I've always liked wine, been able to tell you what I like about a particular wine and whether a chardonnay was aged in an oak barrel (yum!) or steel barrel (not my thing). That being said, it wasn't until a trip to Napa with friends several years ago that I was able to really take the time to educate myself about wines. Now, I'm no wine snob, not even close, but I know what I like and what I don't like. I sometimes like to spend $60 on a bottle of wine and sometimes only $10. And I believe you can get a good bottle on the cheap.
Here are two of my favs from my CA trip:
Lava Vine, Napa Valley
We stopped at this little, blink and you'll miss it, winery on our first day and it definitely set a high standard for the trip! Right off the bat I fell in love with the beautiful, natural setting and the intimate tasting room in an old barn. The personalities behind Lava Vine are part of their brand and part of why everyone loves this place so much. Jon, tasting room experience extraordinaire, makes everyone feel at home. Even better than his good-natured spirit is his expertise in food pairings. He paired a wonderful dessert wine with chocolate, sea salt, olive oil and cayenne pepper (I think). As he was describing each taste that we were experiencing as we ate it, I knew that my time at Lava Vine would stay with me forever. They love wine and their passion for good wine and good food is infectious.
You really can't go wrong with any of the offerings at Lava Vine. We really enjoyed the Chardonnay (and I usually stay away from Chardonnay) but it was the Viognier that blew my mind. Beyond delicious! If you're in the area, you have to check out Lava Vine.
B.R. Cohn, Sonoma Valley
To be honest, the main tasting room at B.R. Cohn was so overrun with people that I didn't really enjoy myself. It was clearly under-staffed and the staff that was there was lacking basic customer service skills (I'll blame that on being insanely busy but who knows). Our group quickly found ourselves outside wandering the beautiful grounds of the winery. Bruce Cohn, the proprietor, is a car enthusiast which is evident by the whimsical little sculptures around the drive way.
Everything was relaxing (once you left the tasting room) with it's white buildings and green lawns. After a little exploration we found ourselves in the Classic Car tasting room - a very small building around back with a friendly twenty-something ready to pour us some wine. These are the kind of little places that I really enjoy (see Lava Vine!). The wine was much less expensive and much less pretentious. This is the kind of wine you open on a Tuesday night for no reason other than it sounds like a good idea. Check out the Panel Wagon Pinot (only $22!) and the Drag Racer Red. Both great choices. You won't be disappointed!
More great places later. For now, check those two out and enjoy!