Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Del Dotto Cave Tour

After reading all the rave reviews of the Del Dotto cave tours on Trip Advisor and Yelp, I had high expectations for this tour. Also, at $65 a pop, I thought surely, this would be an amazing wine tasting experience.

The place is palatial, reminiscent of the old, defunct Vegas Hotel, the Venetian, with its gorgeous Venetian-style architecture and impeccably landscaped grounds. We spent so much time taking pics of the out-side grounds, we almost missed our tour.

The place was gorgeous, beautiful marble columns and floors, crystal chandeliers, long, draped silk curtains, you immediately feel like you are in the presence of greatness and in for a wonderful experience.

Pictures are forbidden inside. (There is a sign as soon as you walk in the place) Our tour began in the main room, just outside the entrance to the caves, here you are served your first glass of wine and this is where you learn about the different wine-country regions, specifically, the regions where Del Dotto grows their grapes.

The tour proceeds into the wine caves, which were not what I expected. I guess perhaps, after touring actual caves, I had a vision, of an actual cave.... Ok, that may sound ignorant on my part, but I will take it, I did not envision the marble to continue, I envisioned an... well, a cave, this was more like a long, dark hallway with wine barrels in it, but I digress.

For me, the excitement ends here. The cave tour at Del Dotto gets rave reviews. so, know the opinions below are my own and digress from the opinions of most people who review the tour.

Truthfully, the entire experience, for me, was a disappointment, there are many other tours in Napa and Sonoma that I would recommend over this one.

At first glance, one may revel in the beauty and awesome architecture of both the exterior and the interior of the facility. The service is five star, everyone is friendly and helpful, knowledgeable and for me, a little too formal. Of course, the professionalism was spectacular, but, for me, a little too stuffy and formal. I don't want to use the word uppity, stuffy or stiff, but frankly, these are the first adjectives that come to mind when asked to express my views of the tour. My roommate and I discussed the tour at length before this post, we were both left with the same opinion.

Our tour guide was fun and knowledgeable, while I did not mind, he was also a little fresh which some may find uncomfortable. Starting a tour with the Vegas-like saying, "What happens in the cave stays in the cave." Several sexual overtones to the tour, which I found to be such a dichotomy to the formal feel of the rest of the place. Our group had a lot of fun and were not put off by the subtle undertones of the tour. Another example to help illustrate my point, as our tour-guide introduced himself as "Randy, that's my name and what I am." It only went down-hill from there. Again, our group actually had a good time with this, but I certainly know a few people that would be put-off by it. Especially, as I said, when everything else about Del Dotto is so formal.

Besides the sexual over-tones of our tour guide, who by the way, I only remember by name because of the way he introduced himself, he was very knowledgeable about the facility, the winemaking process and the wine. Ok, so that is the important part, right, you want your guide to be well versed on a wine tour. The tasting experience was different than any other I had experienced. I learned how to taste from a barrel, to pull the wine with a thief, I learned about the aging and toasting practices of the oak barrel and what type of toasting is used for different wines. I learned that I prefer the old oak barrels from France vs. the young American oak, as the former gives the wine a smoother taste, the oak is less prominent on the palate, which is my preference, while my roommate prefers the latter.

The walking tour takes about an hour and is extremely educational. However, here are the things I didn't like about it: no pictures, who wants to take a tour of anything (Other than the Vatican) without taking pictures.

The caves are dark, it brings good atmosphere and the lack of bright light is better for the wine, but, it is difficult to write tasting notes on a walking tour, especially one where you can't use apps like Vivino, when you can't take any photos, but the darkness adds to that difficulty.

Again, the tour was exceptionally informative and you taste a decent amount of wine. However, since you can't really take tasting notes and sample quite a few wines, by the time you get out of the caves, an hour later, you can't remember the subtle intricacies of the wine. They do offer little cards on the barrels you taste with name and year of the wine, so you can grab a card to remember the specific wine you want to purchase. Personally, I prefer to note the nose and the flavors, it helps me to learn what I like about some wines and not others, it helps me refine my preferences and make better purchasing decisions. When the tour was over and I received a personalized, printed list of the wines I tasted on the tour, I tried to remember the subtleties of each wine, but I just prefer to do it on the spot as I use my senses to see the wine, taste it, smell it.

As we gathered around a bar at the end of the tour, we were given a plate of cheese and charcuterie, which was prepared on-site and was almost needed at this point, considering the generous barrel pulls. Sadly, there were six of us on the tour and there was not enough of each item for each of us to try each one, however, the ones I did try, were incredible! They also served a small pizza, which was also delicious. Finally, a dessert wine was poured and it was really scrumptious. The personalized list of wines was printed and distributed.

Sadly, some of my favorite wines, like pinot, cab and sangiovese were not my favorite at Del Dotto. The ones I enjoyed the most, I found to be a little overpriced. My taste for wine has gotten progressively more pricey, since moving to Northern California, so it was not a matter of liking the cheap wine over the good stuff, I have enjoyed numerous scrumptious wines from other wineries in the area, Del Dotto wines were just not that appealing to me. Furthermore, there is no instant gratification from barrel tasting. As you are tasting wines from the barrel, they have not been finished and bottled yet, so should you choose to purchase anything, you have to wait a few months, you are purchasing futures. Lastly, there is no club membership or anything else to get a discount on your purchase, unless you purchase some insanely large amount of wine over the course of 12 months.

With all of that said, the tour was informative but pricey. The staff was friendly, the place was gorgeous, but, overall, I found the whole experience a little bit pretentious for my taste. As I have stated, I have read a lot of reviews to the contrary, so maybe take my review with a grain of salt. If you are not rich and famous and want to be able to afford the wine you like, I think there are many other tours available in the area that would serve your money better. Sorry, Del Dotto, this easy going girl is not a fan. No worries though, there are plenty of other people who love the tour and the wine.