When we first started discussing going on a Napa Valley wine tasting tour, we knew that Joseph Phelps had to be one of our stops. In fact, it was the first reservation we made. Why? At an outdoor dinner party Pen hosted, she let us sample a 2004 INSIGNIA, and we were hooked.
Note: I should add that our trip was for our anniversary in May, and it was before Joseph Phelps was bought by LVMH. To my knowledge, nothing about the wine tasting experiences has changed since that purchase.
Our Plan for Joseph Phelps
When we started scheduling visits for a Napa Valley wine tasting tour, we knew we wanted to try the other wines available at Joseph Phelps and, hopefully, taste another Insignia vintage. Because I’m immune suppressed, we knew the tasting would have to be outside. Luckily, Joseph Phelps has a stunning winery, complete with a patio that offers breathtaking views of the vines below it. Even though it was May, the day promised to be a bit chilly. And as we got closer to the vineyard, the rain clouds were certainly threatening.
When we arrived, we let them know that we had a reservation, and Andy had informed them of my situation already. I knew I had to wear a mask to use the bathrooms inside the tasting room, but otherwise, we had high hopes for the outdoor experience. Everyone at the winery was so kind. They even had heaters and lap blankets waiting for us when we arrived. Our wine educator took us through the menu, and the wine and flavor pairings arrived immediately. And we kept our fingers crossed that the rain would hold off.
But it didn’t.
Our wine educator (who rocked!) was game to do whatever we wanted. And when it looked like the wind was going to start blowing the rain toward us, he devised a new plan.
Our Fantastic Second Wine Tasting Plan for Joseph Phelps
Our wine educator talked with the winery manager, and they came up with a new plan for us. Knowing my health issues (and Omicron was blowing through town in May), they permitted us to use their private tasting room inside the winery. This allowed us to enjoy the wines away from the other guests – giving me a sense of safety that truly helped us enjoy this anniversary splurge. We would have been crushed if we hadn’t been able to continue.
So, we happily tasted most of our bespoke menu inside. Then, when the sun came out, and the rain clouds pushed off into the distance, we relocated outside for the final wine of the afternoon. Seriously, thanks to the winery and our guide for going above and beyond for us!
Our Bespoke Joseph Phelps Wine Tasting Menu
As a surprise for me, when Andy made the tasting reservation, he let them know that we were celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary. Imagine my surprise when I opened out tasting menu and saw that it had been personalized to wish us well!
We booked a Terrace Tasting. This included the 2019 Chardonnay, the 2018 Pinot Noir, Pastorale Vineyard, the 2018 Pinot Noir, Quarter Moon Vineyard, the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2018 INSIGNIA, and the 2009 INSIGNIA. I’m not going to lie, I would have been happy to bring any of them home – even the Chardonnay, and you know that I am not typically a Chardonnay fan.
Choosing a favorite from the tasting is nearly impossible. Of the Pinots, we landed on the Quarter Moon as our favorite – and a bottle came home with us to share with friends. As you can see by the tasting notes, it’s 100% estate-grown grapes, which means that they are grown over the mountain in Sonoma. Lots of red fruit on the nose with this one. I got black cherry and raspberry on the palate. Andy also got some black tea on this and “forest,” which he has a particular knack for catching in wines. We also got some plums and maybe green peppers. And it’s not a surprise that this wine got 97 points from James Suckling, 96 points from Robert Parker, 96 points from Antonio Galloni, 95 points from Wine Enthusiast, and 95 points from Jeb Dunnuck. It’s just that good.
We devoured the Cabernet Sauvignon. Enjoyed the blackberry and black currant notes on the nose. We both got black fruits and plums on the palate. Andy got something smokier and earthier, as well. This is another award winner, and I can see why. If we had the budget to bring another bottle home, this might have been it. If you love Cabs, this one will wow you.
The 2018 INSIGNIA dazzled. As you can see on the menu, that year’s INSIGNIA includes “87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, and 2% Cabernet Franc from 100% estate-grown vineyards, aged 24 months in 100% new French oak barrels.” It received 99 points from James Suckling and was named one of the Top 100 Wines of 2021. It was gorgeous. Honestly, you can drink it now, but this bottle will undoubtedly age well. It’s something you buy to keep to celebrate life. We got notes of blackberry, some dark chocolate (although I’m always leaning toward chocolate, so that might just be me), and maybe tobacco. And it has more than earned its awards. Buy it and hold it if you can.
And then the 2009 INSIGNIA arrived. It was everything we had hoped for – so smooth, silky on the tongue, the tannins were soft, and each sip was pure delight. Baked plums, more blackberries, and tobacco notes, for sure. I got a sense of something floral there, although I couldn’t define it. Andy found cloves. It’s a bold wine but not a face-hugger. And it has beautifully aged already. I’d say grab it and savor it with friends if you can find it.
Do You Need a Reservation for a Wine Tasting at Joseph Phelps?
Yes. As I mentioned in the review of Bennett Lane, if you plan on going on a Napa Valley wine tasting tour, you need to make reservations for your priority wineries as soon as possible. Here is the reservation link for Joseph Phelps.
Does Joseph Phelps Have Outdoor Wine Tastings?
Yes. The winery has an absolutely beautiful patio that overlooks the vineyards and the hills beyond them. It’s a fairly large space, but you should be sure to book a terrace tasting outside if you want to be out there (or need to be there for health reasons).
Hint: You’ll also love walking through the wooded area and the original trellis before entering the space – it’s all gorgeous. The grounds were stunning, even with the clouds threatening (and then dumping) rain on us.
How Long Does the Wine Tasting Last?
It’s hard to tell. The Terrace Tasting is said to run about 75 minutes, but if you have questions, want additional pours, or are buying, it is likely to run longer. They also offer a variety of different tasting events, including a Chef’s Tasting Menu, Vineyard Hikes + Tastings (about 3 ½ hours), and an INSIGNIA retrospective (which runs about 90 minutes), among other options. Frankly, it all sounds fantastic, and I’d love to go back to experience each one.
What Does a Wine Tasting at Joseph Phelps Cost?
It really does depend on which tasting you choose. The Terrace Tasting was $90 per person. Because of the cost of the wine itself, an INSIGNIA retrospective tasting is $300 per person for a semi-private tasting. The Chef’s Tasting Menu is a nine-course wine and food adventure that costs approximately $400 per person.
Are Children Allowed at Joseph Phelps?
No. My understanding is that they do not allow children at the wine tastings at Joseph Phelps. In general, a Napa Valley wine tasting is more adult-oriented than other California wine regions. It was rare to see kids at any of the tastings we visited.
Where is Joseph Phelps?
Joseph Phelps Vineyards is located at 200 Taplin Road, St. Helena, CA 94574.
For more Napa Valley wine tasting adventures, click here.