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Touring Napa and Sonoma, Part II

The lake view at Sinegal Winery.

The lake view at Sinegal Winery.

More Wineries That Are “Must Visits”

In the July 2016 issue, I wrote about some of the to-die-for wineries in Napa and Sonoma that are “must” visits. To view that article, visit houstonlifestyles.com, click on “Wine, Food and Travel” and scroll down to it. Since I have more to offer on this subject, the following are not to be missed!


The Hess Collection has a mind-blowing collection of world-class art, which one can view while ambulating along with Hess wines in hand. All the wines are first-class, with my favorites being:

E 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay (nice kiss of oak) $22

E 2014 Mount Veeder Chardonnay (California-style Premier Cru Chablis) $40 E 2014 Lion Tamer Red Wine Napa Valley $27

Joseph Phelps is one of the true pioneers of Napa Valley. At one time, his 1975 Eisele Cabernet was one of the favorites of Robert Parker and myself, and with the first Insignia in 1974, he has continuously produced one of the top red wines in the world. Also, the winery is state-of-the-art and very impressive. My favorites there include:

E 2014 Sauvignon Blanc St.  Helena $35

E 2014 Chardonnay Freestone Vineyards (excellent acidity, toasty and well-balanced) $55

E 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc from 100% estate fruit) $75

E 2012 Insignia Napa Valley (texture, structure, delicious) $240

E 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Backus Vineyard (only 1,200 cases produced — violets, graphite, fabulous mid-palate and finish — the first Backus I’ve had that is as good or better than the Insignia.) $250.

Sinegal is the brightest new spot! The grounds are lovely and relaxing. I have no idea how Sinegal pulled this off, but five of the best winemakers in California teamed up to make the wines. It may have something to do with the founder of COSTCO being the owner of Sinegal! Among the best I’ve tasted anywhere, anytime, both with St. Helena appellations, are:

E 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $90

E 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley $140

Pine Ridge should be visited, even before tasting the wines, to view the incomparable Dale Chihuly glass collection in the tastefully decorated caves, including the inviting new Cellar 47. Winemaker Michael Beaulac has crafted some lovely wines, my favorites being:

E 2015 Chenin Blanc/Viognier is clean, crisp and enticing. $12.99

E 2013 Chardonnay Carneros (bright acidity, excellent fruit, no malolactic)$34

E 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – all components in harmony $65

HdV Wines are a joint venture between a Napa vineyard owner named Hyde and Aubert du Villaine, owner and manager of the Burgundian Domaine de la Romanée Conti, which produces the world’s most expensive red wine. The winemaker is Stephane Vivier, who is making California wines “with Burgundy in mind.”

My favorites are:

E 2014 Viognier $45

E 2013 HdV Chardonnay (Puligny-Montrachet anyone?) $65

E 2013 Syrah $75

E 2012 Belle Couson Hyde Vineyard Cabernet/Merlot $75

While in the Napa Valley, you might want to visit the tasting room at 1234 Main Street in St. Helena, and taste Pam and Terry Davis’ — they are from Houston — Frisson wines! I gave one of them a 95 recently!


Moving on to Sonoma County, there is one winery that everyone should visit. Buena Vista Winery was founded in 1857 by Agoston Harazthy, and was the first premium California winery. Despite much success, the entire estate was sold at auction in 1878 —at some point earlier, Harazthy was supposedly killed by an alligator in South America — and the winery has changed hands about five times since. Finally, in 2011, Jean-Charles Boisset, who is married to Gina Gallo and is a wildly successful James Bond look-alike from the Boisset family in Burgundy, purchased the property and original winery and completed renovating everything in 2015. It is a historical treasure, and with David Ramey consulting on the wines, the wines are first-class. Plan to spend half a day there, as the choices include a press house tasting room, barrel tasting and cave tour, historical winery tour and tasting in the newly restored Champagne cellars, private reserve tasting, grand reserve library tasting, and family tours and picnic hampers with wine tasting.


I have visited two Fleming’s locations in the last month, and found each to be most rewarding. Top-notch professional service, followed by food that met or exceeded expectations. At the West Alabama location, there is a Fleming’s business card on the table with the name of your waiter —nice touch. And on a plate with fresh, hot bread were two little cups, not of butter, but one with Champagne-infused brie and the other with smoked cheddar. Almost ate too much of that! The crab cakes are large enough to split as an appetizer. They are served very hot and with roasted red pepper sauce — yum!

Regarding one meal, there was a fabulous appetizer of seared scallops on cheese grits with cilantro chili oil and roasted cherry tomatoes, followed by a perfectly cooked and delicious red snapper with crabmeat for me and a perfectly cooked and delicious ribeye for my wife. We fortunately ordered the onion rings — best I can remember ever—with smoked jalapeno aioli!

The incomparable Dale Chihuly art glass collection in the cave at Pine Ridge.

The incomparable Dale Chihuly art glass collection in the cave at Pine Ridge.

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