My wife and I just got back from Napa this week. It was our first time going there, so we asked for recommendations on which places to visit and got some sound advice for the most part. From your list, we did Larkmead and Shafer. I would recommend both. We were also recommended Boswell, but were not able to fit it into our schedule.
Like you, we tried to get as many private/library tastings as we could. Two that were surprisingly good were Chat Montelena and Beringer. We did private library tastings at both and were impressed.
At Beringer they poured 05 Cab Sauv Napa, 05 Rancho del Oso, 05 single vineyard Lampyridae and then the 05, 96 and 97 Private reserve cabs. For $35 a head, we thought it was good value.
At Montelena they poured: 06 Chard, 03 Cab franc, 97 merlot and then the 99, 01 and 02 Estate cabs. I think the charge was $40 each.
Other places we enjoyed were Pride, Caymus, Cliff Lede, David Arthur, and Rudd.
The day we went up to Pride, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and views were incredible. It was a small group (my wife and I plus 2 others) and we toured the caves and walked through the vineyard and took in the views while tasting 5 of their wines. It was pretty laid back and causal and there’s no charge.
Caymus was a sit down tasting with 8 total people in the room. The host pouring the wines was very knowledgeable and interesting. I could have sat there for hours listening to him. They poured 03 sauv blanc, 05 Zin, 06 cab sauv and 06 SS. I think it was $20 a head.
At Cliff Lede we did the Poetry tasting which is a private tasting. They poured 04, 05 and 06 Poetry cabs. We did a short tour of the caves, winery, and vineyards then sat in a cool room over looking the vineyards for the tastings. The winery is cool with rock and roll music playing in the background and cool art. The Poetry wines are excellent. The only thing I didn’t like was the cost. At $70 per head, we felt it was a little steep.
David Arther was a fun tasting. David, along with his 2 daughters are great hosts and offer a causal and fun experience. We tasted 5 or 6 wines over the course of 2+ hours. By the end it was just me and my wife and David and his daughters shooting the shit for an hour sipping on his wines. There's no charge for the tasting.
Rudd has a very cool property. The landscaping around the winery is beautiful and the caves are cool too. The host was very knowledgeable. The tour takes you through the gardens, vineyard and caves. Then you go for a sit down tasting of 07 sauv blanc, 06 Bacigalupi chard, 05 crossroads blend and 05 estate proprietary red. I think the tasting/tour was around $50 per head.
Some of the places we did not like: Del Dotto, Joseph Phelps
Del Dotto was recommended to us...Im not sure why. I guess if you want to go somewhere and get hammered its the place to do it. You walk in and you feel like your in Las Vegas and the decor is the tackiest "Italian" theme Ive ever seen. They charge $50 a head for the cave "tour", and by tour they mean walk into the cave 150 feet, and then turn around and walk back. And by cave, they mean there above ground tunnels they built, and then dumped dirt over top so it seems like your underground, and then add air conditioning. As you walk down the tunnel, the unknowledgeable tour guide pours you around 10 different wines. By the time I had given the nose some thought on a particular wine, the rest of the group had empty glasses and the tour guide was moving on to the next wine. I didn’t finish any of the 10 or so glasses I was given and I still had a buzz when the tour was over. For $50, it was a joke.
We just the did the basic tasting at Phelps, which includes the Insignia and 3-4 other wines. The way they made it sound over the phone, it was going to be romantic; sitting on the patio, over looking the vineyard, sipping on some wine. But the overall experience is lame. There are about 20 people on this patio, with 4 hosts all just pouring wines for everyone. We had 3 different hosts talk to us about the various wines as they poured. Interestingly enough many of the comments they made contradicted what the other host said. For $20 a head it wasn’t too bad I guess, but dont go looking for a total experience here. If you want to try Insignia, then it’s worth while to do.