Best of Napa

Top 75 California Wines to Try Before You Quit Drinking (a non-dump bucket list if you will!)

In my last article, I listed the Top 75 French Wines to Try Before You Quit Drinking.  In this article I look at the “non-dump bucket” list for wines from California.  This proved to be a different task.  First, very few wineries have a long track record of making great wine.  Secondly, while California is diverse, it does not have the diversity of climates and terroir and grape varietals of France.  Still, it does produce some of the best wines in the world and any wine lover should make it a point to try as many of them as they can.  Here is my list:

1. Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon – It’s hard to pick the first wine.  This one is a great wine in every vintage and has been for a long time.  Expensive but still possible to afford and made in large enough quantities to be found in grocery stores.  Every lover of Cabernet should try this once.

Top Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

California's Napa Valley is undoubtedly the most famous wine region in the United States.  As you might expect from a California wine region, Napa exudes star quality.  Even 25 years ago, the valley bustled with activity and attracted tourists from all over the country.  Today Napa Valley is one of the world's flagship wine regions, with approximately 400 wineries and a reputation for top-quality wines.

For many wine lovers, Napa Valley is synonymous with cabernet sauvignon.  This late-ripening grape flourishes in Napa Valley's warm days and cool nights.  While cabernet sauvignon grapes thrive all over the Napa Valley AVA, they do particularly well in the Rutherford and Oakville sub-regions, which are AVAs in themselves.  (Napa Valley has 15 subregions, all of which are also AVAs.)

Best Napa Chardonnay (For the Money) asked a panel of wine experts for their recommendation for the best Napa Chardonnay (for the money):

California Chardonnay has entered a new golden era, and there are terrific, cooler climate examples available from all over the State. These great new Chards tend to be balanced, with minerality and strong acidity, as well as less obtrusive new oak than was the trademark of California Chardonnay even five years ago. Napa does not have a particularly cool climate, so the wines from this region tend to have more ripe, tropical fruit characteristics, and more richness, as well as more of a creamy mouth feel, thanks in large part to the new oak typically used for fermentation and aging. Nonetheless, for those who like the rich, tropical fruit style of Chardonnay, there are some great examples from Napa that are relative values. My top pick for the money is the Arnot-Roberts Watson Ranch Napa Valley Chardonnay, with the current release going for a relatively reasonable average of $35. Here I get more lemon and lemon cream than super-ripe tropical fruit, but with solid weight and creamy texture. Also quite good but considerably pricier, at about $50, is the Hestan Vineyards Chardonnay, made by sought after Napa winemaking consultant Mark Herold. - Richard Jennings, Featured Contributor and the Founder

Napa Valley: Best Wineries for Beautiful Gardens & Landscaping

There are some Napa wineries that stand out for their beautiful gardnes and impeccable landscaping. has scoured Napa to find the wineries that are worth checking out if only for the gardens. The list below is in no particular order.

Franciscan St. Helena - While wine libraries are not uncommon in Napa, the space allocated for the purpose at Franciscan stands out. Lots of warm wood, long tables, and floor to ceiling storage make for an impressive but not overwhelming atmosphere for those seeking to schedule a private event or tasting, or interested in attending one of the winery’s daily educational seminars. Read more...

Best Recommendations for Napa Cabernet Sauvignons under $100

As wine enthusiasts know all too well, great Napa Cabernet Sauvignons are often priced north of $100 and out of reach for many buyers. Of course, price by itself is not a good indicator of a great wine. Moreover, the price of a wine is likely to be impacted by scarcity and marketing as much as the quality of the wine. As such, we asked our panel of wine experts to recommend great Napa Cabernet Sauvignons priced under $100:

Napa Valley: Best Wineries for Napa History Buffs

Interested in the history behind Napa Valley and the evolution of the wines you are tasting? has scoured Napa to find the wineries that devote attention to the history of Sonoma wine country. The list below is in no particular order nor is it by any means complete (given the long list of wineries that shaped Napa).

Madonna Estate Napa - For Napa history buffs, Madonna Estate is a must stop. The original winery was founded by a bona fide Italian immigrant during one of the earliest waves of Napa vinification, in 1922. After being sold in the 1970s, a new iteration of Madonna was founded by some of the family heirs just a few years later. Today, they boast the distinction of representing four generations of winemaking. Read more...

Napa Valley: Best Wineries for Picnics

Planning a picnic in Napa? has scoured Napa Valley to find the best wineries for picnics. The list below is in no particular order.

Rutherford Hill Winery Rutherford - If you have the drive time and the picnic basket, and you’re looking for one of the best outdoor eating areas in Napa, head up to Rutherford Hill, where you can sit in one of three dedicated picnic grounds and gaze out at the valley below. Read more...

Napa Valley: Best Wineries for Art Lovers

Some Napa Valley wineries do a fantastic job of displaying art from both local and national artists. has scoured Napa to find the wineries that devote time and attention to displaying art. The list below is in no particular order.

Artesa Winery Napa (sculpture) - If you’re a buff of just about anything – art, architecture, the history of winemaking, great landscaping, or riding your bike- then this place is for you. Artesa has something for everyone, beginning with fountains that greet you at eye level as you make your way up to the tasting room. One of the few wineries with an artist in residence, Artesa decorates its grounds with sculpture and glass installations by Gordon Huether. Read more...

Napa Valley: Best Wineries for Hosting Large Groups

Taking a large group or even hiring a bus for a trip to Napa? has scoured Napa Valley to find the wineries best suited to host large groups. The list below is in no particular order.

Folie a Deux Oakville -
Folie a Deaux is a psychiatric term that refers to two people sharing the same delusional ideas. Perhaps a whimsical name for a winery, but appropriate if the founders of the winery happen to both be psychology professionals. While the original couple no longer own the winery, their legacy lives on in the Rorschach dancers on the logo. Read more...

Napa Valley: Best Wineries to Take in a View

There are some Napa wineries that simply have the good fortune of being located in a prime spot for visitors to take in a grand view. has scoured Napa Valley to find the wineries that are worth checking out if only for the view. The list below is in no particular order.

Signorello Vineyards Napa - There are two things that are unique about Signorello, the first is that it’s got an open demo kitchen in the tasting room, and the second is the aqua blue pool that seems to spill over a hillside onto the Napa vines below. Read more...

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