One dream of mine is to return to Italy and enjoy the rich landscape and culture of Tuscany.
I had the opportunity to travel there in the summer of 2001 with my high school choir to participate in an international choral festival. During our five-day trip, we toured the beautiful architecture and artwork of Pisa and Florence, tasted the bold flavors of authentic Italian cuisine and met some courteous, kind people along the way.
I cried on our last day because I didn’t want to leave. The only thing we didn’t get to do was sample the wine (our strict choir director was not having any of that!).
Until I can bring that Tuscan dream to fruition, the closest I can get is Napa Valley, about 100 miles northeast of the San Jose area.
This is not a knock on Napa Valley, which is beautiful in its own right. Despite the drought, the rows of vines were plush with green leaves and plump grapes when my friends and I visited the area this past Fourth of July weekend. After my trip, I discovered that I have so much more to learn about the area and wine in general.
Since there are hundreds of wineries in the Napa Valley area, we got a small taste of what the area has to offer. Below are highlights from some of the wineries we visited.
Castello di Amorosa, Calistoga
It’s hard to not be in awe of the large, brick castle surrounded by floral and grassy landscaping at Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga. The structure was built to look like an authentic,13th-century medieval Tuscan-style castle, according to the winery’s literature. Inside this castle are 107 rooms with 95 of them dedicated to winemaking, eight levels (four of them underground), and all ironwork, doors and windows made by Italian artisans.
The grounds also include a drawbridge and moat, three courtyards, prison and torture chamber and five towers. Visitors can be guided on a tour by an expert or guide themselves through the grounds.
Just as stunning are Castello di Amorosa’s wine offerings. The winery prides itself on producing wines in the Italian style, such as Pinot Bianco and Sangiovese, and growing red grapes in mostly hillside vineyards in the Napa Valley and around the castle.
I enjoy my wines on the sweeter side, so my favorites during the tasting were the Dolcino Gewurztraminer ($25 per bottle) and the Simpatica ($29 per bottle), a blend of Riesling and Moscato.
The Dolcino was fruity, crisp, light on the tongue and had floral notes (again, I’m a rookie at describing wine and excited to learn). The winery describes it as a “spicy, delicate white wine” that is on the slightly sweet side.
The Simpatica had a fruity aroma and was sweet and light, a nice summer wine to drink while relaxing on your patio or by the pool. This dessert wine has a citrus essense as well as aromas of gardenia, honeysuckle and hibiscus, according to the winery.
If you have to choose one winery to go to while in Napa Valley, I would highly recommend Castello di Amorosa for its beautiful architecture as well as its great variety of delicious wines.
Castello di Amorosa is located at 4045 N. St. Helena Highway. For more information, call (707) 967-6272 or visit www.castellodiamorosa.com.
V. Sattui Winery, St. Helena
I heard that V. Sattui in St. Helena is very popular not only for its wine but for its extensive food menu as well. The winery was jam-packed with cars and visitors, and the lines for the barbecue and the deli store were long.
What appealed to me about V. Sattui was its large lawn area filled with picnic tables and large, shady trees for people to enjoy some al fresco dining to pair with their wine.
In the barbecue area, the staff were grilling slabs of beef, pork, chicken and seafood, as well as offering an intriguing mozzarella bar and wood-fired pizzas. I decided to go with the salmon filet sandwich, grilled and served on ciabatta bread with cucumber, tomato and mixed greens. I also ordered a mixed greens salad with blue cheese, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette. My bill came out to about $20.
The salmon was fresh and flaky, with a good amount of smokiness from the grill. The only thing that was missing was that crispy skin that gives the fish extra brininess. The bread was nicely grilled and soft on the inside. However, it was dusted with a bit more flour than I would have liked, and I proceeded to get it all over my mouth and hands (I am kind of a messy eater, though).
The greens in the salad were crisp and fresh, but the vinaigrette had a little too much vinegar in it for my taste. I wish the walnuts were candied to offset the strong, bold taste of the blue cheese. Overall, there was a generous amount of food for what I paid for.
V. Sattui is located at 1111 White Lane in St. Helena. For more information about V. Sattui Winery, call (707) 963-7774 or visit www.vsattui.com.
Peju Province Winery, Rutherford
What I liked most about Peju Province Winery was that it offered a great deal on wine tastings: if you buy two bottles of wine, your $25 tasting fee is waived. I had no problem choosing two wines to bring home with me.
Of the four wines we tasted that day, the Sauvignon Blanc ($22 per bottle) and Provence ($23 per bottle) were my favorites.
The Sauvignon Blanc was crisp, tart and light on the tongue. It was described by Peju as a bright, lively and fresh wine. This is another great wine for the summer. It was more on the drier side to me, but it was very enjoyable.
The Provence had a fruity aroma, oakiness, a medium heaviness in the mouth, and was a nice mix of red and white. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and French Colombard. It was also aged in 100-percent neutral French oak barrels for six months, according to the winery.
Peju Provence Winery is a family-owned estate that was purchased by the owners more than 30 years ago.
Peju is located at 8466 St. Helena Highway in Rutherford. For more information, call (800) 446-7358 or visit www.peju.com.