Ten Top Wineries to Visit in the USASubmitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Tuesday 12th October 2010
- Choosing a winery to visit.
- Winery etiquette.
- List of great wineries to tour.
There's something distinctly romantic about wine. In fact, what better epitomizes a SharpMan’s romantic intent than the term "wining and dining" — especially for St. Valentine's Day. Now before you think I'm crazy for mentioning Valentine's Day in December, consider my true motive:
This Valentine's Day, get away from the nearest, crowded stylish restaurant of the moment and try something different. How about a visit to a winery? A weekend centered around wine tasting can be romantic and let's face it: surprising your significant other with a weekend away can put you in the good books for at least two years. But because wineries book early, your planning must begin as early as possible — thus Valentine's Day in December…
Choosing a Winery
Making the decision to visit a winery is the easy part. Choosing the right one for you often becomes difficult. For example, SharpMen should avoid visiting a winery that has failed to produce quality wines or ones you don’t care for. Take the following steps to aid you in your choice for a romantic weekend winery trip:
Go with a personal preference.
Each person's wine preference is mostly determined by personal preference, not by any detailed and connoisseur-type knowledge of taste, flavor and body. "Does it taste good?" is usually the only consideration for the average SharpMan. So if you and your traveling companion love a particular wine beyond all others, then visit that winery — you're guaranteed to enjoy the wine tasting.
Go for quality and reputation.
If there is no particular wine you are just dying to taste in its native surroundings, then you can't beat opting for a winery that is renowned for its quality wine and service. Consulting our list of ten wineries below will direct you to some of the top wineries in the USA. Alternatively, search Web sites like America's Best Online . This site has compiled the top ten wineries in the USA (but note that eight of those are in California). Wine Spectator offers winery reviews of great wineries around the world and The WineWeb lists top wineries worldwide.
Decide how far you want to travel.
Naturally, when you think of wineries in the USA, you're going to think of California. But don't worry if you can't make it there. Fine wines are produced all over the country. So go ahead and decide how far you want to travel. Do you want to drive to a winery near your town, or are you willing to travel farther? You're almost guaranteed a good winery in any state you choose. If you can’t find what you’re looking for online, check with the local Chamber of Commerce or Convention and Visitors Bureau for suggestions.
Choose a romantic place to stay.
Visiting wineries is a daytime activity, so you’ll have to find a place to spend the night. Most wine-making properties are located in rural areas with plenty of romantic inns and bed and breakfast accommodations nearby. Consider booking a room in one of these instead of a larger chain hotel or motel. But beware: not every lodging calling itself a "bed and breakfast" will meet your expectations for a romantic venue. Check out SharpTravel’s How to Find the Perfect Bed & Breakfast for a full listing of industry terms and specific questions to ask the innkeeper of the accommodation you would like to book.
A worrying aspect of visiting a winery is the fear that you will make an idiot of yourself among wine connoisseurs. The belief that you need to know all about that swishing, spitting and lingo associated with wine tasting usually keeps most of us away. Fear not: learning a few basics and conducting yourself in a particular manner will give you the confidence to taste and spit with the best of them.
Learn some basics. Refer to our previous articles, Navigating a Wine List and Wine Toys for Your LovePad for some basic knowledge of wines and equipment. Taste a few different wines before you go to determine if you like sweet or dry, red or white, etc. This will help you understand what you’re tasting at the winery and will also allow you to articulate your preferences when asked.
Avoid cologne and smoking.
No one will appreciate if you wear strong cologne to a tasting, as the aroma of the wine is an essential part of the experience. It's also advisable to avoid smoking immediately before a tasting (it will effect the taste of the wine).
Watch your remarks.
Be diplomatic in your remarks. Remember that the pourer is probably the owner or at least an employee of the winery and will take pride in the wines produced there. Expressing personal preference is acceptable but there's no need to be disparaging or rude in your comments. Also try to suppress grimaces.
Keeping your host or pourer involved in a round of twenty questions about wine is not what you're there for: you’re there to taste and possibly buy. While it’s perfectly acceptable not to purchase wine once you taste, remember that wineries are in the business of selling wines. They’re happy to let you sample and generally enjoy answering a few questions, but no host or pourer will appreciate it if he dedicates himself to a highly inquisitive guest, only to have that guest walk away after several hours without making a purchase. If you don't intend to buy anything, allow the host to move around the room to other visitors and simply enjoy the tasting experience on your own.
Ten Top Wineries in the USA
Robert Mondavi Winery, California
Opened in 1966, this winery has become particularly famous for the high quality of its Napa Valley wines and especially it Reserve wines. In his book "Guide to the Best Wineries of North America," Andre Gayot places the Robert Mondavi Winery on his lists of "25 Highly Reliable Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon Producers." It has also appeared on America's Best Online "Top Ten Wineries in the USA." Winery tours are available most days and special events are often arranged. Advance reservations are recommended.
Carmenet Vineyard, California
Carmenet Winery has developed a reputation for quality Bordeaux-style wines and is particularly famous for the Carmenet Estate red. Its Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon won a gold award at the 2000 Sonoma Harvest Fair. You'll need to make a special appointment to get into this winery.
Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington
Also on the America's Best Online list, this winery dedicates itself to producing quality wines at moderate prices and has become the flagship of Washington wineries. Its 1998 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Chardonnay was Wine Spectator magazine's "Spectator Selection" in the August 2000 edition and has been on the magazine’s "Top 100" list three times in the last five years. The winery boasts about 250,000 visitors per year. Tours are available to the public without special appointment.
Llano Estacado Winery, Texas
Located in a beautiful "Texas Alamo"-style stone and concrete building, this winery has won more awards for its wine than any other winery in the state of Texas. The crisp white wines of Llano Estacado have steadily improved over the years to the point where they are considered world class by anyone's standards. The winery’s current portfolio of wines include Cabernet and Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Chenin Blanc, and Port. Llano Estacado is open to the public for tours and tastings.
Brotherhood Winery, New York
If you’d like to add a little historical content to your weekend, try Brotherhood Winery. Established in 1839, this winery lays claim to being the oldest winery in the USA. It also has the advantage of being located in the picturesque village of Washingtonville. Wine production is up to 50,000 cases a year and the facility boasts a number of great specialty wines and alcohol-free wines that compete well in the domestic and international markets. No special appointments are necessary in order to take a tour.
Dry Creek Vineyard, California
Another one of America's Best Online's "Top Ten," this winery is particularly famous for its flagship wines, the Fume Blancs. Dry Creek markets their products to all 50 U.S. states and in least 16 countries around the world. A beautiful property with 105 acres of vineyard space, Dry Creek is open to the public.
Ponzi Vineyards, Oregon
Ponzi is the oldest and still one of the best wineries in Oregon. It has been regularly listed in the Wine Spectator's "Top 100 Wines" and the Wine Advocate has recognized winemaker Dick Ponzi as one of the "Top 15 International Winemakers." Of particular excellence are the Riesling and Chardonnay. The Pinot Gris is also of fine quality. Tastings are available every day of the week from February to December.
Beringer Vineyards, California
The focal point of this winery is Rhine House — a beautiful California redwood, brick and stucco house built into the hillside. Beringer is the anchor winery for the conglomerate American Wine World Estates, Inc. that produces a huge amount of wines. Andre Gayot lists Beringer on his "25 Highly Reliable Cabernet Sauvignon Producers." Tours are available most days.
Chateau Montelena Winery, California
This Napa Valley winery offers visitors some fine quality wines among the luxury of a grand medieval-style, stone chateau set into the hillside. Quality and consistency are the trademarks of Chateau Montelena. They produce particularly good Chardonnay, Cabernet and Zinfandel. Open to the public every day, but there is a small charge for tastings.
Merryvale Vineyards, California
This winery is not short on awards. Wine & Spirits magazine has just named it a "Winery of the Year" for the second year in a row. It has been mentioned and acclaimed on numerous occasions by Wine Spectator magazine, and the winery’s Chardonnay enjoys top ratings at wine tastings internationally. Tours and special event reservations are available.This article last updated on Tuesday 12th October 2010