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Napa Day 3: Yountville and More Wine Tasting

Del Dotto Wine Cave

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on Napa. When the opportunity arose to tack on a few nights in Napa during a trip out to Monterey, CA for my graduation from grad school, I jumped at the chance. Napa's three part mini-series will take you along with us over the course of a weekend as we explore a little slice of this famous valley. You can Click Here To Read Part 1 or Click Here To Read Part 2.

Once again, we're up early. It's our last day in Napa, so we want to make the most of it. We attend the morning yoga class at the hotel again. This morning, the instructor decides to hold the class on the green behind the pool. The class today has some pilates moves incorporated. It's still a relaxing intro level class, but we definitely exert more energy than the day before--it's the perfect workout in the cool morning air, just enough to warm up the body. After a shower, we decide to share a ham omelet at the hotel's restaurant again since we have an early wine tasting appointment scheduled at Hagafen Cellars.

On our previous trip to Napa Valley several years ago, Hagafen Cellars had been our favorite winery. It's a small, fairly unknown winery that makes Kosher organic wine. While I'm not overly concerned with the Kosher part, the organic part is very important to me. The less pesticides I'm taking in, the better. The winery's products also come with a less inflated price tag than much of the valley. It's a place I can get a $40 bottle of wine that I will truly enjoy while not feeling guilty about breaking it out on a random Thursday night at home. In Napa, small and affordable doesn't necessarily mean that a winery isn't good; Hagafen has several award-winning wines, and its blends have graced the tables of the White House during visits from Kosher foreign dignitaries.

Hagafen requires that you have a reservation to visit, and ours is bright and early at 10am. Tastings are done on property in the winery's cozy tasting cottage. They also do tours daily at 10:30am (no tour on Saturdays). It's great winery to hang out at, with a shaded outdoor patio and a relaxed vibe. The woman handling our tasting allows us to taste what we like, skipping around the menus they offer and making suggestions when asked. At 10:30, we decide to take the tour, carrying our current tasting glasses along with us in case we get thirsty. We cover the vineyard, wine-making area, and barreling room, getting a little lesson on Kosher wine-making along the way. A corner of the property was hit by the recent forest fires, but most of Hagafen managed to escape unscathed. They lost their chickens and some of their vines, but the fire could have been much more devastating to the little vineyard.

After the tour, we decide to join the wine club--something every vineyard in Napa tries to sell you on. We really like the way Hagafen's is set up, though. It is extremely flexible, and they have several different options. We decide on the "Hagafen Wine Club" selection. For between $80-$115 four times a year, we get a shipment of wine (2-4 bottles); our membership also entitles us to 15% off of bottles and shipments and 20% off of cases. Unlike the majority of the wineries, if for some reason we don't like Hagafen's offering for that quarter, we can update our shipment to different bottles online, and we were told that if we decide we just don't need a shipment, we can contact Hagafen ahead of that quarter to skip it. We purchase a few bottles to takes home with us now, and we're on our way to our next stop. [Note: Hagafen's tasting fee is waived if you buy a bottle of wine (two on Saturdays) or join the wine club.]

Today, we have decided to visit historic downtown Yountville for some lunch and to explore a bit. We have a nice dinner planned at Cole's Chop House, so we aren't looking to do a heavy lunch. We wander around a bit, checking out some of Napa's best restaurants, including the famed French Bistro Jeanty. We love the picturesque setting (pictured left below), but we are looking for something a little lighter. We find it at Protéa, a restaurant serving Caribbean cuisine with a daily changing menu focused on fresh, local produce. It is a casual restaurant where you order at the counter and they bring the food to your table. We decide to dine al fresco in the cozy, shaded seating area behind the restaurant (pictured above) and each choose some delicious tacos featured on today's menu. My husband's are topped with seared fish and fresh pineapple salsa; mine are primarily comprised of grilled shrimp and a crispy cabbage slaw. The tacos have just the right amount of kick. They really hit the spot.

After we finish our meal, we head off in search of something sweet for dessert. We come across a long line in front of the Bouchon Bakery (bottom right). The long line tells me that these people most likely know something we don't, so we decide to join the line waiting to get into the small storefront. Inside, the bakery features a variety of tasty treats ranging from cookies and cakes to fruit tarts and macarons, as well as specialty coffee drinks. We order an Oh-Oh (their version of a giant, chocolatey Ho Ho) and a chocolate chip cookie to share at the bakery's outdoor seating area.

Once finished, we pack up our leftovers (the Oh-Oh was huge) and wander around the town's shopping area. Yountville's V Marketplace (exterior below) features speciality shopping--including several art galleries--and fine dining. We aren't looking for anything in particular, but it's a fun spot to do some window-shopping. After, we decide to head back to the hotel to relax a little before our much anticipated late-afternoon wine tasting at Del Dotto.

We take a Lyft to Del Dotto, deciding we may not want to drive all the way back down the valley after our tasting--we have been told the pours can be heavy here. Del Dotto is located in Saint Helena, which is at the northern end of Napa Valley. The winery actually has three locations; our reservation is for the Del Dotto Estate. They have a cave tour and barrel tasting that several friends have raved about. You taste the vineyard's famous red wines directly from the barrels and order your wine specifically from the batch you have tried. At this winery you are truly getting exactly what you tasted.

When we arrive at Del Dotto, the exterior reminds me of a European garden, with a small fountain and a short marble building in from of us. So, I am a bit taken aback when we climb down a staircase to enter the winery and find that it is comprised of a fairly vast space (most of which is underground) with high ceilings, towering marble columns, skylights, and chandeliers. The floors feature mosaics and the walls hold valuable art pieces. The tasting room decor is reminiscent of Venice, with mosaic wall tiling and a fresco featuring Venetian blues surrounding the Saint Mark's Lion.

Upon check-in, we are given two glasses with a rosé wine to sip as we wait for our tour to start. We wander around exploring the artwork on display for a few minutes, and soon, the six of us that comprise our group are called by our guide to head into the cave. The price of a Del Dotto cave tasting is a bit steeper than most standard tastings in Napa, but it features a small group direct-from-the-barrel wine tasting in one of the fanciest wine caves you will ever encounter. The majority of the wines you are privileged to taste are not your $40 bottles of wine--most are around the $100-$200 range. The experience is top notch and even includes a light snack (meats, cheeses, and chocolate). It's kind of the antithesis of our laid back morning tasting at Hagafen. That's the great thing about Napa--there's a wine tasting for everyone!

As we head into the cave (this article's feature photo), I am struck by its un-cavelike appearance. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling and silver candelabras are spaced along the walls. The patterned brick wall is embellished with thick, white crown moldings, and the stone floor features a polished pattern. Lining the walls of the cave are the tasting barrels. At our first stop inside, our guide takes out his wine thief (a glass tube shaped like the bottom of a turkey baster), uncorks the bung plug (the name for a wine barrel cork), and dips the wine thief into the barrel to extract some of their aptly named Cave Blend. Our guide says this is the only wine they currently have bottled that you can take away with you today (anything else we taste you order and have shipped once it is read to be bottled). The wine is awesome, one of the best I've had our entire trip, and we immediate decide that some of this is coming home with us. (It's the cheapest wine we taste, so we can afford this one without breaking the bank, and we still have two slots left in our travel box--how could we not fill the entire space!)

If I was impressed with the first wine we tasted, the next is even better, and the next and the next. I, fact, I do not taste one wine I don't like at Del Dotto. All of their red blends are amazing. (Del Dotto is known for its red wines and the majority of what they produce is red.) Our guide explains to us the differences between the types of oak use for the barrels (American vs. French), the level of char on the inside of the barrel, and how that all affects the taste of the wine. We get the unique experience of tasting American oak side-by-side with French (I apparently prefer French) and also a light char vs a darker char separately. The blends are otherwise the same, so it is a true comparison of the oak and char variations. This is just some of what is so original about Del Dotto.

When we reach the end of the cave, we get to go into a VIP area (a friend who is a club member set up our tour for us, and the other 4 members in our group are also members). Behind this curtain (literally), there is an open stone room with pillars, more wine (some stored in pottery), and a customized area of the cave designed for aging meat. Del Dotto not only makes wine but also cures its own meats. This is definitely the most unique experience we have encountered on our trip.

When our tour of the cave is done, we come back into the main room of the winery to enjoy a tasting of meats and cheeses (and dark chocolate). We also get the chance to try their olive oil, and our guide has the kitchen bring out a small pizza to enjoy with the snacks, as well. The food isn't all that filling when shard among six people, but we're not looking to fill up before dinner anyway. It's a nice little bite to cap off an amazing wine tasting. Our guide asks if any of us would like to taste a chardonnay before we go since the cave tasting features only red wines. As a big chardonnay fan, I jump at the chance. Their chardonnay is quite good, but their reds are outstanding. If there's one thing I learned on this tour, it's that I'm a much bigger cabernet fan than I thought I was. With our tasting ended, we order a Lyft back to our hotel.

The hotel's nightly wine tasting is going on in the lobby when we get back. Tonight, Andretti wines are featured. We decide to take a tasting with us back to our room while we get ready for dinner. After, we head down to the hotel's outdoor space to relax by the fire and watch the sun set. Six of us from our Platypus wine tour group the day before end up meeting up for a drink out on the patio and catching up on what we each did during the day. I always love when we get to make new acquaintances on a trip. Soon, though, we're all headed off to our respective dinner reservations.

For our last night in Napa, we have dinner reservations at Cole's Chop House, a classic American steakhouse downtown. We have heard nothing but rave reviews, so we are excited to try it. We are shown to a table upstairs, overlooking the dining room below. Our server comes over to acquaint us with the menu and take our drink order. My husband orders a cocktail (his go-to, an old fashioned); I stick with the water after a long day of wine tasting. Looking over the menu, we decide to order a few things to share. Many of the glowing reviews we have heard of Cole's included the lobster and shrimp bisque in puff pastry, so that is a must-order for us. We settle on the soup, a salad (mixed green salad with apples, goat cheese, candied pistachios, and a sherry vinaigrette), a large fillet mignon steak (medium rare), and gruyére gratin potatoes. Everything is delicious. The puff pastry on the soup is light and flakey, and the steak is prepared perfectly. I don't have one complaint about the meal. The reviews are right, the restaurant is as good as everyone says.

After dinner, we decide to get dessert at Ben & Jerry's again--I am officially addicted to their coconut seven layer ice cream--and do a final walk around town. It is amazing the temperature difference between day and night in Napa. The night air is downright chilly, especially while eating ice cream. We have an early flight out of San Francisco in the morning, so we don't stay out too late. It has been an absolutely amazing trip. I wish we could repeat it all over again; I wouldn't change one thing. However, all good things must come to an end. As we head back to the hotel, I am already thinking about when we can return. I'm already dreaming about red wine blends straight out of the barrel and that puff pastry soup!

Credit for Some of the Featured Photos: Kyle Perkins

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