Visiting Wineries and Tasting Rooms

From the Napa Valley to Sonoma, to Washington, Oregon, France and beyond, there is no shortage of wine tasting places to visit.

Share with other Thirsty Girls, your favorite wineries and tasting rooms to visit. What was your experience like and what are your recommendations for other places nearby to visit?

Is there a lunch or dinner there to die for?

Do you recommend a certain time of year? Call ahead?

We’ll start…

Visiting Sonoma Valley- The Sonoma Valley is truly a delight. It’s a little more laid back than the Napa Valley and it’s easy to drive up and down Highway 12 to visit wineries.

Here are some must see spots:

  • Sonoma Plaza which has a great playground for kids,
  • the vineyard tram tour at Benziger Family Winery
  • and a stop by the Sonoma Cheese Factory.

Tasting Room Etiquette:

  • Don’t be afraid to spit! Just try not to splash the person next to you.
  • Expect to pay a fee in most tasting rooms (though you often get to keep the glass).
  • Call ahead if you have kids as some spots are kid-friendly and others aren’t.
  • Many smaller wineries require an appointment, so make sure to check before dropping by.
  • Avoid the crowds by visiting on a weekday.
  • Assign a designated driver or hire a limo to take you around and split the cost among the group.

What are your favorite wineries to visit?

How to Taste Wine

See, swirl, smell and sip…the four S’s of wine tasting. In this video, Leslie Sbrocco gives her secrets how See, Swirl, Smell and Sip are used to enhance your wine tasting experience.

See: Get an indication of the grape variety and age by looking at the wine.

Swirl: Swirl the wine to coat the glass with wine to allow the wine to express itself.

Smell: Identify the smells that come from the aroma of the wine.

Sip: Sipping the wine to assess the balance of the wine.

Wine Tasting: Napa Valley

As the most famous wine region in the United States, the Napa Valley has millions of visitors per year.

Must see spots:

  • the historic caves at Beringer Vineyards
  • lunch at Tra Vigne or Mustards Grill
  • a stop by the Oakville Grocery for picnic supplies

Watch Head Thirsty Girl, Leslie Sbrocco in the video below for some more tips and must-see wineries and restaurants to visit when traveling through Napa Valley.

Share your tips below for traveling through the Napa Valley to visit wineries, spas and other must see spots. Have a favorite hiking spot or outdoor activity?- Let other Thirsty Girls know!

How to Throw a Wine Tasting Party

 This week may seem ripe with anticipation for the official start of summer, but that’s no reason to stop celebrating. Here are some official Thirsty Girl tips for throwing a blind wine tasting party – park your stuffy assumptions about wine at the door. wine tasting

How to Host a Wine Tasting Party

1. Pick a regular meeting date for your tasting group (maybe once a month, or week, or day?).

2. Set a budget and pick a wine type or varietal to showcase. All Chardonnay’s or Syrah’s for example.

3. Ask everyone to buy a bottle in a certain price range or chip in money and let the host buy all the bottles. Start with wines you like or want to learn more about.

4. Pick a theme for your tasting:

For example: Napa Valley Cabernets vs. Sonoma Valley or Old world wines (European wines) vs. New World (Chile, Australia)

5. Bag the bottles or cover (tin foil works great) and number them for a blind tasting.

6. Set out dump buckets in case you want to pour out the wines (anything will do, a vase even).

7. Make tasting sheets for each wine. Note the color, aromas, flavors, and leave room for notes and your overall impressions. After uncovering make a note of the region, cost, name etc.

8. Put out some nibbles and start with small pours in the glass and leave plenty of room for swirling. Follow the four S’s. See. Swirl. Smell. Sip (then spit or swallow).

9. Discuss what colors you see, aromas you smell and flavors you taste. Compare notes and have fun! Take photo’s of your favorite label’s and take to the wine store to find.

10. Most of all enjoy!  wine tasting 2

Savvy Sipping: Exotic Whites for Uncorking Spring

As appeared on Bites on April 20, 2011

When the weather warms, I ache for the exotic.A Chardonnay lover and Sauvignon Blanc devotee I like to sip the familiar, but I know there’s more to explore. Heard

of Torrontes, Roussanne or Albarino? Each of these grape varieties will widen yourwine horizons.

Not sure what to try? Just like you have styles of clothing that you mix and match fora desired ensemble, think of swapping out wines by style. If you choose Chardonnay

because you like a richer, fuller style of white, then you might enjoy another winelike Grenache Blanc with some of the same characteristics.

Use my style guide and recommended wines to try as a shopping list. Go ahead … take a springtime sip on the wild side.

If you like Chardonnay … try Roussanne or Grenache Blanc

Chardonnay is generally a rich white with tropical fruit flavors and creamy texture. Roussanne and Grenache Blanc are white grape varieties that can offer similarly styled dry wines. Both grapes hail from the Rhone region of France (along with sister grapes Viognier and Marsanne) and offer aromas of ripe fruit and often a hintof nutty smoothness. These grape varieties are planted from Spain to Australia and

France to California so enjoy the journey.

Wines to try:Yangarra spring wines

Yangarra Roussanne, McLaren Vale, Australia $22

Zaca Mesa Roussanne, Santa Ynez Valley, California $25

Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles, California $25

Bonny Doon “Le Cigare Blanc” Arroyo Seco, California $22 (a blend of both Grenache Blanc and Roussanne)

Perrin & Fils “Les Sinards” Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, France $40 (mostly Grenache Blanc)

If you like Pinot Grigio … try Soave and Orvieto.

Though there are world-class producers of Pinot Grigio, the majority of bottles are simply light and lemony. For a similar style with more intensity, look for Italianwhites named Soave and Orvieto. Both are named for places in Italy — Soave in the north around Verona and Orvieto in central Italy in Umbria — and both made not with Grigio grapes but other G’s – grapes named Garganega and Grechetto. These wines are crisp, zesty and often complex.

Vin Soave springwineWines to try:

Inama Soave Classico, Italy $15

Pieropan “La Rocca” Soave Classico, Italy $35

Ruffino Orvieto Classico, Italy $10

Antinori Santa Cristina “Campogrande” Orvieto Classico, Italy $12

If you like Sauvignon Blanc … try Albarino.

Sauvignon Blanc is a grape known for its mouth-puckering freshness and touch of herbal aromas. It’s sassy and classy at the same time. Another variety you might loveif you’re an SB fan finds its home primarily in Spain. Albarino is a juicy, succulent white from an area named Rias Baixas (pronounced ree-ahsh bi-shus) situated onthe west coast of Spain just above Portugal. Its seaside location makes Albarino- based wines the ideal partner for all types of fish, salads, and fresh-from-the-gardenfare. (There are even a few versions from California to sample.)

Wines to try:

Martin Codax Albarino Rias Baixas, Spain $13

Fillaboa Albarino Rias Baixas, Spain $18

Vionta Albarino Rias Baixas, Spain $19

Terras Gauda “O Rosal” Rias Baixas, Spain $24 (blend of Albarino and othergrapes like Loureira and Caino Branco)

Tangent Albarino “Paragon Vineyard” Edna Valley, California $17

If you like Viogner or Gewürztraminer … try Torrontes.

Aromatic wines such as Viognier or Gewurztraminer are like perfume for the palate. Spicy, floral aromas mix it up with ripe fruit flavors in usually dry-styled whites.If you enjoy drinking these types of wines, add Torrontes to your list. With peach blossom scents wafting from the glass, Torrontes fools you into thinking its sweet. Most, however, are dry and lusciously fruity. Crisp yet creamy these wines are produced in Argentina from areas such as Mendoza and the high valley of Cafayate. Torrontes spring wine

Wines to try:

Acordeon Torrontes Cafayate, Argentina $9

Familia Zuccardi “Santa Julia” Torrontes, Mendoza, Argentina $10

Dominio del Plata “Crios de Susana Balbo” Torrontes, Cafayate, Argentina$14

Bodega Tamari, Torrontes, La Rioja, Argentina $15

If you like sweeter Riesling … try Moscato.

What is one of the fastest growing categories of wine? Moscato. It’s slightly sweet, often bubbly and always delicious. The explosively aromatic white is appealingto just about everyone. It pairs with a wide range of foods, too, from spicy Kung Pao chicken to apricots dipped in dark chocolate. Lower in alcohol than mostother whites, it’s a quaffer to quench your thirst. Most Moscato hails from Italy but

Californian versions are coming on fast as the grape rises in popularity.

Wines to try:

Saracco Moscato d’Asti, Italy $16

• Caposaldo Moscato, Italy $14

La Badia Moscato d’Asti, Italy $20

Middle Sister “Sweet and Sassy” Moscato, California $12

St. Supery Moscato, Napa Valley, California $20

Can’t decide? These blends are all made with a mix of grapes such as Riesling,Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and

Muscat to name a few. All have a whisper of sweetness making them ideal for exoticspringtime sipping.

Wines to try:

Waterbrook Melange Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington $15waterbrook springwines

Peter Lehmann “Layers” Adelaide, Australia $16

Evolution American White wine from Sokol Blosser Winery $17

(all prices are approximate and vary depending upon market)

Valentine’s Day Sipping

Cupid is drawing back his arrow and it’s almost time to shoot. What will be in your glass when his bow goes? Will it be Champagne? Belgian beer? A shot of agave? Let us know what you’re pouring February 14th and we’ll share with the Thirsty Girls.

Here are my suggestions for sexy wine jewels that shimmer and shine.

Sparkling Stars under $20

What would Valentine’s Day be without bubbles? A popping cork revs up the mood meter fast. We all know about true Champagne from the Champagne region of France, but there are many other options for fabulous fizz at bargain prices. Try sparklers from other regions of France and Italy as well as those hailing from Spain and the southern hemisphere.


Secco Rose Italian Bubbles $12 secco

A newly-launched company by the beautiful Italian wife of Washington vintner Charles Smith, Ginevra and her sister Olivia began a bubbly company in honor of their Italian homeland. With two bottlings under their Gucci belts, they’re rocking it! Go girls.

Toad Hollow Vineyards “Risque” Blanquette de Limoux, France $16

This frog can-can and does-does when it comes to unique sparkling wine. Though a California based winery, Toad Hollow is bringing in sparkles from one of my favorite hidden gem areas, Limoux (lee-moo) in the south of France.

Codorniu “Anna de Codorniu” Brut Rose, Cava, Spain $15

Made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes in true methode tradicional style, this alluring garnet-hued bubbly is a stellar buy. It delivers twice the quality for the price leaving you more money for your Valentine’s Day dinner.

Vigne Regali “Principessa Perlante” Gavi, Italy $17

Lightly sparkling and flatteringly fruity, this unique bubbly made from the Cortese grape is a star to seek out. I recommend pouring a glass while you’re getting dressed and another three while you’re getting undressed.

Graham Beck Brut Rose, South Africa $16principessa

From one of South Africa’s top producers, this Chardonnay/Pinot Noir based rose is a class act. Crisp and fresh, it’s a sipper with style.

Sweets for the sweet

These wines have varying levels of sweetness from delicately sweet to finger-lickingly sticky. Match up with a platter of dark chocolate, caramels with sea salt and chocolate covered strawberries then retire for the evening.

pacific rim framboisePacific Rim Framboise $14

This raspberry wine that can be sipped alone or pour a dash in your glass of bubbly kir-style for lovely pink color and dash of sex appeal. Think about drizzling over vanilla bean ice cream for a visual and taste treat.

2008 Paringa Sparkling Shiraz, South Australia $17

Deep purple and bubbly, sparkling shiraz is an Aussie export that will put you down under. What more could you ask for with dark chocolate? Good night mate.

Gonzales Byass “Nectar” Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Jerez Spain $19

Pronounced Pedro himenez named for the same grape variety, this deeply rich and sweet wine is like drinking pure chocolate. Decadent with a capital D. (tip: serve well chilled)

2009 Weingut Robert Weil Riesling Tradition, Rheingau, Germany $28

With a whisper of sweetness, this elegant, sheer white is a stunner with lightly sweet fruit tarts or soft cheeses. Even if you think you don’t like Riesling, you will fall in love with this wine when Cupid’s arrow strikes.

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Porto, Portugal $50

My favorite Ports are tawny. These wood aged beauties have an amber (or tawny) color and showcase spice, caramel and orange peel aromas. Paired with just the right amount of sweetness, the Taylor Fladgate is a classic sexy sipper.

A Big State on a Small Scale

Though the California wine industry is big, it still embraces small, family-owned wineries crafting boutique bottles. Here’s a roundup of my latest discoveries; ranging from affordable to luxurious, and spanning the state from north to south, these vintners tell a story with every glass.

maritas vineyardMarita’s Vineyard:

It’s the American dream. After coming to California as a teenager from Mexico, Maro Montes worked his way up from laborer to vineyard manager to Vice President of Operations for the famous Joseph Phelps Vineyards. With a passion for growing grapes it was only natural to start his own label; in 2003 he did just that. Their signature Cabernet from the family’s 3-acre vineyard is a collector’s dream. Looking for a unique Napa experience? Make an appointment and get a home-cooked lunch from the Montes clan.

Star Sip: 2005 SOMA Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville, Napa $86. Named for Maro’s daughters, this supple, smooth red is a true beauty. 

Watch Leslie’s video interview with the Montes Family on TGTV


bolenBolen Family Estates:

Celebrate Merlot Mondays with the Bolens. After a career spent running construction companies, Mike Bolen felt it was time to build something new. He and son Eric are proprietors of Napa Valley-based Bolen Family Estates whose focus is only Merlot. They’ve hired Merlot master Tom Rinaldi (Duckhorn’s founding winemaker) and managed to garner high praise in a valley devoted to Cabernet.

Star Sip: 2007 Bolen Legacy Merlot, Oak Knoll District Napa Valley $60. Pure Merlot, pure pleasure from the world-class Beckstoffer Orchard Vineyard.

Watch Leslie’s video interview with Eric Bolen on TGTV


C. Donatiello Winery:

For those wanting to visit California soon, put C. Donatiello on your itinerary. An in-the-know spot in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, the estate has wine-inspired aroma gardens, an intimate concert series and most importantly, killer wine. Owner Chris Donatiello, a young vintner with a rich background in the business, along with winemaker Webster Marquez, craft elegant Chardonnay and terroir-driven Pinot Noir.

Star Sip: 2008 C. Donatiello Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley $38. Silky, sexy and complex, a Pinot to embrace full on. 


arista-labelArista Winery:

This destination winery with Japanese -inspired landscaping, beautiful hillside panoramas and scenic picnic areas, is another Russian River Valley treasure. The real treasure, though, is what’s in the bottle. Focused on Pinot Noir including their signature “Longbow” Pinot, the winery started in 2002 by the McWilliams family also produces swoon-worthy aromatic whites. In addition to Arista, owner Mark McWilliams has a miniscule-production brand that makes some of the best Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc I’ve ever sampled. Named Mark David, it’s a discovery not to be missed.

Star Sip: 2009 Arista Gewurztraminer “Ferrington Vineyard” Anderson Valley $25. Spicy, sultry, and still crisp, a stellar example of New World Gewurz. 

Star Sip: 2009 Mark David Sauvignon Blanc “Skellenger Vineyard” Oakville, Napa Valley $32. If I gave points to wine, this Sauvignon would be a perfect 100


Jorian Hill Vineyards:

Focused on Rhone varieties such as Viognier and Syrah, this family-owned winery is one to watch. Gary and Jeanne Newman (he president of 20th Century Fox television and she an entertainment attorney) named the brand for their three kids. When the duo were looking for a retreat north of Los Angeles in bucolic Santa Barbara County, the property they found already had vineyards so instead of just a home they found a new passion – wine.

Star Sip: 2007 Jorian Hill “BEEspoke” Santa Ynez Valley $38. A Rhone blend of equal parts Grenache and Syrah, this intensely juicy, peppery red has celebrity status.


Longoria Wines:

Well-respected winemaker Rick Longoria began his eponymous winery in 1982 focusing on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley. He is known for Pinot, but today his entire portfolio is world class. My favorites are Rick’s esoteric Spanish varietals. Making California Albarino and Tempranillo has brought him well-deserved attention and acclaim.

Star Sip: 2007 Longoria Tempranillo “Clover Creek Vineyard” Santa Ynez Valley $36. The best version of the variety I’ve ever sipped outside of Spain. A stunning red with layers of flavor and loads of character. 


Bien Nacido Vineyards:

If we had grand cru vineyards in this country, Bien Nacido would rank at the top. Located in the Santa Maria Valley of California’s southern/central coast, the historic vineyard been the source of cult wines from the likes of Au Bon Climat and Sine Qua Non. In 1969, the Miller family purchased the property and only now is launching their own wine from the famous plot of land.

Star Sip: 2007 Bien Nacido Vineyards Syrah $52. Deeply-hued, licorice-scented red that captures the power-packed intensity of Syrah. 

Sips to Savor: Wines I liked in 2009

sips2savor-01sips2savor-02I went through stories and tasting notes from last year—still seems strange to say that—and found some wine favorites from bubbles to bargains. Please share your top picks with the rest of us Thirsty Girls.



J “Cuvee 20,” Russian River Valley, California $20 – J is focused on bubbly and at this price you can’t afford NOT to drink it all season long.

Mumm Napa “Brut Prestige,” Napa Valley, California $20 – Brut indicates a dry wine and this is smooth yet succulent.

Lucien Albrecht Brut Rose, Cremant d’Alsace, France $23 – Hailing from the Alsace region, this top-notch pink sparkler is perfect paired with holiday fare.

Iron Horse “Russian Cuvee,” Green Valley, California $33 – With a crimson label and lush, rich style the Russian cuvee is a holiday treasure.

Henriot Brut “Souverain,” Champagne, France $44 – Henriot’s sleek sophistication is known to insiders who love Champagne.

Pol Roger Reserve Brut, Champagne, France $45 – A full-bodied winner from one of Champagne’s traditional houses.


2008 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier, California $13 – A racy yet rich combination that can both foil sausage stuffing and embrace sweet potatoes.

2008 Rodney Strong “Charlotte’s Home” Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County $15 – From this classic Sonoma winery comes an ideal summer sipper that’s vibrant, fruit-driven and pure fun to drink.

2008 Leeuwin Estate “Siblings” Savuginon Blanc/Semillon, Margaret River, Australia $20 – Western Australia’s most famous winery, Leeuwin is a name to know. This beautifull Bordeaux -style blend is a one-two punch of fresh citrus fruit with creamy notes.

2008 Persimmon Creek Vineyards, Seyval Blanc, Georgia $23 – This beautifully packaged white from Georgia’s top boutique winery shows off its unique clove and citrus notes.

2009 Casa Marin “Estero Vineyard” Sauvignon Gris, San Antonio Valley $25 – A charismatically eclectic producer who pioneered the uber-cool climate San Antonio Valley mere miles from the ocean, Maria Luz Marin’s Rieslings and Pinots shine, but explore this unique white, too.

2007 Domaines Leflaive, Macon-Verze $36 – This balanced, stylish white from highly-regarded Burgundy producer, Domaines Leflaive, is everything you’d want from world-class Chardonnay without a world-class price tag.


2008 Wolffer Estate Rose, The Hamptons Long Island, New York $15 – A stylish pink drink from one of New York’s famous wine names, Wolffer.

2008 McDowell Grenache Rose, Mendocino, California $15 – Brimming with red berry fruit and a peppery kick, this powerful pink is an ideal pick for red drinkers.

2008 Inman Family “OGV” Rose of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California $25 – Star Pinot Noir producer, Kathleen Inman, has crafted a stylish pink bejeweled with floral aromas and juicy strawberry flavors. It’s a beauty

2007 Domaine Drouhin “Arthur” Chardonnay, Dundee Hills, Oregon $30 – From Dijon clones grown in Oregon, this classy white is named for winemaker Veronique Drouhin’s son.



2007 Toasted Head Untamed Red, California $13 – A raucous, muscular blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, this bold red is a must-buy for football season.

2008 Saintsbury “Garnet,” Carneros, California $20 – Over-delivering quality at an affordable price, the Garnet is a gem.

2008 La Crema Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, California $24 – An aromatic, layered Pinot Noir that’s elegant and stylish.

2005 Albino Armani Foja Tonda, Vallagarina, Italy $25 – This 400-year old producer brought the spicy red grape, Foja Tonda, back from near extinction.

2007 Cadaretta Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington $35 – A boutique producer garnering rave reviews for intense, hearty reds.

2007 Barboursville “Reserve” Cabernet Franc, Virginia $23 – With a rich history, this respected winery is crafting sleek and succulent Cabernet Franc.

2006 White Hall “Monticello Cuvee des Champs,” Virginia $30 – Seamless blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc.


Bargain Bets:

2008 Columbia Crest “Two Vines,” Riesling, Washington $8 – A bright, slightly- sweet sipper worth twice the price.

2009 Emiliana “Eco Balance” Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Bio Bio $9 – This super-value white focused on eco-friendly growing practices is simply a delicious sip

2009 Maquis “Calcu” Rose, Colchagua $12 – As a dry rose fan, nothing pleases me more than discovering a stunner like this juicy pink. The family-owned winery is one to watch…and buy.

2008 De Martino “Legado” Reserva Chardonnay, Limari $15 – With a commitment to expressing terroir in each wine, this boutique producer crafts wines of integrity. This classy white is crisp yet lush with impeccable balance.

Codorniu Pinot Noir Brut, Cava, Spain $15 – Impress for less with this beautifully-packaged pink wine made from 100 percent Pinot Noir. Complex and classy, it’s worth twice the price.


Splurge Sips:

2007 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California $42 –  A perennial favorite that captures the sexy allure of Pinot Noir.

2006 Melis “Elix” Priorat, Spain $45 – Power-packed yet approachable, this blend based on Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, marries Priorat’s ruggedness with New World flair.

2006 Pepper Bridge Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $50 – Winemaker Jean-Francois Pellet is known for his way with Merlot. Deep and concentrated, this world-class red is a sexy summer indulgence.

2004 Ceretto Barolo “Zonchera” Barolo, Italy $51 – Classic Barolo showcasing personality and sense of place without a typical “ouch” price tag.

2007 Merry Edwards, Pinot Noir “Olivet Lane,” Russian River Valley, California $60 – Queen of California Pinot, Merry’s wines are simply stupendous.

2007 Jarvis “The Science Project” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, California $105 – Pricey, but nearly perfect wine. With layers of complexity, you can drink this limited-production bottle now or cellar.