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If you have driven to Napa from San Francisco, as you pass through Carneros, it is impossible not to notice the gorgeous chateau on the hill.  The simply stunning building and grounds are reason enough to Domaine Carneros.  You can imagine for a few moments you are in France visiting one of the famous Champagne houses.

Domaine Carneros makes some wonderful sparkling wines, which is what they are most known for.  Using only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the traditional of French Champagne, the winery crafts an array of bubbly choices for all palates, from the very dry to the demi-sec (which I found to have only a little sweetness).  The grapes are harvested earlier than for still wines, and no oak is used in fermentation or aging.  If you have not tried any high quality sparkling wines, I highly recommend a visit to Domaine Carneros for a tasting, and if you have time, a tour.

The highlights of the bubbles for me were the 06 Le Reve Blanc de Blanc ($95) and to my surprise the 07 Vermeil Demi Sec ($35).  I had expected to prefer the dry wines and was delighted by the ever so slight sweetness in the Demi Sec.  This is not, in my opinion, a dessert wine, but instead would be a great accompaniment to a spicy meal like fajitas or curry.  It would also go well with a pork dish cooked with fruit like plums or apples.  The sweetness levels would balance and compliment each other nicely.

The biggest surprise for me was the fact that Domaine Carneros also makes still wines.  I was blown away by their white wine made from Pinot Noir called Pinot Clair (2010, $48).  I LOVED this wine.  It was smooth and creamy in the style of a Marsanne (if you have been following my blog, you know I have a thing for Marsanne).

Domaine Carneros Pinot Clair

I also tasted two of their 100% Pinot Noir Reds.  The 09 Estate Pinot ($35) had aromas of cherries and currants, and was aged in some new French Oak.  The 08 Famous Gate Pinot ($70) was a top quality Pinot, a little earthier than the Estate Pinot, and aged for a longer period of time in slightly more oak.

Unfortunately, it was very grey and rainy on the day I visited, which was a disappointment as I had really hoped to have my tasting on this veranda with this insane view.  When you visit, do your best to pick a sunny day!

The view. Imagine it on a clear day.

In summary, if you are a fan of the bubbles, you must add this to your itinerary for your next trip to Napa & Carneros.  If you can’t make it out there, many of their wines are available in retail stores and restaurants and don’t need to be saved for special occasions.  As I mentioned before, sparkling wines are a great pairing for a wide array of foods.  The very dry bubbles would go nicely with cheeses and seafood.  The lovely Demi Sec is the perfect compliment for those difficult to pair spicy dishes as well as those that have sweetness.  I want to dry the Demi Sec with some BBQ ribs which have both spicy and sweet.  That a great pairing idea!!!

The vineyards at Domaine Carneros

If you are not a fan of sparkling wines (like my husband), there are still some amazing wines to try.  The Pinot Clair alone will bring me back for a second visit (silly me only bought one bottle).