So I originally wrote this post back back in 2009, so I thought I would refresh it now that we live in Wine Country full time.
must preface this post: Mr. Spice isn't a fan of big built up wineries,
so you won't see any of those on the list. We also love finding a wine
that is a great deal for the money. As Mr. Spice says, anyone can make a
great $100 bottle of wine- but can they make a good $20 bottle too??
New to wine tasting? Our #1 rule of wine tasting: if you you like it great!! There
are no rules of who says a wine is good or bad- all that matters is that
you enjoy drinking it!
In the vain of my previous post, and some of Mr. Spice's favorite books growing up- think of this post as a choose your own adventure:
choice: choose the region that you want to visit. While wine country
can look pretty easy to navigate on a map, the roads are small and
windy, so for a perfectly relaxing mini-moon I'd choose one of the
regions below for a weekend or two for a longer weekend. What ever you
do, don't attempt all of them unless you have a week.
The three regions that I am going to focus on are: Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Healdsburg. Each has something different to offer. To way over generalized: Napa Valley is most known for Cabernet's and Chardonnays and it's probably the most built up (read: expensive). Northern Sonoma is more known for Pinot Noirs, Cabernet's, and Savignon Blancs, it's probably the least built up, which gives you a feeling of Napa about 15 to 20 years ago. Healdsburg is quite possibly our very favorite place- Mr. Spice lived there for two years and would love to move back. It's generally known for Zinfandel's and Savigvnon Blancs with some Pinot Noirs. The town square itself is pricey, but I love the wineries and the people in the area. Here's a map to get you situated:
So you've chosen to spend a few days up in Napa Valley:
Heading up from the Bay Area, if you are a wine newbie- make your first stop at Larson Family Vineyard. Its as low key as it comes- with bocce and a great outdoor picnic space. Next, one of the most beautiful wineries you'll hit: Domaine Carneros- it's all sparkling, and very romantic (I've even witnessed a proposal on the deck). Make sure you sample one of their scrumptious flights of sparkling wines.
Next, go to the City of Napa and go to the Vintner's Collective.
It's a group of small wineries that are too small to have their own
tasting rooms, but the wine is awesome!! It allows you to taste a bunch
of great wine in one setting. Here I'd even let them know what types of wine you like best and let them pick for you- most likely they will give you something off the list!! (Updated post earthquake: This building is most likely gone due to earthquake damage.)
For lunch, walk across the street to Pizza Azzurro (where we had our first date) or drive over to Ox Bow Public Market-
it's based on the idea of the Ferry Building in San Francisco and a
great place to taste some local fare- the newest is Five Dot Ranch- meat, yum. Or burgers at Gotts, Hog Island Oysters, or Italian at Ca'Momi. Make sure you sit outside on the decks. And within walking distance is the
brand new Westin, which might be one of the best deals in Wine Country. Our good friend is one of the chefs at La Toque- holy amazing dining experience.
After lunch or the next day, head North, to Robert Sinskey, Mumm (another sparkling), or any place that just looks good. If you
have some major bucks to spend stay at the phenomenal Poetry Inn. We
also like Miner and Chimney Rock. And if you want a truly unique and personal experience go up to St Helena, take a few hours out of you day and make an appointment at Newton Winery. OR Harlen Estate- tell Julia that Karen sent you!!
If you are staying in Napa, I'd highly recommend the Andaz Hotel. For Dinner in Napa, Mr. Spice's favorite place is Oenotri (Food and Wine named it best new Italian Restaurant in the Country),
while I personally love Pear (southern deliciousness) on the river. Morimoto (Japanese) is pretty much the best sushi I have ever had, and cocktails at The Thomas on the third floor deck is ALWAYS a good idea. isOh, and fantastic gelato at Frati Gelato Cafe.
In Yountville, I'd highly recommend Redd Wood- personal favorite, or trust the chefs at Ad Hoc (brunch or dinner, so freaking good).
If you want to drive all the way to St. Helena- first, be aware of traffic. Second, great stops: St. Supery, Elizabeth Spencer, and V. Sattui.
If Sonoma is more your speed, make your first stop at Larson Family Vineyard. It's a great low key place for wine novices and I absolutely love their Roses. We also love VJB Vineyards and Frank Family,
For lunch, it is worth the wait to try out Fremont Diner. Best Chicken and Waffles (CA style)!! Olive and Vine, which also has an amazing cheese shop attached to it, is good as well.
As for places to stay, if you
have a bit of money for a place to stay- I'd recommend the Carneros Inn. I love stopping by and getting sandwiches on the weekend. Farm is fancy for dinner, while the Boonfly has the very best bloody mary. If you want to save your bucks to buy wine- I'd recommend staying at the El Puelbo Inn. A must have reservation for dinner is the Girl and the Fig. Other places nearby to check out are Gloria Ferrer, the Cornerstone Gardens and Sister Sugar got married at B.R. Cohn.
So you've chosen Healdsburg: our absolute favorite!! A few wineries we love are MacPhil for some Pinot Noir, Dutcher's Crossing, Quivera, and the Family Wineries, which is another collective where I'd suggest sampling Forth, Amphoria, and Dashe Cellars. I also wouldn't miss making a reservation at Unti (or in a pinch- just try walking in).
You must stop off at Diavola Pizzeria for lunch and either Scopa or Campo Fina for Dinner (both owned by a friend). All are so amazing. I'd recommend resting your head at Hotel Healdsburg for a splurge, or the Dry Creek Best Western for a good deal for the money.
Once you've eaten and drank your way through Wine Country don't forget to pamper yourself a bit. If you are in Napa Valley, take the time to drive North to the Hot Springs in Calistoga- love Indian Springs. If you are in Sonoma, the Spa at the Sonoma Mission Inn is fantastic. And in Healdsburg, Hotel Healdsburg's Spa is beautiful.
the end, half the fun of wine tasting is choosing your own adventure,
so if you are driving around and you want to stop- by all means stop and
check something out- you may find your favorite wine of the day!
And that's all we have time for today (let me know if you are interested in driving up to Anderson Valley).
Wine Country Livin according to Sugar. Do you have a favorite local winery??