Our day in Napa Valley had some ups and downs. Literally, since we took the aerial tram up to Sterling Vineyards and then back down to the parking lot. But ultimately, Sterling was a bit of downer because we were disappointed in the wine. The view was gorgeous, but we did not come to Napa to drink less-than-stellar wine. Our trip to Sterling came on the heels of a delicious lunch at Bouchon, which is a good way to sample Thomas Keller’s cooking without paying French Laundry prices — and eating 10 courses. It’s also one of the prettiest restaurants I’ve ever been to; it’s like a prototype of the ideal French bistro.
So, our day started on a high note (Bouchon) and then dipped down (Sterling). It was 4:30 PM at this point, and a lot of wineries were starting to close their tasting rooms. We barely had time to visit one more vineyard so we had to choose carefully. We had heard good things about Domaine Chandon, which makes sparkling wine and is owned by the esteemed Champagne company Moet. At this point, we were up north in Calistoga while Chandon was down in Yountville, right near where we had eaten lunch. But the distances in Napa Valley are surprisingly short and it’s easy to bounce from town to town as long as the traffic isn’t too bad. So we decided to head to Domaine Chandon, whose tasting room stays open until 6 PM.
Given the time, the traffic was a little backed up as people were heading south, back to San Francisco or the surrounding areas. It was a Thursday; I imagine that traffic is much worse on the weekends. But we made it to Domaine Chandon with plenty of time to spare. Right away we liked it. Before you enter the building (which has an architectural theme of wine barrels), you walk along a path that goes through beautiful landscaping. The tasting room, which is on the second floor, feels more like a lively, sophisticated bar.
I went for the Prestige Cuvée Tasting. For $16, you get almost a full Champagne glass each of étoile Brut, étoile Rosé and Reserve Pinot Noir Brut. You can keep the glass as a souvenir, but I didn’t take mine with me because I didn’t think it would make its way back to NYC all in one piece.
If you’re really feeling thirsty, you can opt for the Classic Tasting — it also costs $16, but you get to sample four sparkling wines: Chandon Brut Classic, Chandon Blanc de Noirs, Chandon Rosé and Chandon Riche. (Once again, you can keep the champagne glass.) If sparkling wine isn’t your thing, there is also a tasting of the wine from Chandon’s Carneros & Sonoma appellations. Again for $16, you get Carneros Chardonnay, Carneros Pinot Noir Rosé and Carneros Pinot Noir.
The tasting room has the atmosphere of celebration since most people are sipping — or gulping — sparkling wine. Another nice touch is that they serve food: sandwiches, seafood and caviar. Most wineries don’t. We were still full from lunch at Bouchon, so we didn’t eat anything. But if you’re hungry, it’s a good idea to take a look at the menu instead of drinking three glasses of bubbly on any empty stomach. And as long as one person in your wine-tasting party likes the sparkling stuff, it’s a very good idea to put Domaine Chandon on your Napa itinerary.