Visiting Del Dotto Winery and Caves

Visiting Del Dotto Winery and Caves

Do you want to taste some seriously “lights out*” wines? Look no further than Del Dotto, a postmodern institution along Napa’s main wine trail, and the proprietor of a tour I’ve been hearing about for years as a “must experience” event.

This weekend I finally summoned up the courage and paid the whopping $50 to take the hour-long tour into Del Dotto’s wine caves — really more like a walk down a long hallway, I guess — and the experience will not soon be forgotten.

No, not because of the wines, which are invariably over-oaked and incredibly intense and heavy with alcohol, the blatant house style here — although some are quite good.

No, it’s the winery that you won’t soon forget. Overdone with frescoes, columns, balustrades, cornices, and other forms of overdone architecture not often seen in modern America, Del Dotto is a gaudy throwback to a time that has never actually existed. And lest Del Dotto’s faux-talian inspiration not prove readily apparent upon entry, the soaring — pumpingly loud, really — vocals of Andrea Bocelli, piped into the tasting room and the caves via a dozen amplifiers, are ominpresent and impossible to ignore.

The winery’s guides are earnest and try their best to be heard over the tenor’s crooning, and they really do seem to believe the patter they are selling — that using heavily toasted oak and spending nearly two years in a barrel is the right way to treat a wine, no matter what varietal it is, and sure enough, the winery has its fans. It only sells direct, never appearing at retail.

Along the tour, all wines are tasted straight from the barrel, and the guides are generous. Thoughts on everything we sampled follow.

Del Dotto Winery Tasting Report

2006 Del Dotto Cave Blend / $49 / B+ / soft, with chocolate/blueberry notes, lush body

2008 Del Dotto Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Cinghiale Vineyard / $75 / B- / jammy, overdone

2008 Del Dotto Sangiovese Napa Valley / $49 / A- / velvety, with herbal notes, unlike Italian sangiovese in any way

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Lot X / $65 / B / incredibly rich and smoky

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Lot R / $65 / B+ / more floral on the nose, but lots of wood; tart finish

2007 Del Dotto Cave Blend / $49 / B- / minty

2008 Del Dotto Estate Merlot Rutherford / $58 / A- / a return to form for merlot, lots of cocoa and blueberry notes

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Mountain DV10 Block 2 / $125 / B+ / woody with a hard finish

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Mountain D254 Block 1 / $125 / A / much better balance

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard 887 St. Helena / $125 / A- / heavy jam notes, but solid

NV Del Dotto Zinfandel/Syrah Port / $75 / A- / whiskey notes, intense

* A phrase of uncertain origin but meaning “great” which we picked up during our tour here.

Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.

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