Harvest Destinations

By Robert Whitley

September 17, 2019 6 min read

Throughout these United States, wherever wine is made (and that's just about every state), harvest is underway. There is no better time to visit wine country. Harvest is a feast for the senses, with the smell of fermenting grapes in the air, warm days and cool nights, and the up-close-and-personal view of the new vintage.

Whether you are in New York or Virginia, Missouri or Idaho, California or Washington, the time for a visit is now.

Rooted as I am in California, I tend to spend some time each harvest in my home state. This week, I offer up three California destinations that IMHO are pure magic during the grape harvest.

First is Healdsburg, California, in the heart of Sonoma County. Healdsburg is surrounded by vineyards, from Chalk Hill, to Dry Creek, to the Russian River Valley. This small village with its quaint town square is a beehive of activity during harvest. There are numerous excellent bed-and-breakfast spots to choose from, but I typically decamp at Hotel Healdsburg, with its crackling fireplace in the bar area and exquisite menu offerings at Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen.

Paso Robles is another small California city with a big winery presence and a charming town square. A patio table at BL Brasserie (formerly Bistro Laurent), one of Paso's most prominent restaurants over the past two decades, puts you in the middle of everything, with local wines galore. And for a superb dining experience at a winery, the restaurant at Niner Wine Estates on the west side of Paso is about as good as it gets. The finest bed-and-breakfast around, The Canyon Villa, is also located on the west side. Chef William Carter, the proprietor, won't disappoint. He has serious game.

Napa, California, is perhaps the busiest destination of them all around harvest. I like to stay at the Rancho Caymus Inn, north of the city in the heart of the Napa Valley. Under the same ownership as the excellent Flora Springs Winery, Rancho Caymus features wood-burning fireplaces in nearly every room and is right next door to the iconic Beaulieu Vineyards Winery. You can't get much closer to the harvest than that, with trucks wheeling grapes to the crusher throughout the night. Also next door is the delicious Rutherford Grill, where there is no corkage fee if you bring in your own wine. Not to be missed at harvest is a stop at chef Ken Frank's La Toque, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Westin Hotel in the city of Napa. Frank runs a special truffle menu every year during harvest, and if you're lucky, he will personally shave truffles at your table.

Best Value

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

The Kinker 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles ($20) — Fans of ripe, juicy Paso Robles cabernet sauvignon will be thrilled with The Kinker by Four Vines. This vintage exhibits juicy aromas of blackberry and cassis, soft tannins and a solid finish. No need to cellar this one. Drink up and enjoy now. Rating: 88.

Landmark Vineyards 2017 'Overlook' Pinot Noir, California ($19.98) — It's past high time that California vintners paid attention to the entry-level pinot noir market. Until recently, drinkable pinot for less than $20 has been more a dream than a reality. Landmark, based in the Sonoma Valley, offers up this delicious example of value-priced pinot noir that is sure to hook wine lovers who balk at paying $40 or more for a decent pinot. Sourced from Monterey, Santa Barbara and Sonoma County vineyards, the 2017 Overlook delivers varietally correct notes of cherry, black tea and damp earth, with a hint of wood spice and modest tannins. Bravo. Rating: 87.

Tasting Notes

Foppiano 2015 Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley ($24.99) — Foppiano has long been among the handful of California wineries dedicated to the proposition that petite sirah has potential as an elegant table wine. I use the word "elegant" advisedly, for most early expressions of petite sirah were anything but, renowned for their aggressive, mouth-puckering tannins. Foppiano has discovered the secret to taming those coarse tannins, and its petite is consequently some of the finest in production. Yes, the 2015 is elegant though deeply colored. This vintage delivers vibrant aromas of blueberry and black currant, a dollop of wood spice and refined, supple tannins. Rating: 92.

Cortonesi 'La Manella' 2015 Rosso di Montalcino, Italy ($29.99) — While you are waiting for the more massive Brunellos from this vintage to mature, a rosso from this very good vintage makes a beautiful alternative. Cortonesi's La Manella shows notes of dried black cherry and spice, a moderate level of tannin and a long finish that comes to life with grilled meats of savory cheeses. Rating: 90.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]

Photo credit: Free-Photos at Pixabay

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