A+ experience at Sterling. Take your time, enjoy the view, leave with a wonderful bottle or two plus a souvenir glass…What could be better?
Second stop on the wine tour, and literally right across the way (although we had a bit of trouble finding it due to GPS inaccuracy. “It’s a castle!” I whined as we drove up the wrong side of the hill, “We should be able to see it!”), was Castello di Amorosa. And this place is, indeed, a castle. $17 gets you the basic self-guided tour around the courtyard, chapel, ramparts, Great Hall, and tasting bar, plus five tastes. The castle is lovely, the chapel actually has mass on Sundays, and the photo opportunities are endless. Our one qualm was that there is no map given for those who purchase general admission, so we weren’t quite sure what was or wasn’t within our limits to explore. But wine tasting here was also enjoyable because you can select any five wines they have available from their menu (and, there being two of us, we tasted each other’s, for a total of ten small sips.) Our server was knowledgeable, and had some creative ideas for food to serve with the wines he poured us. We enjoyed the Gewurtztraminer and the Sangiovese, but once again, the Main Event of this tasting was the dessert wines. Ann Marie tried the Muscat Canelli (so sweet and delicious), and then we each got a glass of their famous Fantasia. The Fantasia is quite sweet, fairly low alcohol content, and makes the taste buds sing. You can immediately picture serving this wine on New Year’s Eve. I was sold immediately, but Ann Marie had to have a quick inner debate before deciding on the Muscat. At Castello di Amorosa, we debated for a moment on the merits of buying an entire case of wine to split between the pair of us. The dessert wines were that fantastic. I may have to order more backup bottles of Fantasia online, because I feel like I’m going to want to have it on hand for every special occasion ever. But, in the interest of not overdoing it since we had more wineries still to visit, we only left with one bottle apiece.
Mumm was actually a little bit of a bust, because our timing was funny and we didn’t want to wait around for the 3pm tour (which is, apparently, the only way to see Mumm.) Not interested in a simple $18/three wines tasting, we breezed through the Ansel Adams photo gallery and got back on the road. Our last taste was at the Beaulieu Vineyard tasting room. When you walk in the door, they shove a glass of Sauvignon Blanc into your hand. We were excited by the immediacy with which our first sample came, but unimpressed by the bitterness of that particular wine, so back out the door we went. Wined-out for the moment, we switched gears, headed back into downtown St. Helena, and bought cheese and snacks to enjoy back at Ann Marie’s house. Round out the evening with even more cheese with a basil-covered Margherita pizza from Tra Vigne, and we shall call that a successful eating day, friends.
Three-sentence summary: We preferred the quality of wines at Sterling, enjoyed more of those tastes overall. Castello di Amorosa is ridiculously beautiful and their dessert wines are not to be believed. We learned that when wine tasting it’s best to get started drinking at 10am to avoid the crowds, and our next target shall the the first Mumm tour of the day.
Until next time, Napa! ❤