There are many ways to organize a wine tasting excursion, from geography to dog-friendly. But for those who love a glass of bubbles, why not devote a day or two to the places that do it best, tend to have sweeping vistas and a keen appreciation for pairing their wines with food?
Domaine Carneros: Winemaker Eileen Crane built Domaine Carneros some 25 years ago after having built and spent three years as the winemaker at Gloria Ferrer. This is a woman who knows her bubbles. But the chateau that is Domaine Carneros, designed after Ch?eau de la Marquetterie in Reims, France, is also perfectly perched atop a hill overlooking the gorgeous vistas of its region and does an incredible job highlighting the luxuriousness of sparkling wine.
With table service from its outdoor patio or elegant dining room inside, guests are invited to enjoy wine samplers (2-ounce pours of several wines), including its superstar wine, Le R?e, along with cheese plates, charcuterie and a selection of caviar and smoked salmon. A pastry plate is also offered, the better to test sparkling wine's ability to conquer all sweets with just the right level of acidity. This year, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, the winery will hold several special tastings of its older vintage wines, a rare chance to see how well they've held up over time.
1240 Duhig Road, Napa, (800) 716-BRUT, domainecarneros.com.
Domaine Chandon: Chandon is another food-focused winery worth a visit, not only for the small bites it offers in tastings, but for the fact it remains one of the few wineries anywhere in Northern California with its own on-site restaurant, ?oile. There are prestige tours and tastings of the winery's best wines, as well as an Epicurean Experience, centered around three food-and-wine pairings. More unique is the Cocktail Tour and Tasting, an interactive appreciation of sparkling wine's ability to elevate a cocktail or two. Lastly, opt for the Ros?Lawn Party and winery elves will wisk you to the lawn with wine, flutes, a blanket and sunglasses, the ideal idyll for these last remaining summer-like days.
1 California Drive, Yountville, (888) 242-6366, domainechandon.com.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards: Gloria Ferrer too has sweeping views, taking in an entirely unique viewpoint of Carneros and San Pablo Bay. From there it has mastered the art of entertaining, offering small plates of cheeses, meats, almonds and other varying types of vittles along with its sparkling wines, still pinot noir, chardonnay and merlot, as well as a limited-release pinot noir ros? The Va de Vi sparkling blend of pinot, chardonnay and Muscat pays respects to the winery's Spanish roots, a fun party in a glass, sweetly rich and ready for spicy food. Gloria Ferrer will hold a Harvest Dinner on Oct. 20 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. ($95/person), on its Vista Terrace, a multi-course dinner with wine.
23555 Highway 121, Sonoma, 996-7256, gloriaferrer.com.
Iron Horse Ranch and Vineyards: Settled in the Green Valley sub-appellation and surrounded by the wilds of the wider Russian River Valley below it, Iron Horse is always a good destination, its sparkling wines unparalleled in California in many people's minds. Tasting is possible daily and tours every weekday, but aim to visit on a Friday when winemaker David Munksgard himself leads the tour. Newer sparklers include the 2007 Iron Horse Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs ($40), created in partnership with National Geographic to benefit the ocean ($4 is donated from every sale); and 2007 Golden Gate Cuv? ($50), created to commemorate the iconic bridge's 75th anniversary (with a nod to co-founder Audrey Sterling's childhood walk across the bridge with her father on opening day).