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Napa Valley Wine Tasting

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My husband and I love everything about Napa, especially the wine, and try to get down there a couple of times each year.  I constantly get emails from family, friends and friends of friends asking where to go wine tasting so I thought a post about some especially good – not to miss spots – would be great!

There are wineries that take reservations and others that don’t.  Personally I prefer the ones that are reservation only simply because it means there will be no tour buses, less people, and more one on one time most likely with the owner or wine maker.  What’s not to love about that?!  One of the downsides to reservation only wineries is that sometimes that means there’s an expensive tasting fee.  At the end of the day I think you need to figure out what your goal is.  Are you looking to just have the experience of wine tasting without buying?  Are you wanting the convenience of just popping into a place off of Highway 29?  Are you interested in buying hard to find wine not accessible to the general public?  Whatever your answer is, I’ve got plenty of places for everyone.  Below I have them categorized to help you narrow down your selection.

*I highly encourage anyone and everyone to hire a car service for their day of wine tasting.  It might make your day a little more expensive but it’s a lot less cheaper than a DUI and will make the day safer and more relaxing I promise.  Just remember, “You booze, you cruise, you lose!”

Napa Valley Tours & Transportation

Appointment only:

Fleury – $35 tasting fee.  This is hands down one of our favorite wineries!  The winery itself isn’t anything to write home about.  It’s a warehouse with tasting tents set up inside however the wine is the true star here.  Go here if you’re looking for some great wine to purchase.  Our favorites are the Passionne, The “F” in Red, Le Fleur 29 and Rocket Juice.  Yum…makes me want some now!

Schramsberg $45 tasting fee.  If bubbles are your weakness, then this is your place!  I typically recommend people start their day here since drinking champagne is a little easier to do earlier in the day in comparison to red wine:)  You’ll definitely get your $45 worth of champagne, they serve generous pours and you’ll learn a lot about the history of champagne as well as the winery itself.

Quintessa $65 tasting fee.  One of the most expensive tasting fee I’ve ever paid at a winery but the architecture and winery itself are stunning.  By visiting this winery you’ll get a full tour of how the grapes are grown, harvested, sorted and processed into wine.  It’s a beautiful set up and the wine is really delicious.  Just a heads up if you do end up buying – we suggest cellaring their wine for a good 5 years.  It tends to taste a bit young before letting it age a little longer.

HALL Rutherford  – My husband and I had our rehearsal dinner in the gorgeous wine cave here.  Situated up in the hills, HALL Rutherford has stunning views and is overall a lovely wine tasting experience.  From whites to reds, their wines are delicious.  The “Bergfeld St. Helena” is a favorite in our house.

CADE $35-$60 tasting fee.  Located atop Howell Mountain with breath-taking panoramic views of Napa Valley, this winery is a bit of a trek but worth it!  I happen to love their Sauvignon Blanc but I also never say no to a Cabernet Sauvignon:)

Gabrielle – This is such a special winery and not one to be rushed.  I believe I spent about an hour and a half here and probably could have been there all day had it not been for my other appointments.  Gabrielle takes you on a walking tour of her beautiful property and then brings you to a charming table set by the pond and under the trees for some wine tasting, as well as her salts, herbs, honey, etc if you’re interested.  The Silver Stallion is incredible as well as the Cask 321.

Caldwell Limited appointments each month.  Another winery set high in the mountains, this too is a very special place with the most charming owner (John).  This is probably one of the most exclusive wineries I’ve ever visited and they don’t offer many tastings a month so call ahead if you want to go.  All of John’s wines are stunning but something that also stood out was the wine his workers sell as their own.  John has been nice enough to gift them land on his property to make their own wine which is a pretty incredible opportunity for anyone let alone a very generous and thoughtful gift if you ask me.

Pride Mountain $20-$75 tasting fee.  Set up one of their tastings or tours for you and up to six to twelve other guests and enjoy the view and stunning wines.  I personally love their Merlots.  2010 was a phenomenal year for them which is unfortunately sold out at this point but I’m enjoying their current release now and it’s delicious!

Merus – Since visiting Merus, I now see on their website that it says, “Because our production is so restricted, the winery and its tasting salon are closed to the general public and may only be visited by invitation”.  I would check with your hotel concierge to see if they can get you in because it’s well worth it.  Their wine is outstanding!

Open to the public:

Robert Sinskey

Duckhorn

Freemark Abbey

Sequoia Grove

Frank Family

Silver Oak

Castello di Amorosa

Redd Wood – Yountville, CA

Whether you’re spending your day wine tasting or are just looking for a great spot for lunch (or breakfast/dinner), you should definitely stop by Redd Wood in Yountville.  Located next to the boutique hotel North Block Hotel (and not far from French Laundry), it’s the perfect place to have an easy, unpretentious meal that’s satisfying, not super heavy and overall a place that you’ll want to go back to.  This is Michelin-starred chef Richard Reddington’s second Yountville spot, his first being Redd which is equally fabulous but oh so different.  *You’ve got to try that spot if you haven’t already!

The decor is very current/urban and comfortable.  Kind of reminds me of a place you’d find in Soho with a California feel.  There’s outdoor seating which is always a great option, especially for someone like myself who doesn’t get the opportunity to eat outside a ton at home.

I stopped in midday for a bite in between wine tastings and was very happy with my order – the shaved summer vegetable salad which couldn’t be fresher and the proscuitto, arugula and parmesan pizza.  I’d love to go back for dinner to try some pastas and main courses.

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Gott’s Roadside – St. Helena, CA

Formerly known as Taylor’s Refresher, Gott’s is THE burger spot in town!   There are 3 locations in the greater Bay Area – The Ferry Building in San Francisco, The Oxbow Market in Napa and here off of highway 29 in St. Helena.  Most burger joints just offer the expected – hamburger, cheeseburger, fries, shakes, etc.  Not the case here.  There’s everything from your traditional bacon cheeseburger to shrimp tacos and chinese chicken salad.

On a recent visit with my husband and some friends, we all chose something different.  I went for the Spicy Chicken Sandwich which was very satisfying however I could have used a little more kick!  My husband went classic and got the Bacon Cheeseburger which was perfect, juicy and everything you would want in a cheeseburger.  I definitely had to steal a bite:)  Along with fries and onion rings (the best I’ve had!), we splurged and also got the special zucchini fries.  How can you say no to something that has “while they last” in parenthesis next to them?  I’ve been on a zucchini kick so I really liked them however when looking back at my pictures I realized what was missing…the home made ranch sauce they said came with them.  Darn!  Next time.

The cute picnic area out back where we enjoyed our insanely indulgent lunch

Bacon Cheeseburger – American cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles & secret sauce served on a toasted egg bun

Spicy Chicken – grilled, chili spice-marinated chicken breast, sliced avocado, Mexican slaw, cilantro sour cream & charred jalapeño mayo on a toasted sourdough roll

Zucchini Fries

 

 

 

La Condesa – Napa, CA

While strolling down Main Street in cute St. Helena I couldn’t help but notice this hip new Mexican joint and I couldn’t wait to try it.  When you walk in you are immediately struck by the vibrant blue painted walls that look something reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw’s closet in Sex and The City only a tad bit little brighter!

The menu is loaded with flavor punching Mexican favorites with a new twist to them such as the pickled strawberry, roasted pepitas and queso fresco guacamole.  Say what?!  Another dish that stood out to me was the Panza de Puerco Huaraches with pork belly, blue cheese, fig jam, black pepper caramel, arugula and tomatillo.  Wowzers!  I’m not even sure what to say except that I’m looking forward to going back just to try some of their interesting modern Mexican dishes.

I chose to take them up on their $15 lunch special which included a salad, 2 tacos of my choice, rice, beans and a scoop of ice cream for dessert.  Perfect!  PS – the Cream Cheese Ice Cream is delicious!  Tastes just like frozen cheesecake…yum!

Casa Salad – mixed greens, queso fresco, avocado, tortilla strips and balsamic vinaigrette

Cochinita Pibil Taco – seville orange-banana leaf marinated berkshire pork, cabbage, pickled red onion and pickled jalapeño & Pescado Taco – griddled pacific rockfish, cabbage, salsa de arbol, pico de gallo, and chipotle mayo

Coffee Chip Ice Cream

C Casa – Napa, CA

For those of you who have been to the Oxbow Market in Napa you already know how incredible it is!  Although I had been there once before, I hadn’t actually eaten at any of the stalls.  On a recent trip down I needed a quick bite and decided on C Casa.  The menu made it hard for me to narrow down my choices…everything sounded so fresh and yummy.  I settled on the C Chop Salad and one salmon taco which was a special that day.  YUM!  I chose well:)  And I would definitely order them again.

There’s a charming outdoor space where you pick your order up right at the window otherwise there’s ample space inside.

C Chop Salad – with queso fresco, red bell peppers, pumpkin seeds & creamy cilantro lime dressing

Grilled Salmon Taco – with grilled corn relish, poblanos, green onions, romaine, garlic aioli, micro greens and avocado crema

Morimoto – Napa, CA

My husband and I were lucky enough to have Morimoto do the sushi for our wedding welcome party but we had never been to the restaurant in downtown Napa itself.  I recently went with a friend and I’m already dying to go back.  I didn’t even have any sushi!  I started with the Spicy King Crab with tobanjan aioli and micro-cilantro…wowzers!!!  I can see why my friend had me order my own and didn’t want to share:)  It was rich but not too crazy of a portion if you go with a lighter entrée which we did.  Otherwise it would be a great starter to share with a group.

For our entrée we split the Tempura Calamari Salad which was perfect!  The calamari was cooked perfectly and not too heavy considering it was fried.  Yum!

To end the meal we splurged on the “S’mores” which I think was new to the menu.  Definitely a great choice…I don’t think there was a morsel left on the plate:)

Fremont Diner – Sonoma, CA

Once upon a time this spot used to be a secret but…that’s not so much the case anymore.  The line will prove it too!  But don’t be afraid, people are there for a reason and it’s worth the wait.  Just grab a coffee, iced tea or malt and make the most of it:)

I was there recently for brunch and was overwhelmed by all the tasty options on the menu.  What to order – what to order!  I finally decided on the chilaquiles.  That seems to be my go-to whenever I see it on a menu.  I’m so glad I decided to add the “smoked pork” for $3.50…worth every cent!!!  What a scrumptious breakfast/brunch/lunch!  I couldn’t even finish it but I didn’t leave overly stuffed and I would definitely go back for this again.  My friend got the “shrimp & grits” which were just as amazing.  There was so much more to both these dishes than expected.  Packed with flavor and complexity…the first bite left us moaning, “Mmmmm…Mmmmm!”:)

The “chicken & waffle” and “breakfast toast” had me salivating as well.  Next time:)

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