My girlfriend and I went on an absolutely fantastic trip to Napa Valley in California last week. It was relaxing and refreshing, and the first of two shipments totaling 22 bottles of wine arrived at my humble Hoboken abode today. The only downside: I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drink generic, cheap wine again after all the great wines we sampled. I’m already a beer snob — can I afford to be a wine snob, too?
We spent the first day in San Francisco, doing the tourist thing at Fisherman’s Wharf — the sea lions remind me of 8-Ball, my big, fat, black cat, lying around, barking and barely moving — and having dinner and drinks with a friend of ours who recently moved out there.
Then, once my luggage fiasco was solved, we hopped into one of the most fun cars I’ve ever rented — a black Chrysler PT Cruiser that we affectionately nicknamed “The Hearse” and “The Deathmobile” — and, with the help of my trusty GPS, headed up north to wine country.
We stayed at a wonderful bed-and-breakfast called the Beazley House. I can’t rave about it enough. The room was comfortable, the people were wonderful, the breakfasts were delicious (and an outstanding pregame meal when you’re about to drink wine all day) and the chocolate-chip cookies were off the hook.
On our first full day up there, we took a tour, mainly to avoid having to worry about drinking and driving, and it turned out to be a great move. Not only did we taste at eight wineries, but we ended up in the northern part of Napa Valley, where we probably wouldn’t have ventured on our own (Beazley House is in Napa, and we went to several places in the Calistoga area).
We also ate like royalty. I can’t even begin to explain how difficult it was going back to “normal” food and drinks after this trip.
I’ll go into detail on some of my favorite places from the trip — food first, then wine.
Auberge du Soleil was the site of one of the most fantastic meals I have ever been a part of. Expensive? Very, but totally worth it. Every last bite was amazing, as was the wine, and the view was just heavenly. This is the type of meal you treat yourself to once or twice a year, and it was worth every penny. It also makes a great birthday dinner for your significant other and scores some serious brownie points (I hope?).
ZuZu was one of the best Tapas places I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating in. Everything we ordered was delicious. And they found the way to my heart with scallops.
And Celadon was also a great find by the person who planned 100% of this trip (that person was, surprisingly, not me!). Not only was dinner incredible, but I have a soft spot for places that are built into old buildings, yet keep the character of the buildings intact, while adding a modern touch. The exposed brick in the dining room was a great touch.
Now, on to the wineries. I am by no means suggesting that these are the best wineries in Napa Valley — just sharing my favorites and why I enjoyed them.
Our very first tour of the trip was probably the most fun of all of them. Del Dotto Vineyards keeps their wine cool by storing it in a cave drilled into the side of the mountain. The candles atop the barrels made me feel like I was in an Ozzy Osbourne video. The wine is tasted straight from the barrels, and it was good wine. I recommend trying to get the last tour of the day. Why? With no one else waiting, the tour guides were quite generous with the wine. “Mas vino!” Thanks, Ray!
Another fascinating stop was Castello di Amorosa. Before raving about the place itself, let me say that the wines were among my favorites, as we ended up buying four bottles, all completely different styles. OK, now I can rave about the place: It is stunning. It must be nice to have money. The winery is an authentic European castle that was taken apart, brought to California and reassembled brick-by-brick. It took 14 years. It is truly an amazing sight.
I have to have a soft spot for any place that produces alcohol and is named after a criminal. Therefore, I really enjoyed Dutch Henry Winery. It’s located in a picturesque rural setting, and they were nice enough to host a picnic lunch for our tour and bring the wines out to our table.
While not as scenic as some of the other wineries we were able to visit, in terms of pure wine enjoyment and an informative tasting, Cakebread Cellars is hard to beat. Our tasting guide was meticulous in detailing every wine, and every drop was absolutely delicious.
My girlfriend finally solved a years-long dilemma of not being able to find a good kosher wine for Passover dinner with our visit to Hagafen. Now we just need to remember not to crack open the bottle of 2006 Pinot Noir in the wine rack until next year’s Seder.
Speaking of stunning, straight from Persia (yes, it’s Iran now, and I know the U.S. and Iran aren’t exactly bosom buddies right now, but this place harkens back to more peaceful times) comes Darioush, another beautiful castle brought over and reassembled in Napa Valley.
Last but not least, it was out with the horses and in with the wine barrels at Black Stallion Winery, another gorgeous building and another taste explosion.
Now that I’ve spent all this time writing about wine, it might be time to stop typing and start sipping. Cheers!