Napa Valley Port Tasting: A Weekend Guide

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Traditionally, Port hails from the Porto region of the Douro Valley in Portugal, but many producers in the Napa Valley are making excellent Port-style wines along with other dessert styles. Some use the term “Port” on their labels because they were grandfathered into the use of the term at the signing of the 2006 U.S./European Commission Wine Trade Agreement, while others use the term dessert wine, an all-encompassing term which could be used to describe any dessert wine. If you’re on the hunt for the best of these wines in the Napa Valley, check out this tasting itinerary for the best sweet wines around.

Day 1

1
Wineries / Oakville Rutherford

Rutherford Hill Winery

As the name suggests, Rutherford Hill Winery is located at the top of the hill, and boasts gorgeous views of Napa Valley. The property is lush and green, from the olive trees to the flower gardens, and picnic grounds are available by advance reservation. Wine tastings are held in the relaxed tasting room or on the shaded patio, where visitors can relax with tastes of the winery’s signature Merlot as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. We recommend ending your tasting on a sweet note — the Zinfandel Port, paired with the chocolate-covered blueberries is not to be missed. These addicting berries really bring out the notes of fruit and chocolate in the wine (packages of these available to purchase, too).

Insider Tip

There are picnic grounds on site, so plan to pack some snacks and enjoy some downtime after your tasting.

Directions

From downtown Napa, head north on Highway 29. Turn right onto Rutherford Road. At the end of the road, turn left onto Silverado Trail S. Turn right onto Rutherford Hill Road. The destination is on the right.

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2
Wineries / St Helena

Prager Winery & Port Works

Prager Winery & Port Works of St. Helena is a family-owned and operated winery that was founded in 1979. The rustic, down-to-earth tasting room feels funky and fun. One of the first things to notice is the unusual wall art — signed dollar bills and other currency cover the stairwell, walls, and ceiling, a tradition dating back to the 1980s. The winery specializes in dessert wines, including vintage Port, Tawny Port, and White Port, as well as a late harvest Riesling.

Insider Tip

Prager is just up the street from V. Sattui Winery. Plan to visit the deli and linger over lunch at their relaxing picnic grounds.

Directions

From Rutherfod Hill Winery, head downhill, then turn right onto Silverado Trail S. Turn left onto Zinfandel Lane. Turn Right onto Saint Helena Highway S. Turn left onto Lewelling Lane. The destination is on the left.

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3
Wineries / St Helena

Louis M. Martini Winery

Louis M. Martini has a long history of making wine, dating back to when the winery was founded soon after the end of prohibition in 1933. Today, tastings are held in the elegant tasting room or outdoors on the shaded patio. Along with award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, visitors will find two sweet offerings: an Italian-style white sparkling dessert wine called Moscato Amabile, as well as a rich and inky Port. Order the “Good Life” flight, a tasting of four wines paired with seasonal bites, to try a taste of a luscious Port made from Petite Sirah grapes.

Insider Tip

Louis M. Martini is just down the street from Dean & Deluca. Consider picking up some dark chocolate from the gourmet shop to go with a bottle.

Directions

From Prager Winery and Port Works, turn right onto Saint Helena Highway S. The destination is on the left.

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4
Wineries / St Helena

Ballentine Vineyards

Although family-run Ballentine Vineyards opened their tasting room to the public relatively recently, the Ballentine family has history in the Napa Valley dating back to 1906, when owner Betty Ballentine’s grandfather, an Italian immigrant, purchased 60 acres of land near Calistoga. Today, Betty and Van Ballentine welcome visitors into their elegant tasting room on Highway 29. Although known for their Zinfandel, Merlot, and Syrah, Ballentine is currently working on their first releases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Franc. Guests looking for a dessert wine will not be disappointed by Ballentine’s bold Zinfandel Port that’s not too sweet or syrupy.

Insider Tip

Their Chardonnay Reserve is a gold-dipped bottle, rated 91 points by Robert Parker. Ask about it if you're a fan.

Directions

From Louis M. Martini, turn right onto Saint Helena Highway. The destination is on the right.

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Day 2

7
Wineries / Calistoga

Lava Vine Winery

A visit to Lava Vine offers a breath of fresh air from the usual Napa Valley tasting scene. The tiny tasting room is welcoming, down-to-earth, and somehow always manages to be entertaining. Lava Vine specializes in handcrafted small-lot wines, including unique varieties like Chenin Blanc and Verdejo, as well as Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. As if relaxing in this laid-back, eclectic tasting room isn’t sweet enough, tasting flights conclude with a pour of Port, served with dark chocolate that’s been sprinkled with sea salt.

Insider Tip

If you’re a musician, you should probably be ready to contribute to a spontaneous jam session with the folks behind the bar. This is a music-loving crowd, and they’re known to break out the guitar on a whim.

Directions

From Charbay, turn left onto Elmhurst Avenue. At the end of the road, turn left onto Main Street. Turn right onto Dunaweal Lane. At the end of the road, turn left onto Silverado Trail. The destination is on the left.

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