Stuck on Napa?

March 18, 2013 § Leave a comment


Never been to Napa?  Want to do it the right way?  Below is my sample “perfect itinerary” for the red wine lover and foodie in us all.  Please note: if you are a lover of white wine just go, go away, far far away.  Ok, I’m mostly kidding.

If you are flying, take Southwest (or any airline that arrives in Oakland) to Oakland.  Oakland is far easier to deal with than SFO.  Renting a car is also much simpler in Oakland.

Now, my friends and I have a tradition.  From Oakland, we drive 25 minutes to Berkeley to eat at the famous Chez Panisse for lunch.  Unfortunately, on March 8th, Chez Panisse suffered a horrendous fire but is planning on re-opening in the near future.  If they are opened, though, I would make eating there a priority.

From Chez Panisse, we head to Napa.  Some people say Sonoma is better, but fuck them.  I like Napa dammit.  Stop at a winery on the way to the hotel (which won’t have your room ready until 4pm anyways).  We stopped at Saintsbury.  I’m a Saintsbury wine club member and a big ole fan.  Best Pinot Noir in the universe if you ask me.  They also had an amazing Rosé on tap (yep- on tap) and it was delicious.  Because I’m a wine club member the tasting was complimentary.

Side note: if you have access to an industry professional who is on the trip with you, all your tastings will be comped.  Also, many tastings are free when you purchase wine anyways.

From Saintsbury, we head to the hotel to wind down a bit.  We recently stayed at the Vino Bello Resort which is attached to the Meritage.  Got a sweet deal – when I booked online they were having a 50% off sale.  I got a two-bedroom condo in the hotel for next to nothing. In the past I’ve also stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn (an OK hotel with nothing wrong, good for the budget) and Milliken Creek (expensive but lovely hotel).

For dinner, eat at Redd.  This is not a suggestion.  This is an order.  Best food, bar none in Napa valley.  Definitely try the fried oysters appetizer and the butterscotch pudding with pretzel bottom for dessert.  OMG I’ve spent the last year trying to crack the recipe code.  No luck.  AH-MAZ-ING.

The next day is winery day.  All wineries all day long.  Now, I suggest you don’t drive to all these wineries.  You have two choices; you could hire a limo to take you to each winery but it will cost upwards of $450-$650 for the whole day (10-4, which always ends up being 5), or you can hire someone from (or similar company).  They provide a person who is fully insured to drive your rental car around all day with you as the passenger. This is only $35/hour.  Saved us a bundle.  Plus I had rented a mini van so us gals could sit in the back and have plenty of room.

Here are the wineries to hit (we don’t really go to wineries unless there is a lovely place to sit.  I hate standing up at a bar doing a tasting…it feels so rushed and uncomfortable):

Domaine Carneros: Beautiful!  Champagne & Pinot Noirs.  I would not start your day here though if you are a champagne drinker.  You’ll get smashed before your day even starts and the rest of the tours will suck.  Sit outside and enjoy the views.

Side note: unless you are really interested in knowing how grapes get smashed up into wine, don’t take the “tours” at the wineries.  The tastings are wonderful and long enough.

Paraduxx: Another beautiful setting and fabulous wine to drink.  Again, mostly reds.

Reynolds Family Winery:  Again, sitting outside next to a pond.  So lovely.  Fabulous wines as well!

Paradigm:  No traditional tasting room but excellent wine.  I highly recommend this hidden gem.  The owner is one of the founding investors of French Laundry.  He might tell you how you can score a reservation there.  I’ve found it to be almost impossible.

Beringer: You may think to yourself that Beringer is that cheapo crap wine but their reserves are superior.  I used to belong to their wine club and the wines they send you are the best of the best- all cabs, no whites.  Yum.

Winery to skip: Cakebread Cellars.  There was maybe one Syrah we all liked but the rest were duds plus they make you stand the whole time and automatically take you on a mini tour.  No thanks.

Winery we couldn’t get into: Far Niente.  Apparently they are not open on Saturdays and there is a waiting list.  Supposed to be amazing BUT I like to drink at places where I can actually afford to buy the wine afterwards.  When the prices start at $100 it’s not worth it.

Most of the wineries we go to have bottles ranging from $40-$100.  Yes, these are on the expensive side but the point is to get “good” wine.

On Saturday we lunched at Bottega.  Michael Chiarello was going around taking pictures with guests at their tables.  His ego almost didn’t fit in the pictures.  The food was good though and I had the most amazing cocktail.  The last ingredient in it was “lavendar air.”  We couldn’t stop laughing at that.  I asked the waiter if I could have “extra lavendar air” please.

Dinner Saturday night was at Market in St. Helena.  About a 30 minute drive from Napa, but it was great.  Who are we kidding?  It is very hard to find a bad meal in Napa.  Mustards Grill is another great option.  The first time I ate there it was wonderful, then second time was just ok, but it remains a staple.

Lunch the next day was at Farmstead, another must in St. Helena.  The BEST potato rolls in the universe.  We even packed up some extras for the plane ride back that evening.  The best part is that you can email the sou chef and he’ll send you the recipe.  So sweet.

Anyways, that is pretty much your perfect weekend getaway Napa trip in a nutshell.  Enjoy!

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