I've been on quite a few cave tours and while they're all impressive, none of them beats the experience at Del Dotto. Illuminated only by candlelight, you'll taste straight from the barrels, generous pours selected seemingly at random as your guide takes you deep into the caves.
There's plenty of laughter, a bit of loud music, the entire experience designed to let you know that this is no ordinary tour. And this is no ordinary wine. Del Dotto makes some of the best reds in Napa Valley.
No, you're not drinking too much. There are actually two Del Dotto Wineries in Napa Valley, the original one off The Silverado Trail and the newer one on Highway 29 in St. Helena. Let's keep it really simple.
SILVERADO TRAIL location features the original 1885 hand carved caves. It's low key, down to Earth, and very casual. Web
ST HELENA location looks like a Venetian palace with over the top ornate decorations, it outdoes Vegas, in a good way. Web
The Silverado Trail location is my favorite, and not just because it's ten bucks cheaper. But there's no arguing that the St Helena location is a crowd pleaser, some calling it the most beautiful winery in Napa Valley. You can't go wrong with either.
Today we're in the original location, the barrels lining the walls of the caves hand dug by the Chinese in the 1800's. Wine glass in hand, we follow our guide who uses his wine "thief" to siphon the wines for us to taste. It's amazing the impact the different wood makes on the wines, with one wine made in a barrel built with eight different types of oak, each from a unique place in France.
Another reason why I love the original location is that if you don't like something you toss it onto the cave wall. Seriously! It takes a bit of practice (don't wear white!), though it's such a shame to toss wine this good anywhere but down the hatch.
The guide wandered up and down the barrels, looking for this or for that and stopping many, many times to pour us a glass. There was no canned script, no standard patter about how this would go good with steak, the pourer was having as much fun as we were. As for the size of the pours, well they didn't get the nickname "Del Blotto" for nothing!
After over an hour and so many pours I lost count, we headed back to a tasting room for some port and chocolate as well as a snack tray with meats and cheeses. I can see why some people claim this is the best tour in Napa. It's that good, and though it's expensive, no one left feeling that they didn't get their moneys worth.
Of course, you can skip the tour and just pop in for a tasting but that's missing half the fun. It's still a good experience, but when was the last time you got to wander into a cave and drink straight from the barrels, tossing what you don't want against the walls?
Later that day I spent the same amount of money at a "serious" winery. Everyone sat upright in their chairs. Everyone was quiet and concentrating. It was as much fun as taking an SAT test. All I could think about was what would happen if I tossed my wine against their walls. I wonder...
More info at Del Dotto website.
Local Wally, 2013
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