Free wine tastings have gone the way of Napa and Sonoma lore—if we want to sip the good stuff, we have to pony up. But we also believe that you get what you pay for. These five new spots aren't just pouring wine—they are offering luxury experiences we won't soon forget. Those memories? Priceless.
Anyone who knows the name Ken Fulk knows that this Fulk-designed tasting room is an aesthete's musti-visit—that is if "tasting room" is the right thing to call it. The historic Vallejo-Casteñada adobe was originally constructed in 1842. Today, the space is kitted in out in gorgeous antiques, plush leather chairs, and wonderful wallpaper, providing a beautifully homey spot for intimate tastings.
Make a reservation and come hungry: Tasting may include lavish lunches ($200) and nibbles prepared by the chefs at nearby El Dorado Kitchen. The menus change seasonally, but you can expect delicacies such as ham hock rilette, roasted beets with shaved fennel and arugula, and scallops with potato puree and balsamic reduction. Don't miss 2013 Sta. Rita Hills “The James” Pinot Noir ($60). // The Adobe at Three Sticks Wines, 143 West Spain St. (Sonoma), threestickswines.com
Pangloss Cellars Tasting Lounge
This 113-year-old historic property on Sonoma Plaza is new again thank to a nine-month renovation of drop-dead gorgeous proportions. Today the space is rich with old stone, weathered timber, hardwood floors, and a backlit bar. A portrait of the lounge’s namesake, Dr. Pangloss (the eternal optimist in Voltaire’s Candide), presides above it all.
Claim a vintage armchair or a sofa near the picture windows or fireplace, and indulge in wine pairings with small bites and generously laden boards of paté, charcuterie, and cheese. May we suggest trying the white wine flight (2013 Rhone blend; sauvignon blanc; and chardonnay) served with caviar, Cowgirl Creamery crème fraiche, capers, crackers and lemon ($50). // Pangloss Cellars Tasting Lounge, 35 East Napa St. (Sonoma), panglosscellars.com
Pair a former career as a Dean & DeLuca wine director with an entrepreneurial spirit, and you’ve got Kerrin Laz, owner of this rustic-glam tasting room on in downtown Yountville.
Some 500 wine labels, including limited allocations from cult labels such as Screaming Eagle, Abreu Vineyards and Dana Estate, make this something of a candy store for wine geeks. You can forget about the table crackers, too. Tastings here include a palate cleanser of Mad Fritz Beer, made in St. Helena by vintner, winemaker, and brewmaster Nile Zacherle. Throw in cheese and charcuterie from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery ($65-$165, including six wine samples), and its hoity-toity fun, for sure. High rollers, be sure to try the Cult flight, a sampling of rare wines that average $165 per bottle. // K. Laz Wine Collection, 6484 Washington St. (Yountville), klazwine.com
Direct your GPS toward Howell Mountain in Napa Valley to witness up close the wonder of this new appointment-only tasting room. It was in 1988 that Ron and Susan Krausz purchased these 42 acres, and today they produce some 1,000 cases of estate Bordeaux-style wines.
Call ahead to taste in the airy and elegant Shaker-style interior warmed by a limestone hearth. The 25,000-square-foot underground caves are also very cool (literally). Must sip: the 2012 Arkenstone Estate Obsidian blend, which may be purchased in a three-pack only for $525. // Arkenstone, 335 West Ln. (Angwin), arkenstone.com
In wine lies wisdom, as the old saying goes. You may certainly find both around the handcrafted bar at this stylish barn hung with lots of original art.
The bar quite literally takes center stage, making it prime for Eleven Eleven's “Conversations With…” series, which showcases guests including best-selling authors, artists, and filmmakers. Clink glasses filled with the 2012 Oak Knoll Vineyard Estate Syrah ($55). // Eleven Eleven, 620 Trancas St. (Napa), elevenelevenwines.com