9 perfect places for wine tastings by yacht

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Quintessa and Joseph Phelps

San Francisco

Words by Malachy Duffy and Peter Grogan

The original version of this article first appeared in the January/February edition of ShowBoats 

Quintessa

Rutherford is an area in Napa that is noted for its robust reds, and when the last big parcel of land zoned for development there went up for sale in 1989, Agustin and Valeria Huneeus snapped it up. With great taste and style, they have put the 280 acres to excellent use. As you enter the property, with its rolling hills planted with the classic Bordeaux varietals, what you do not see is an obvious winery. You might expect this given the tremendous cost of the land, but the Huneeus resisted making a grand statement and instead built a graceful curve of stone into a hillside that marks the entrance to the entire facility. It includes 17,000 square feet of caves and tunnels. The wine is, as in Bordeaux, a blend of the different varietals that can vary from year to year, the winemaker using his judgment in determining which balance will yield the best wine. I have always admired Quintessa for its superb structure, ripe fruit and long finish, an excellent food wine. The fascinating tour is a hosted experience and ends in a tasting of current releases and wines from the Quintessa library.

Joseph Phelps

In 1973, Joseph Phelps, who as head of one of the biggest construction companies in the country had worked on building a Napa Valley winery, decided to change his life. He purchased a former cattle ranch with 600 prime acres in the Spring Valley section of Napa and started the Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Phelps is not only one of the oldest of the post-war wineries in Napa, but it was also one of the pioneers in making blended wines, a move that caused no little controversy in the Valley. But Phelps persisted, and the signature Bordeaux-style Insignia consistently garners high marks for its beautiful structure, balance and appealing notes of rich red fruit. Putting all of his knowledge of building to excellent use, Phelps oversaw the construction of a stunning winery that takes advantage of a hilltop location for exceptional views. The facility was just completely renovated, and the Terrace Tastings (pictured) give you a chance to see Napa in a memorable way while sampling superb wines. Tastings by appointment.

Why visit San Francisco?

Not least among the many pleasures of San Francisco is the close proximity of the celebrated  Napa Valley. A quick hour-and-a-half drive gets you right to the heart of wine country. While tasting rooms abound, book a visit that will help you fully experience the wineries without feeling crowded or rushed, which is inevitable when there’s an open-door policy. These two offer  a refined experience.

Where to moor your yacht

Marina Bay Yacht Harbour, near Berkeley, for small yachts; large yachts can moor off Sausalito's Bridgeway Promenade in Richardson Bay.

Inspired to visit the region? Dont miss our guide to six days cruising on a luxury yacht around San Francisco Bay

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Clos Sainte-Magdeleine

Côtes de Provence, France

Clos Sainte-Magdeleine

If there is a prettier plot on which to grow vines anywhere in Provence than Clos Sainte-Magdeleine, I’ve yet to find it. The vineyard itself is on a promontory with the sea crashing onto the rocks on three sides and a dramatic backdrop of craggy outcrops.

The rosé renaissance is in full swing hereabouts and the ghostly pale, orange-tinged “onion-skin” style is what Provence does best. They take their rosé seriously down here — and that’s not a word you often hear about pink wines — to the extent that there are even some appellations (like Tavel) where only rosé makes the cut.

“Minerality” is a buzzword in wine-speak at the moment but don’t think that the subtle, salty smack to the wines is auto-suggestion; the regular soaking with sea-spray really does give everything a delicious, savory tang.

Clos Sainte-Magdeleine doesn’t have a restaurant but as you’re in Provence, you’re not likely to starve. Charming Cassis is just a few minutes’ walk away and full of excellent options. Tours and tastings: Monday to Saturday at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., and by appointment.

Why visit provence?

The sprawling Côtes de Provence, one of the world's best wine regions, stretches up to 100 miles east of the Rhône — over mountains, through river valleys and along the tumbling coast — almost as far as Cannes.

Where to moor your yacht

Port-Vieux, La Ciotat.

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Nota Bene Cellars and DeLille Cellars

Seattle

Nota Bene Cellars

This is truly a family operation. Nota Bene’s makers are Tim Narby and Carol Bryant, who began making wine at home a long time ago, inspired by a bottle of Château Margaux 1982. Narby, who was a systems analyst at Boeing before joining the company’s now-famous Boeing Employees Wine and Beer Makers Club, entered their efforts into the annual Winefest — and they won awards. Finally, in 2001, they started a real winery. They do not grow their own grapes but put their years of experience into sourcing what they think will make terrific wines, and the results have proven their skill. This is not a fancy winery, but a visit here will give you an increasingly rare chance to meet the people who make the wine and taste their exemplary product. Most notable are the Syrahs, which are lush with ripe fruit flavors, spice and long, smooth finishes. Because this is a small operation, it is essential that you call ahead.

DeLille Cellars

The story behind this boutique property never fails to move me. Charles Lill came to the United States in the 1950s after having served in a labor camp during World War II. He eventually settled in Tacoma, prospered enough to buy a small farm in the country and enjoyed life. In the early 1990s, a group that included his son Greg approached him about opening a small winery where they would craft red and white wines in an Old World style. And then in a stroke of amazing luck, a family property in Germany that had been seized during the war was returned to Lill — with no tax liability in the U.S. That windfall provided the start of DeLille. The commitment to quality has paid off, and Robert Parker has called DeLille “the Chateau Lafite of Washington.” At the lovely Carriage House, I recommend the Library Tasting, a civilized sit-down experience during which you will taste the finest DeLille wines, including luscious 2012 Grand Ciel, an all-Cabernet stunner that shows an impressive balance of fruit and tannins. $150 minimum for up to three, $50 per person hereafter.

Why visit Seattle?

While Washington State hasn’t quite achieved the same level of consciousness in the public wine mind as California, the simple fact is that it produces some first-class wines. And you can visit some particularly good vineyards about the same distance from Seattle as Napa is from San Francisco.

Where to moor your yacht

Elliott Bay Marina or Nautical Landing Marina

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Bodegas Tio Pepe

Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

Bodegas Tio Pepe

The wines are made in the solera system, in which some from the oldest barrel is bottled and the barrel topped-up from the next oldest and so on, and the best are then left to age further in long, dark silence. Mysterious things happen during their minimum three years in barrel as these wines cover themselves with a thin veil of yeast, called flor, under which they develop umami-like characteristics.

The fine-boned Palomino Fino grape makes the pale essence of dryness called fino — as dry as the chalk in which the vines grow. The locals drink it young, cold and fast and sometimes mix it with lemonade and ice to make a rebujito. And on holidays some of the señoritas really do wear red, ruffled Sevillana dresses while being courted by boys in high-waisted trousers, waistcoats and broad-rimmed hats. They’ll be sipping some fino and nibbling from little plates of serrano ham, salted almonds and olives, and — even if you don’t ride into this fine old town on horseback — so should you. Tours and tastings (with or without lunch or dinner) can be arranged via their website.

Why visit Jerez de la Frontera?

Sherry from Jerez is Spain’s greatest gift to the world’s wine drinkers. It’s always just about to go big but never seems to quite make it, which is good news for those in the know. It’s always been huge in Spain itself, of course, as a trip around a bodega proves.They are vast with literally miles of cellars, which has the cellar-masters traveling around them by bicycle.

Where to moor your yacht

Puerto de Rota, for yachts up to 105 feet. Moorings are available in the Bay of Cadiz. Farther away for larger vessels is Alcaidesa Marina near Gibraltar.  If you are interested in visiting the region don't miss our guide to luxury yacht charters in Spain.

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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Wölffer Estate

Long Island

Wölffer Estate

Set on the stretch of the South Fork’s Montauk Highway between Bridgehampton and East Hampton, this is an idyllic winery that will transport you from the frenzy of the Hamptons social scene. Winemaker Roman Roth makes wines in the European traditions with bottlings of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, as well as sparkling wines, dessert wines and rosés. I have long admired the Wölffer Estate Chardonnay, full bodied and elegant. I am also partial to the classic Reserve Merlot, medium bodied with notes of plums and cranberries, a food-friendly wine. A tasting here is a wonderful experience out on the terrace (in good weather) overlooking the vineyards. Make an afternoon of it and do a tasting with accompanying cheese and charcuterie selections. Groups can make reservations via the wineries' website.

Why visit Long Island?

Once overlooked as one-off oddities, Long Island wines now win major awards at the top wine competitions. Beginning with one visionary property in 1973 — Hargrave — dozens of wineries have grown up on the East End of Long Island, with the dual benefits of creating a whole new industry and preserving agricultural land from rampant development. While most of the wineries are on the North Fork of Long Island’s East End, a small number are thriving on the South Fork, which is home to the storied Hamptons.

Where to moor your yacht

Sag Harbor’s municipal docks or Montauk Yacht Club Resort & Marina

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Tenuta dell’Ornellaia

Tuscany

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia

Some of the first Supertuscan producers — like the Frescobaldis, owners of Ornellaia — have been in the business since the 14th century, so they know a thing or two about how to work the system. The wheel turns and those original wines now have their own exalted DOCG classification. The problem is that everybody wants to be a Supertuscan now, but the originals are still the best.

If you think grappa’s not for you (like I did) do try Ornellaia’s. It has mind-blowing complexity and depth, and you might just come away thinking it ranks with the finest Cognacs and whiskies (like I do). Private tours can be arranged via telephone on their website.

Why visit Tuscany?

The gentle slopes of the Tuscan coast have at least a 3,000-year history of winemaking. The Etruscans were the first people to get seriously organized about it and the ancient Greeks called Italy Enotria — the land of wine. It still is, and yet it continually re-invents itself. Starting in the late 1960s, the “Supertuscan” wine phenomenon saw top-class producers chuck out the rulebook and start growing grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make fine wines. As a result, they had to sell them as lowly table wine with which they had nothing else in common (certainly not their prices).

Where to moor your yacht

Marina di Scarlino

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Pazo Señorans

Galicia, Spain

Pazo Señorans

Before the late ’90s, Galician wine seldom made it out of the main region — the Rías Baixas — but it’s on a serious roll now. The Pazo Señorans winery has been in the vanguard since 1989, although the beautiful pazo (manor house) dates back to the 16th century.

The wines are made from the graceful Albariño grape variety, which produces enigmatic, aromatic whites that have something perfumed like Viognier about them (with perhaps some smoky, oily Alsace Pinot Gris thrown in for good measure).

Preferably drink them young, on their own or with some pre-dinner salted almonds so as not to miss their subtlety, although most have enough body to partner the local fish and mariscos (and enough acidity to hold their own should such things arrive in a creamy sauce). Tours can be arranged via their website.

Why visit Galicia?

Galicia doesn’t exactly have a lot in common with the rest of Spain. It’s the bit on the top of Portugal in the northwestern corner and the coast is a stunning, lush-green fjord-scape. If that doesn’t convince you that it’s different, the fact that the Gallegos are Celts — right down to wearing kilts and playing the bagpipes — should do it.

Celts everywhere would feel at home in the Galician rain — all five annual feet of it. The rain requires everything to be kept up off the damp ground, including the vines, which are trained up tall granite posts.

Where to moor your yacht

Marina Davila Sport, Vigo, Spain.

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