Last week, we said goodbye to Los Angeles for a few days and embarked on a journey we had been eager to take for a while. We aren’t strangers to Napa Valley, but we usually frequent trips to the popular northern California wine region in the summer months when the white wines are on full display and in their prime. This time, we were trekking up north for the sole purpose of enjoying red wine – Cabernet Sauvignon in particular. In partnership with Visit Napa Valley, we got to experience a wonderful three days in the region sampling some of the best Cabernets we have ever tasted.
Typically from early November through April, Cabernet season is perfect for those who love to enjoy a bold red wine. When the air temperatures drop and daylight hours get reduced, Cabernet season is the best time to curl up under a blanket by the fire and sip on a Cabernet Sauvignon that still tastes of its French oak barrel it’s been perfecting itself in for months.I only recently began drinking red wine a year and a half ago. For a while, I was solely all about crisp Sauvignon Blancs and woody Chardonnays. Then one visit to a vineyard last summer completely changed the game for me, and now I find myself devouring red wine any chance I get to.
My father runs a wine bar in northern California, about an hour outside of Napa Valley, so I tend to do more than just enjoy a wine. I like to savor it. I have preferences on taste. I even have preferences on how a wine is made. In fact, I am fascinated by the entire winemaking process. This is why visiting Napa Valley during the Cabernet season was so exciting for me, since getting an inside look behind the scenes into some of the most prestigious wines in the region (and the world) filled me with such enthusiasm. For three full days, we got to visit four exceptional vineyards in the Napa Valley region. We have probably visited over 10 different wineries and vineyards since we began frequenting Napa Valley a year and a half ago. Each one is unique and different. I have yet to taste a Cabernet Sauvignon that tastes similar to another winery’s Cabernet, which is what makes enjoying this season of wine even more satisfying and delightful. Below are the vineyards, wineries, and restaurants we indulged at for the duration of our trip to Napa Valley while we stayed at Carneros Resort.
We first visited B Cellars back in August 2017. This was the vineyard that officially converted me to drinking red wine, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. During our first tour, our guide Forrest poured us two glasses of cabernet straight from the barrel. That was the moment my whole wine world changed. What Tor and I love most about B Cellars are their food and wine pairings. On this visit, we participated in their Oakville Trek experience which consisted of four little courses and corresponding wines. As we sipped on a white wine blend, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon (particularly their 2015 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon – the one that converted me to drinking red wine), a Cabernet/Syrah blend, and Zinfandel, we also indulged in cod, roasted beets and turnips, mushroom pizza, and a smoked brisket slider (my favorite out of them all!). Each glass of wine complimented the food extremely well, and vice versa. You want your food and wine pairings to feel like a story, and that’s something we easily find at B Cellars.
Wine we purchased: 2016 Star Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
STAG’S LEAP WINE CELLARS
This was our first stop on our second day in Napa Valley, as we were to experience Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ renowned Cellarius Kitchen Experience for lunch. Our guide Terri showed us around some of the gorgeous property that Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars sits on, overlooking mountainous terrain that features a rock with the winery’s namesake – Stag’s Leap. The winery owes its name to an old Native American folklore, where a stag being hunted in that very valley leapt off the rock that now bears the name Stag’s Leap. After getting a peak inside their wine caves, we were escorted their dining room where lunch awaited us. This kitchen experience was more than mouth-watering. Between the Chardonnay and three different Cabernet Sauvignons we sipped, we munched on roasted pears, divine purple pasta macaroni and cheese, and sinfully delicious tomato broth that Tor devoured in under 10 seconds. It always fascinates me how chefs are able to create menus based on flavors that match perfectly with a specific bottle of wine. They are like music composers, fitting the scene so perfectly as a love story between wine and food.
Wine we purchased: 2015 Estate Grown FAY Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Frog’s Leap has always been one of our favorites, as the main house looks like it’s just out of a Restoration Hardware catalog. The country home set amongst the vineyards, gardens of fresh produce, and barns of lively animals is one of our favorite Napa Valley escapes. We love wine tasting on their back porch overlooking the gardens, especially in the evening as the setting becomes more romantic as the sun begins to set. After trying out their Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Merlot, as well as their homemade peach jam and combination cow/goat cheese, Tor and I took some time to walk around the property. As we walked through one section of the vineyards, we couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the deep purple grapes set amongst the orange and red leaves of the vines as the sun began to lower behind us.
Wine we purchased: 2016 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
CLIF FAMILY WINERY
Our final stop on our first Cabernet season tour was Clif Family winery, located right in the heart of St Helena in Napa Valley. Are you familiar with the nutritious Clif bars? Yes you guessed it – it’s the same family that runs this winery! And they happen to boast some of the best vines in the valley by having their grapes grown on Howell Mountain, one of the most prestigious and, quite frankly, one of the best places to grow grapes in all of Napa Valley. We tried several of their Cabernet Sauvignons, with my favorite being their Cold Springs bottle, their grapes having been grown on volcanic soil. You can really taste the discrepancy in different wines with something like a difference in soil. Clif Family Winery’s vineyards face several sides of Howell Mountain, each getting their own unique time in the sun which influences the grapes and their taste. While the vines are further away, the winery to taste their wines is located on Main Street in St. Helena, so if you are walking around the area on foot, by bike, or by car, it’s easy to stop in at and enjoy.
Wine we purchased: 2015 Estate Grown Cold Springs Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
For our time in Napa Valley, we tried a few different restaurants and dining spots that catered to all cuisines. There are two things that help define this wine region – award winning wine and award winning food. There was no shortage of either on this trip, and we highly recommend the spots below:
PRESS – This trip marked our second time dining at PRESS. A renowned wood fire grilled steakhouse, Tor and I dined on lobster crab cakes, gem salad, filet mignon, and asparagus risotto.
Bottega – This Italian restaurant in Yountville quickly became a favorite of ours from our first bite. Ricotta was made from scratch right before our eyes beside us, and then shaved with fresh white truffles. We also dined on truffle gnocchi, wood fired chicken, and spaghetti cooked in tomato water and black garlic that had me drooling.
Gotts Roadside – My favorite roadside burger joint in the country. We always find a way to stop here for lunch on all of our Napa Valley visits because it’s just that good. My burger order is simple – cheeseburger with no tomatoes – but the way they prepare it is my favorite. I also enjoy their chocolate shake with crushed Oreos (it’s sinfully delicious!).
Farm Restaurant – This restaurant is located at Carneros Resort & Spa, which is where we stayed on this particular visit (see blog post review here). Seated beside the open kitchen and fireplace, we dined on potato & leek soup, seared tuna, and jidori chicken.
Boon Fly Café – Also located at Carneros Resort, this cozy café spot is known for their sugary donut holes. While we came solely for the donuts, we ended up having delicious eggs and sausage before leaving with a bag of freshly baked, hot out-of-the-oven treats.
Looking to create your own Napa Valley escape for cabernet season? Be sure to check out our Napa Travel Guide for all of our recommendations.
Thank you to Visit Napa Valley, B Cellars, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Frog’s Leap winery, and Clif Family winery for hosting our visits. Although we were guests of Visit Napa Valley, all opinions are my own.
Photos by Torrance Coombs.