On the Trail of On the Trail of

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                                                     On the Trail of
    Best Tasting
                                                          T H E R E ’ S N O B E T T E R W AY T O
                                                          EXPLORE WINE COUNTRY THAN
                                                          FROM THE SNUG COMFORT OF A
                                                          TA S T I N G R O O M . T R Y W I N E S ,
                                                          S O M E A VA I L A B L E N O W H E R E
                                                          ELSE, VIEW SPLENDID VINEYARD
                                                          PANORAMAS AND ENJOY THE
                                                          HOSPITALITY OF PEOPLE WHO
                                                          KNOW THE WINES FROM THE
                                                          GROUND UP.

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                                         The tasting room at Hazlitt 1852
                                                     in Hector, New York

                                                           hat better way to meet a wine for the first time than to savor it mere steps from where it was made? Many wineries have tasting
                                                           rooms that are open to the public, where you can sample the wines, usually for a modest fee, with the option of purchasing
                                                           bottles on site. The tasting room staff is prepared to discuss the wines as you sip them, and they may offer materials with which
                                                           you can take notes. The tasting room experience should, at the very least, offer an informal, pressure-free environment. At its
                                                           best, it can be much more.
                                                             To say the following tasting rooms, most on the grounds of a winery, are America’s “best” is a bit of magazine bombast. We
                                                           asked our editors and contributors to suggest tasting rooms that were memorable to them for any number of reasons. Wine
                                                           quality was paramount, but we also considered décor, staff savvy, amenities and more ephemeral characteristics, such as overall
                                                           quirkiness or warmth. Obviously it’s subjective and we couldn’t include every tasting room in the U.S. But every tasting room here
                                                           guarantees a unique experience.

                                         ARROWOOD VINEYARD & WINERY, GLEN ELLEN. Come for the great wines, stay
                                         for the incredible views. While Arrowood is routinely praised for its wonderful
                                         Chardonnays, Cabernets and late harvest Rieslings, the winery also boasts the world’s

                                         greatest veranda. This large New England-style deck overlooks well-tended, organic
                                         vineyards and the oak-studded hills of the Sonoma Valley. It’s the perfect place to
                                         sip and decompress. And, if you’re well behaved, the friendly staff might even let
                                         you taste their hard-to-find Malbec or single-vineyard Syrahs. Ask about the private
                                         tours and tasting options. (14347 Sonoma Highway; 800.938.5170; www.arrowood
                               ; $5 and $10 tasting fees) —MIKE LYNCH

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           FRANK FAMILY VINEYARDS, CALISTOGA. This has to be one of the
           worst tasting rooms in Napa Valley—but one of the best tasting expe-
           riences. Crowded into a dilapidated building, it’s probably the only
           tasting room in Napa Valley that doesn’t charge for tasting any wines,
           yet the wines are superb and the staff and visitors always have fun.
           You start with sparkling wines, but you may be invited into the
           crowded back room for the good stuff (don’t trip on the undulating
           floor). Taste rich Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels and Caber-
           nets, most sold only at the tasting room. Sadly for traditionalists,
           tasting will soon move into an old house on the property, but the
           winery will still probably remain locals’ favorite visit in Napa Valley.
           (1091 Larkmead Lane; 800.574.9463;;
           tasting complimentary) —PAUL FRANSON

                                                                                         J VINEYARDS & WINERY, HEALDSBURG. In this sleek, modern
                                                                                         tasting room, it’s all about the wine, and choices: Try four wines ($10)
                                                                                         daily. From Friday through Monday only, make a reservation ($55)
                                                                                         in the Bubble Room with its stylish décor and table service and
                                                                                         try either the Indulgence Flight (four sparkling wines) or the Russian
                                                                                         River Pinot Noir flight (wines available only through the winery)
                                                                                         paired with seasonal foods, as well as braised short ribs and Tsar
                                                                                         Nicoulai caviars. Beginning in spring, the J Terrace tasting ($35)
                                                                                         pairs sparkling wines and Russian River varieties with local cheeses,
                                                                                         patés and cured meats. For the ultimate J tasting, bring your friends
                                                                                         on a Thursday for a vineyard tour and seven-course food and
                                                                                         wine experience ($200 per person). (11447 Old Redwood Highway;
                                                                                         707.431.5430;; $10–$200) —K.H.

                                                                                         LOUIS MARTINI WINERY, ST. HELENA. The rustic tasting room is
                                                                                         masculine, dark and mysteriously inviting. Lounge on plush velvet
                                                                                         chairs or at the old-fashioned bar and sample a rich Cabernet Sauvi-
                                                                                         gnon with its hint of cherry and spice. Proceed to the romantically
            GARY FARRELL WINERY, HEALDSBURG. Don’t look for vineyards                    gothic underground cellar for a sparkling Moscato Amabile or the
            here—the winery is set in a hillside grove of redwoods overlooking           55-year-old tawny Port-style wine. (254 South St. Helena Hwy;
            the often fog-encased Russian River Valley. The wide-open tasting            707.963.2736;; complimentary tastings/$5 for
            room shows all, or you can wander into the courtyard to soak up the          specialty wines) —ALEXIS MCCOMBS
            setting. The tasting flight of four current releases can certainly grab
            your attention as well, especially the signature Pinot Noirs and Sauvi-       MUMM NAPA VALLEY, RUTHERFORD. How do you decide where to
            gnon Blancs. For an added fee, there is a daily morning tour of the           end the day in Napa Valley? Go to Mumm. There is nothing more refresh-
            winery and chalet-like barrel room, followed by artisanal cheeses             ing than sparkling wine before heading to one of the extraordinary area
            and special-release bottles. (10701 Westside Road; 707.473.2900;              restaurants. Stroll through the art gallery and amazing photographs by
  ; $5 tasting fee) —ROGER MORRIS                       Ansel Adams, then settle into a table on the terrace and enjoy a trio of
                                                                                          wines. Watch the sun give its all to color the vines, the terrace and the
                                                                                          bubbles. Napans come here at the end of the day when crowds are gone
           HANNA WINERY, HEALDSBURG. This Mediterranean-style (with the                   and the sunset is theirs. It’s hard to leave. (8445 Silverado Trail;
           cozy feel of a craftsman bungalow) tasting room offers 360-degree              707.967.7700; tasting $5–$20, free winery tours, tasting discount coupons;
           views of the winery’s Red Ranch vineyard, complete with wraparound     —ROGER VOSS
           veranda. In a quiet corner, the reserve tasting ($12-$25) pours
           five wines paired with charcuterie, artisanal cheese and relishes. Guests     NICKEL & NICKEL, OAKVILLE. Appointment-only tastings are inti-
           sit at a farm table in a setting rich with art (a local watercolor artist’s   mate, not intimidating. Gather in the cozy parlor of the 1880s farm-
           pieces are hung on the walls, an Oriental rug is spread below).               house for crisp Chardonnay (no malolactic here), check out the cellars
           Or pay $10 to taste at the bar. (9280 Hwy. 128; 707.431.4310;                 and transplanted New England barn, then sit down to a leisurely lesson
 ; $10–$25 tasting fee; reservations for reser-             in terroir. Winemaker Darice Spinelli makes 25 small-production wines
           tasting preferred) —KRISTINE HANSEN                                           from vineyards across the valley, including 11 Napa Cabs. Officially, you

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                                                      taste four, but your charm-       RUBICON ESTATE, RUTHERFORD. Arrive at the entrance to Francis
                                                      ing host will happily pop         Ford Coppola’s historic winery and they park your car for you. Mind
                                                      extra corks. Tip: Bring car-      you, you have paid $25 (valid for three days, including tours), but valet
                                                      rots for Star, Penny and          parking tells you that you are in for a sophisticated time. And that’s just
           Pearl, the friendly equines in the paddock out front. (8164 St. Helena       what this elegant winery and tasting room offer. There are beautiful
           Highway; 707.967.9600;; $40, allow two               things to buy: unique, fun, wonderful hats, leather goods, silver and
           hours) —BETTY TELLER                                                         ceramics, chosen by the Coppola family, mainly from Italy. At the
                                                                                        tasting bar, there is singing Tom, a former opera singer, to give extra
           PRESTON VINEYARDS, HEALDSBURG. Blonde wood, high ceilings                    spice to the wines. For a more leisurely café environment, there is a
           and seductive aromas of bread define this space, Lou Preston’s stage for     wine-by-the-glass-with-cheese bar. Equally elegant, equally stylish.
           his increasingly farming-oriented estate winery. Five dollars, refunded      (1991 St. Helena Hwy; 800.782.4266;; tasting
           with purchase, gets you a flight of four wines; don’t miss the robust red    $25/five wines; winery and historical tours.). —R.V.
           blend, L. Preston. Lou’s olives, olive oil, hot sauce (“Spitting Cobra”)
           and pickles are the real thing, grown and made within yards of where
           you taste them. Best day? Sundays, when Lou and wife, Susan, open            Michigan
           the cellar for tastes and sales of Guadagni Red, probably the best jug       WINERY AT BLACK STAR FARMS,
           wine ($30, three liters) in California. (9282 West Dry Creek Rd.;            SUTTONS BAY. A visit here is more
           707.433.3372;; $5, refunded with purchase)          than a sip of Lee Lutes’ Rieslings,
           —MICHELE ANNA JORDAN                                                         Pinot Blancs and Pinot Noirs; it’s a
                                                                                        big gulp of Grand Traverse Bay
           REVANA FAMILY VINEYARDS, ST. HELENA. At the tasting room of                  beauty, agriculture and hospitality.
           tiny Revana Vineyards north of St. Helena, you get a rare chance to          The mission is for visitors to partici-
           taste two wines made by cult queen Heidi Peterson Barrett: the current       pate, whether visually or sensually.
           release of Revana Cabernet from the small vineyard surrounding the           The timbered tasting room has win-
           winery, plus an older vintage or one of the other rare wines Barrett         dows that view the distillery and winery, and a creamery where a French-
                                                     makes at the winery—Amuse          trained couple make raclette. The winery is clustered with a luxury B&B,
                                                     Bouche, Barbour Vineyards or       equestrian center, farm market and farm animals for kids to pet. (10844 E.
                                                     her own La Sirena. Reserva-        Revold Road; 231.944.1273;; tasting compli-
                                                     tions are vital, and if you come   mentary with purchase of souvenir glass, $3 per person, $5 per couple)
                                                     in the summer, you might            —SANDRA SILFVEN
                                                     even be able to buy one of
                                                     the 500 bottles of Revana
                                                     rosé Heidi makes each              New York
                                                     year. (2930 St. Helena High-       BEDELL CELLARS, CUTCHOGUE. Urban-minded tasters burned out
                                                     way North; 707.967.8814;           on quaint flock to the clean, minimalist lines of the Bedell tasting
                                           ; seated         room—an apt reflection of co-CEO and New Line Cinema guru
                                      tasting of two wines, $20, tasting with cheese    Michael Lynne’s honed taste for modern
                                      and charcuterie from the Martini House            art. Originally a barn built in 1919, the
                                      restaurant, $40) —P.F.                            space was renovated in 2001 with soaring
                                                                                        ceilings, sweeping vineyard views and
                                   ROSSO & BIANCO, GEYSERVILLE. Fran-                   expansive walls on which to hang Lynne’s
                                   cis Ford Coppola’s fingerprints are all over         cutting-edge collection of artists like Uta
                                   his tasting room, with recommended treas-            Barth and Sarah Morris. The wines are
                                   ures for purchase—from writing pads,                 classy but innovative and include white
                                   pasta bowls and pepper pens (to sneak heat           and red blends and the signature offer-
                                   into bland dishes) to CDs and DVDS—                  ing, Merlot. A haven for artsy hipsters
                                   tucked throughout the multileveled space             who want a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. (36225 Main Road;
                                   surrounding the bar. There’s no tasting fee          631.734.7537;; tasting $5) —SUSAN KOSTRZEWA
           for Rosso & Bianco (Pinot Grigio, Rosso Classic, Shiraz). Do not
           miss the movie memorabilia—Oscar statues, a giant Martini glass, a           HAZLITT 1852, HECTOR. This is an old-time Finger Lakes vineyard
           bamboo cage and more on the way—just down the hall near the                  that turned to winemaking with Red Cat (Red Catawba) out of desper-
           cafe. (300 Via Archimedes; 707.857.1400;;                ation during a grape glut in the early 1980s. The Red Cat attitude car-
           complimentary tastings of Rosso, Bianco and Rosso Shiraz; other              ries over today in a rustic, rambling tasting room where the popcorn is
           tastings $10–$15) —MAJ                                                       free and blues and Jimmy Buffet tunes play nonstop. It’s more like a

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            good-times pub and people have been known to hang out all day. The
            Hazlitts now make fine vinifera, but haven’t forsaken their roots. Red
            Cat is memorialized in a chant we can’t print, in posters as the original
            hot tub wine, and the gift mart includes a Red Cat thong. (5712 Route
            414; 607.546.9463;; tasting fee $3, refundable
            with purchase) —MORT HOCHSTEIN

                                                                                        Nor th Carolina
                                                                                        CHILDRESS VINEYARDS, LEXINGTON. Those who think NASCAR
                                                                                        and world-class wine don’t pair well haven’t been to Childress Vine-
                                                                                        yards and the speedily improving Yadkin Valley. Founded by NASCAR
                                                                                        team owner Richard Childress in 2004, the winery and tasting room
                                                                                        have quickly become a stand-alone destination in the Yadkin Valley
                                                                                        American Viticultural Area. Go for the Signature Tasting to reveal
            WOLFFER ESTATE, SAGAPONACK. Though just over 10 years old,                  winemaker Mark Friszolowski’s best work to date. The Reserve Syrah
            this 12,000-square-foot, Old World-style winery drips with the kind         and the Signature Meritage are both sublime, as is the setting—a stone
            of old money vibe that makes the South Shore so sexy to aspiring            and stucco building, terra cotta-style roof and large tasting room, shop
            blue bloods. Indoors, the tasting room and museum are supported by          and The Bistro restaurant all reminiscent of Tuscany. (1000 Childress
            100-year-old rough-hewn beams and look out onto vineyards through           Vineyards Road; 336.236.9463;; tasting
            lavish French doors. But Wolffer’s draw is the outdoor tasting on a         $10–$15). —LYNN SELDON
            vineyard-side patio whose view beats pretty much anything else you
            will see on Long Island. Vines are maniacally manicured and attended,       Oregon
            knowledgeable staff bring flights at a leisurely, civilized pace. The CARLTON WINEMAKER’S STUDIO, CARLTON. This state-of-the-art
            wines are award-winning and European in style. The whole shebang      tasting room uses environmental and energy-efficient designs to create a
            feels like a retreat at the summer home of your favorite baronial BFF.contemporary sipping space. High ceilings and sky windows project
            (139 Sagg Road; 631.537.5106;; tasting from $6–$16;   natural light into the airy warehouse-styled room. Metal truss rails were
            tours $15) —S.K.                                                      taken from a dismantled department store and cream-colored wood
                                                                                                              boards from old high school bleachers. Enjoy
        Tasting Room Dos & Don’ts                                                                               over 40 samples from resident winemakers
         Deputize a designated driver. Do not feel      you do. Don’t try to serve yourself or monopo-            including Sparkling Brut and Messa-
         compelled to drink everything poured for       lize the bar if the room is crowded. Don’t crack            lence—a Merlot, Cab Franc and Syrah
         you. Drink responsibly.                        jokes about what an easy job the pourer has.                  blend. On Wednesday nights, pairings
         Allow the pourer to lead you through the       Drink water, and use water to rinse your glass, espe-          are done with gourmet teasers includ-
         tasting; it will most likely be white wines    cially between the white flight and the red flight. Sip        ing rice croquettes stuffed with
         first, followed by reds and finally, if appli- water and take a bite of provided crackers or bread            mushrooms and garlic aiolio, all
         cable, sweet wines. Do not ask them to         between wines, to clean your palate.                           pleasing to the palate.(801 N. Scott
         change the order. There’s a reason why         Ask for a second pour of something you like, but               St.; 503.852.6100; www.winemakers
         sweet wines are last: They’d make subse-       be aware that it is a sign that you might want to   ; flights $5–$8) —A.M.
         quently tasted dry wines taste bitter or       purchase a bottle.
         off. At the same time, do feel free to skip    Spit, if you want—your host will not be offended.            Pennsylvania
         an entire flight (If you’re only interested in Cups or a bucket may be provided for the pur-               CHADDSFORD WINERY, CHADDS-
         the red wines, say so.) Don’t complain         pose. If not, ask.                                         FORD. A gloriously renovated 18th-cen-
         about short pours or move your glass           Don’t tip, unless you feel extraordinarily well taken      tury dairy barn in the heart of Andrew
         around while wine is being poured into it.     care of, and unless you want. It’s not expected.          Wyeth country, on the original William
         Ask questions and engage the pourer.           Don’t haggle about the tasting fee. If there is no         Penn Estate, is the stage for Eric Miller’s
         Offer your opinions freely, but don’t make     tasting fee, and it is a small winery (or if you            Burgundian-style Chardonnays and
         faces at wines you find unpleasant or puz-     receive extraordinary service) it would be courte-           Pinot Noir, and rich, intense Due Rossi
         zling. Don’t pretend to know more than         ous to purchase at least one bottle of wine.                   and Merican. The barn has a crisp,

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           colonial spit-and-polish that celebrates the building’s heritage and neigh-    512.858.1470;; No tasting fee, but reservations
           borhood. Stroll through the Reserve Tasting Room to peruse the Wyeth           recommended at the restaurant) —W.M.
           prints and 25 years of winery memorabilia, or take a self-guided tour and
           pause in the café to nibble on Amish cheese with a glass of Cham-              Washington
           bourcin. (632 Baltimore Pike; 610.388.6221;; $7             CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE, WOODINVILLE. Located on 87 wooded
           tasting fee) —S.S.                                                             acres just 15 miles from downtown Seattle, Chateau Ste. Michelle
                                                                                          offers some of the West Coast’s best tasting and touring menus. Once
           VA LA VINEYARDS, AVONDALE. The old barn housing the tasting facil-             part of the farm estate of Seattle lumber baron, Frederick Stimson,
           ity is a welcoming blend of rural and modern—stone walls, wooden               the tasting experience at Ste. Michelle can be as casual or formal as the
           beams and family photos of Italian immigrants complemented by gleam-           varied visitors (up to 300,000 of them a year). Though it’s easy to enjoy
           ing bar, real tasting glasses with generous pours and an upstairs Galleria     the bustling atmosphere of the large tasting room and shop, go for the
           for local artists and special events. Va La is known for its high-end blends   Vintage Reserve Room Tasting ($10), which takes place in a separate
           of northern Italian and Bordeaux varieties paired with locally crafted         room, is hosted by a senior staff member and includes selections from
           cheeses and breads. Knowledgeable, family-led staff conducts leisurely         their single-vineyard and reserve list. (14111 NE 145th; 425.415.3300;
           perusal of four wines. No tours, but lovely views of surrounding vine-; tastings range from complimentary to $50 for
           yards. (8820 Gap Newport Pike; 610.268.2702;;            premium wines paired with food) —L.S.
           $7 tasting fee.) —R.M.

           HOMESTEAD WINERY, DENISON. Seventy-five miles north of Dallas,
           sleepy Denison is famous in Europe for being the hometown of
           T. V. Munson, the man whose rootstock saved the phylloxera-ravaged
           European vineyard in the late 1800s. At Homestead Winery, Texas
           legend Dr. Roy Mitchell makes his cream-style Sherry, the single most
           awarded wine in Texas history. They also make an excellent Cabernet
           to carry into the adjacent Albanian/Italian restaurant. Call to check on
           availability of the Sherry. Dr. Mitchell only makes 100 cases per year.
           (220 West Main Street; 903.464.0030;;
           Sherry tasting, $2; wine tasting, $3, both waived with purchase)
           —WES MARSHALL
                                                                                          THE TASTING ROOM: WINES OF WASHINGTON, SEATTLE. Situated
           MANDOLA ESTATE WINERY, DRIFTWOOD. Damian Mandola is the                        in an alley almost within fish-tossing distance of Pike Place Market
           host of PBS’s Cucina Siciliana, as well as the author of three cook-           proper, The Tasting Room features a wine cave-like European ambi-
           books (Ciao, Y’all, Ciao Sicily and Ciao Tuscany). He’s built a winery         ence, with varied-size tables for communal or personal tastings. They
           devoted to Texas-grown Italian varietals and to make sure folks would          currently pour wines from seven small, vintner-owned, respected Wash-
           want to travel 30 miles from Austin, he’s added a top-notch rustic Italian     ington wineries, like Harlequin and Wilridge (both feature creative red
           eatery, a cooking school and a TV studio. The meandering grounds               blends). They also offer wines by the glass and unique flights like Wash-
           invite strolling, and the whole feel is più cosier. His wines have great       ington Pride and Rainy Day Reds. (1924 Post Alley, Pike Place Market;
           acidity to go with his food. Don’t miss the Syrah. (13308 Fm 150 W;            206.770.9463;; tastings $5–$15). —L.S.

                                                                                          KLUGE ESTATE WINERY AND VINEYARD, CHARLOTTESVILLE.
                                                                                          Those who want to taste the best of Virginia’s wine country need to
                                                                                          know the name Kluge, as in Patricia Kluge. Vintner Kluge’s distinctive
                                                                                          touch can be seen in her Farm Shop tasting room and tasted in her
                                                                                          award-winning wines. Nestled into the woods near the vineyards, the
                                                                                          Farm Shop’s interior is made from clear Western Red cedar and offers
                                                                                          several distinct areas: a large tasting room; a toasty coffee nook with an
                                                                                          old-fashioned stove; a horticultural area with plants, topiaries, and a col-
                                                                                          lection of wine, gourmet, and gardening books; and a sumptuous artisan
                                                                                          cheese selection to complement wine tastings. The tasting area fea-
                                                                                          tures a sleek, hexagonal black granite bar. The Farm Shop also has a
                                                                                          picnic area, sun porch, a culinary herb garden and a mile-long wood-
                                                                                          land walk that cuts a path to the vineyards. (100 Grand Cru Drive;
                                                                                          434.984.4855;; tastings $10). —L.S.

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