First Time in Napa: Domaine Carneros a Perfect Aperitif

I’ll give them credit: Both men were spot on.

Last week, I stopped in at Kalyra by the Sea in Santa Barbara to grab a tasting, chat with my friend. We started talking to the pourer, and I told him I was headed up to Napa Valley.

I asked him if he had any recommendations, if he could suggest something. I told him I wasn’t a wine snob – that I was more interested in places that were beautiful and semi-reasonable (I didn’t want to pay any more than $15-$20 a glass, for example).

Five minutes later there was a sheet of paper in front of me completely covered in pen – he had mapped out an entire itinerary for me, from the drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to winery and lunch recommendations. It was absolutely amazing – beats the hell out of Internet research.

He was really big on Domaine Carneros as a first stop, and we decided it would be the test. If the first place was terrible, we could throw the list out the window.

I remember him telling me it was one of the first places you come across once you cross into Napa County and that it was up on a hill – a welcome center/gateway to the valley, if you will.

I’ve got to be honest: I was sort of blown away.

I’m not new to wine country – the Santa Ynez Valley is very close to Santa Barbara where I’m based – but I was not prepared for how vast the grape fields are up here in North Cal. They roll up and over hills and off into the distance, the rows of grapes perfectly straight – it’s just magnificent.

We sat on the balcony of Domaine Carneros, taking in the views and I pushed my chair out. The sun was hot but we were in the shade, out of the city and away from the noise. I pushed my chair back and stretched out my legs. I wasn’t that interested in paying $16 for three 2-ounce tastings, so I suggested we order a bottle of whatever the waiter recommended and relax.

Santos was a hell of a server – he was genuinely a friendly guy – and he told us the Brut Rose ($36) was his favorite because it had notes of sweetness but they weren’t overwhelming and it still drank nicely in the warm weather.

Cheers, Santos – there’s nothing much else I can say, you nailed it. It seems I’m getting good recommendations these days – I sort of feel like I’m on fire (famous last words).

I also learned something:  He brought the bottle over to the table and he opened it slowly – so slowly that I made a comment about it.

He explained that it’s the way you’re supposed to open sparkling wine. It should sound like woman’s sigh, he told us – that we shouldn’t see how far we can shoot the cork (I’m assuming that it’s a happy woman’s sigh – I’ve heard a few frustrated women in my day).

I had a peaceful experience hanging out at Domaine – the bubbles of the sparkling wine went nice with a plate of olives, pheasant pate, and sausages (coppa, soppressata, and garlic sausage, $17.50) and the views were calming. I’d highly recommend you stop by and try a bottle of their sparkling wine. Santos let us try a few others and they were all easy-drinking and smooth – perfect on a warm day.

We’re off to Sonoma in a few to continue the exploration of wine country. I think we are going to drive Highway One back to the city as the sun sets. Fingers crossed on the timing.

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