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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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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:)

Rotisserie & Wine – Napa, CA

I’m a huge fan of Tyler Florence already but this just confirmed it even more.  Located in the heart of Napa with a patio facing the Napa River, he’s opened another fantastic restaurant that is the perfect spot for any occasion.  A thanks to his wife Tolan, his personal interior decorator, the decor couldn’t be more or a perfect marriage with the food.  Rustic yet refined, it’s a comfortable spot that has managed to still be current.  Whether it’s a casual lunch (like i enjoyed) or a birthday get together, you’ve got to try it!

The best surprise ever was the warm cornbread that came out before our meal.  I seriously could have eaten tons of it but had to remind myself of all the food coming.  My husbands R&W cheeseburger looked incredible.  With the fried egg on top it was a little hard to share so lucky him…he got it all to himself.  My salad was perfect for the middle of the day, especially since we had the deviled eggs as starters.

And don’t forget about his tempting kitchen store next door – Tyler Florence West Coast Kitchen Essentials.  I could spend all day in there:)  Here’s where you can get your hands on the pots and pans Chef Florence uses in his restaurants and at home as well as other top brands.   His spice rubs and marinades make amazing hostess and holiday gifts.  I’d be amazed if you walked out without purchasing anything:)

Complementary cornbread to start your meal with…yum!

Deviled eggs with fried capers, shallots and thyme oil

Chop salad – pulled chicken, bacon, avocado, jack cheese and a garlic vinaigrette

R&W Cheeseburger with an added fried egg

SALSA DO PARMIGIANO (“Parm Dip”)
Recipe Courtesy: Michael Chiarello’s Bottega Cookbook

For those who have had the pleasure of dining at Bottega in Yountville, CA…you know what this dip is.  Rather than your typical oil and vinegar you’re given this savory Parmesan dip along with the most exquisite artisan bread to smother it in.  It’s sharp from the cheese, rich with excellent quality olive oil and spicy due to chili flakes.  Truly delicious…it’s easy to loose your appetite with this stuff.  Beware!

Makes 3 1/2 Cups to Serve 16

  • 1/2 pound Parmesan cheese, not too dry
  • 1/2 pound Asiago cheese, not too dry
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Remove any rind from the cheeses and chop the cheeses into rough 1-inch chunks. Pulse the cheeses in a food processor until reduced to the size of a fine pea gravel. Transfer the cheese to a bowl and stir in the green onion and garlic. Add the oregano, rubbing between your fingers to release it’s fragrance. Add the black pepper, red pepper flakes, and olive oil. Stir well. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least 4 hours before serving.

Paula LeDuc Fine Catering

Let me start by giving you a little background on when Paula LeDuc first came into my life. It was about 2004 or so. My good friend Lindsey and I were at the Nordstrom’s Fashion Show in San Francisco (I lived there at the time) and after the show the most delicious appetizers were being passed. The one that stood out the most were these things called Beggars Purses…fine thin crepes filled with créme fraiche and caviar and then tied into little bundles with a single chive. Kill me now…I’ve gone to heaven! Seriously…for 7, yes 7!, years I’ve been thinking about these bundles of perfection and I often find my mouth watering just dreaming of them.

Jump ahead 6 years, my fiancé and I are down in Napa a year before our wedding doing a site visit.  We are at Beaulieu Garden in Rutherford and are walking around the property when the topic of food comes up and we’re told the venue has an exclusive caterer. In my head I’m cringing a bit (hoping to God it’s someone decent) and then two magic words were said…Paula LeDuc!!! Another, “I’ve died and gone to heaven” moment.

So now fast forward a year and here we are at our wedding. I’ve been anticipating this day for a while now for so many reasons. But one of the things I was most excited for was the food fully aware of the fact that I wouldn’t be indulging in it as much as I would like to. My one request was that my new husband and I would have a few minutes to ourselves after the ceremony with a plate full of appetizers. Boy was that a good decision! I can’t tell you how thankful I was to have those savory little bites.

If you or anyone you know needs a caterer in the Bay Area, Paula LeDuc is your woman!!! She and her staff come up with the most incredible menus to fit your pallet and preferences. Don’t be a crazy anorexic bride, take advantage of the tasting because that’s probably the most you’ll enjoy the food since the wedding tends to be a little consuming.  I’ll end it by quoting the PLD tagline, “Perfect will be just fine”

*Image credit (for all photos): Geoff Johnson


The Hilltop at The Carneros Inn – Napa, CA 

Over Memorial Day weekend this year I had the pleasure of spending the long weekend with some good college friends at the lovely Carneros Inn where we passed the time eating, drinking and sitting poolside.  It was the perfect weekend!  Especially since my fiancé was celebrating his bachelor party in Vegas:)

One of my all time favorite breakfast items to get at the Hilltop, located by check-in and the adult only pool, is their Crispy Tortilla and Farm Eggs.  I’m a sucker for any sort of breakfast dish with chorizo so it’s no wonder this one always calls my name.  As heavy as it might seem, it’s really not especially because the portion size isn’t crazy and your friends/family will always want a bite.  If you like chorizo and eggs, this one’s for you!

*Just a heads up – The Hilltop is only open on the weekends.  I’ve been there a few times during the week and have been insanely disappointed to figure that out.  Otherwise the Boon Fly Café is open every day of the week and is great as well.

Crispy Tortilla and Farm Eggs – Ranchero sauce, chorizo, black beans, queso fresco and salsa verde

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