Although it’s late-January, we’re always in the mood for a celebratory glass of sparkling wine. In fact, we think this month is as fine a time as any for a champagne tour through Sonoma and Napa. Sound odd? After reading our guide to the best bubbly in Northern California’s wine country, we think you’ll reconsider.
Begin your journey at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards. Located about an hour north of San Francisco, on Highway 101, Gloria Ferrer is one of Sonoma’s finest champagne houses and the first sparkling wine vineyard in the Carneros region. The winery was founded in 1986 by Spanish descendants of the owners of Freixenet, one of the world’s largest producers of sparkling wine. While it’s currently in the midst of a face-lift, Ferrer’s exceptional bubbles can still be enjoyed at the winery. Reservations aren’t necessary (unless you’re traveling with a party of eight or more), so stop by for a glass or champagne flight. We recommend trying the sparklers that are exclusive to the wineries — the 2010 Brut Rosé is light, crisp and creamy.
After that stop, head to Domaine Carneros, a certified organic sparkling wine house that sits on the border of Sonoma and Napa counties. With manicured hedges, a grand staircase, beige brick walls and its imposing situation on top of a hill, the stunning estate resembles a majestic French château. Owned by the famed Taittinger champagne family, Domaine Carneros offers a lovely 90-minute tour three times a day (11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.). The visit is perfect for those who don’t know a lot about the champagne-making process. The staff is knowledgeable, so go ahead and ask about proper technique for disgorgement, ideal temperatures for wine cellars and prebottled rosé colors. The tour includes three pours of sparkling wine as well as a tasting of the winery’s red varietals. If you fancy a more private experience, grab a table at Domaine Carneros’ cozy bistro-style salon. It’s elegant and feels like a little piece of France. The delicately bubbled Le Rêve is a must with artisan cheeses and smoked salmon.
When it’s time for dinner, move deeper into Napa with a stop at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Auberge du Soleil Restaurant. The upscale dining room is decorated in warm butter tones with wooden accents. A large fireplace is the centerpiece of the relaxing-yet-bustling eatery. The cuisine is traditional Californian, but with a delectable refinement and Mediterranean influence. Creamy pumpkin soup, lemon risotto with wild shrimp, and melt-in-your-mouth petrale sole with chorizo, clams and potato dauphine should come to mind. Of course, you’ll want to wash it all down with a bottle of Roederer Estate Brut Rosé. It comes from the nearby Anderson Valley, and is an excellent sparkler. After such a memorable meal, recover overnight at the adjoining hotel, the Five-Star Auberge du Soleil.
The next day, wake up and make your way to Schramsberg Vineyards just south of Calistoga. The region’s first sparkling wine house opened in 1965 and is known for making handcrafted, high-quality pours in limited quantities. Every president since Richard Nixon has served Schramsberg wines during official functions. Schramsberg also sparkles because of massive hillside caves on the property that were originally dug by Chinese laborers in the 1880s. Before stopping by, do bear in mind that Schramsberg requires reservations for all daily tours and tastings.