Drink in the views in America's fabled wine country

Sara Schneider

Napa Valley travel planner: restaurants, wineries, hotels, and more

Press the switch to open the curtains in your valley-view roomat the Poetry Inn, and you're suspended with the primary-stripedhot-air balloons of postcard fame. Pedal up the Silverado Trail tothe Miner Family villa, climb the steps, look west over yourshoulder, and a world-class view is yours too. The first might be adecade's splurge; the second, just a weekend getaway. There aremany ways to enjoy this wine country.

I came to it recently a little reluctantly. Several decades ago,the Napa Valley that I knew well ― a jewel of a strip roughly35 miles long and up to 4 miles wide between the Vaca and theMayacamas mountain ranges ― was dotted with sedately grandwineries inherited by the offspring of Northern California's earlywine pioneers, along with a few humbler wineries scrabbled togetherby passionate new talents.

Deep pockets followed, hardscaping the valley with jaw-droppingshowplaces ― and with them, tales of instructions to checkwith the concierge for permission to picnic outside. I foundexcuses to explore newer, wilder wine country.

But you can't stay away from Napa forever if you love goodwine. To get my bearings, I dropped back into Grgich Hills'still-rustic tasting room. The crowd, not more than 33 years old onaverage, was happily swapping opinions with the equally young staffabout Mike Grgich's legendary Chardonnay. No pretension there.

So I ventured farther, to Clos Pegase, a Greek temple asinterpreted by architect Michael Graves; to the Persian palaceknown as Darioush; and to Quixote Winery, the valley's newestspectacle, a Hundertwasser design that Gaudí might have comeup with after a few too many tastings.

Sure, more wines in this valley cost $100 than should. Butcomparing those phenomenal Cabernets ― and Cab is king here― is open to all. Can you taste the proverbial Rutherforddust in wines from that area? The iron fist in the velvet gloveattributed to Stags Leap District Cabs?

Given all the options, though, what's a visitor to do? Choosewineries according to your interests, and assume you'll be back. Iwent back to Napa's roots at Rubicon Estate. The tour ― richin valley history ― ended in the caves with a barrel tastingof, in the words of our guide, Rubicon's "pure Cabernet." Behind mea woman, on her way from 70 to 80, remarked rather loudly, "I don'tthink I've ever tasted Cabernet without the Sauvignon part." Here'sto Napa Cab and to the young and old who come in search of it.

Napa Valley travel planner: restaurants, wineries, hotels, and more

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