Friday, September 4, 2015

A Weekend in Napa

Let The Harvest Begin!
Last month we drove up to San Jose and then visited Napa during the weekend. On our way north we stopped at the Los Olivos Grocery and picked up a bottle of Tensley’s 2013 Los Padres Central Coast Viognier. After a grueling Friday afternoon drive (crawl) from San Jose to Napa the chilled bottle of Viognier was excellent!
Although this blog post is about Napa, this inexpensive central coast Viognier was one of the best discoveries of the whole trip. On our return trip we stopped again and bought a few more bottles.
We also picked up a fantastic 2013 Hunter Hill Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains and a 2010 Bruzzone Family Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz County in San Jose. Hey, they make great wines in Santa Cruz County too; it's worth a trip back to check out their wineries.

1425 First Street Napa, CA  94559

Oenotri was a little too crowded to find us a table, even though we had a reservation, so we opted to eat at the bar. I had a nice glass of 2009 Capezzana “Vill di Capezzana” Sangiovese Blend with a Margherita Pizza. It was probably more fun at the bar anyway and I enjoyed watching the pizzas being tossed up in the air in the kitchen.
1313 Main Restaurant & Wine Bar
1313 Main Street, Napa CA  94559

We enjoyed dinner at 1313 Main. Their food and wine were excellent and the presentation was special.  We skipped the prix fixe “Chef’s Tasting Menu” with wine pairings and ordered from the dinner menu. I enjoyed the Seared Dayboat Scallops with Blistered Shishito Peppers, Bonito Butter, Soy Reduction, Forbidden Black Rice and Crisp Shallots.
At the suggestion of the Sommelier we ordered a bottle of 2011 Reynolds Family Winery Chardonnay and it was fantastic with dinner! We liked it so much that we visited the winery the following day. And luckily, even though the Reynolds Family Winery only takes reservations for tastings, we managed to reserve a tasting.
1140 Main Street, Napa, CA  94559
TORC restaurant serves contemporary American food with subtle international influences sourced from local farms. Their wine list is extensive and includes vintage Burgundies and Napa cult wines, an extensive selection of beers and seasonal craft cocktails.
Devon had a glass of the 2012 El Molino Chardonnay, Rutherford $59.99 and I enjoyed the 2012 Hourglass HG III Red Blend, Napa Valley (Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec). Both wines were excellent along with their small plates. A guest next to me was drinking Russian River Valley’s Pliney the Elder (Double IPA), glad to see it available at a bar!

The Fremont Diner
2698 Fremont Dr, Sonoma, CA  95476 

Their website says, “Reimagined down-home comfort dishes draw crowds to this cheerful roadside diner with patio seating” and the food has been wonderful on previous visits. If you catch them on a weekday or very early on a weekend you might be able to avoid the hour-long wait. I was able to order a chocolate-peanut butter milkshake while deciding whether to wait and hour to be seated (and then another hour for the food) or to order food-to-go (which also takes about an hour). 
We decided to leave and go to Sonoma for brunch after a very loud head-on collision occurred in front of the diner. The Sonoma Highway was closed in the Napa direction and was only open towards Sonoma. The shake was great, but the whole atmosphere dramatically changed with the accident nearby. It looked like no serious injuries occurred, even the dog in one car made it out OK.
Breakaway Cafe
19101 Sonoma Hwy, Sonoma, CA 
As they say, “Comfort food just got a lot more comfortable!” The Breakaway Cafe was a great place to breakaway to after the mishap and the forever lines at the Fremont Diner.  I enjoyed the Breakfast Burrito, but the coffee was pretty blah. (This is the sort of place that when they ask if you’d like cream or sugar with your coffee, I think, hmmm, that depends on if it tastes any good!) I would have had one of their Mimosas or Bloody Marys if I weren’t planning on tasting wine for the rest of the day.
Bistro Don Giovanni
4100 Howard Lane on Highway 29, Napa, CA  94558 

The Bistro is described online as a restaurant with a rustic warm Italian ambiance located in the heart of the Napa Valley, serving fresh Italian and French style cuisine. I found the food to be very good, but I thought the ambiance in their large dinning room was a little bit like a bus station. It was also too classy of a place to order spaghetti and meatballs, which I tried to do, and it made the waitress laugh out loud, heartily. I was just testing… I did have a great Caesar Salad and the best chicken I’ve ever tasted though, it was Pollo alla Diavola, a roasted spicy mary’s organic chicken with broccolini, lemon confit, and natural jus. I just love it when the jus isn’t artificial! The grounds have crazy sculptures too.
Ragged Point Inn & Resort
19019 CA-1, Ragged Point, CA  93452
This hotel and restaurant in
South Big Sur has excellent lunch and killer views! Really, don't step too close to the edge. This was a wonderful place to take a driving break, have lunch, and walk around the grounds with dramatic coastal views in all directions. After skipping a very crowded Carmel we were more than ready for a late lunch by the time we arrived at Ragged Point. 

The Hess Collection
4411 Redwood Rd, Napa, CA  94558 
The Hess Collection Visitors Center and Art Museum are scheduled to reopen in September and we could see that the earthquake damaged Cellar One was being repaired the day we visited. The temporary visitor center tent was substantial and not very crowded at the beginning of the day. Of the current release wines we tasted I liked the 2011 Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley the best.
Although the upper floors of the art museum were still closed we were able to tour part of the Donald Hess collection on the first floor.
Sequoia Grove Winery
8338 St. Helena Highway, Napa, CA  94558
The winery is in rustic location along the St. Helena Highway with very nice red wines. I especially liked the 2012 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.

It was interesting to learn that Sequoia Grove Winery is part of Kobrand along with international holdings and US wineries Cakebread Cellars, Domaine Carneros, Foley Estates Vineyards And Winery, Red Splash/White Splash, and St. Francis Winery & Vineyards.
Newton Vineyard
2555 Madrona Avenue, St. Helena, CA  94574
The Newton Vineyard tour and tasting on top of Spring Mountain is well worth the price. I’m usually more interested in wine tasting than touring wineries, but this quick tour was a good overview of their Chardonnay cellars and their English gardens. The seated tasting consisted of the Newton Unfiltered Portfolio and the Newton Icon 2012 The Puzzle Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. All of the red wines were very good, but the 2012 Unfiltered Chardonnay was our favorite.

It was interesting to hear how Peter and Su Hua Newton had founded Sterling Vineyards and sold it to Coca-Cola in the 1970s before starting Newtow Vineyard. (Sterling is now owned by international alcohol conglomerate Diageo.) And after they established Newton Vineyard they sold part of it to Mo√ęt Hennessy - Louis Vuitton S.E (LVMH) in 2001. Newton Vineyard is still operated by the Newton family though the Veuve Cliquot division of LVMH controls it.
Reynolds Family Winery           
3266 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA  94558

As we expected (from our experience at 1313 Main) the wines from Reynolds Family Winery were all excellent and the scenery, with vineyards near the tasting room and a tranquil pond nearby, was great too. We bought both the 2011 and 2012 vintages of their Chardonnay, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2012 Persistence Red Wine. 
Darioush Winery
4240 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA  94558
Darioush Khaledi and his wife Shahpar founded Darioush in 1997.
Barside and tableside tasting service is available by appointment and seatings are available every hour. Walk-ins are seated on a first come, first served basis. We attempted to walk in and were told it would be a short wait. After looking around the grounds for about 30 minutes we took our name off the list and left. It was a very nice looking winery and people we met the day before told us that their red wines were great.
5350 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA  94558
Owned by the Terlato family, the Chimney Rock estate has 119 acres of vineyards divided into 28 blocks. They produce some fantastic wines and we enjoyed tasting them. The tasting room was comfortable and the staff was very knowledgeable. The only problem I had with the Stags Leap District reds was that they averaged over $80 a bottle.
If I had the money though, I'd buy a few cases of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, it was fantastic!
We really lucked out finding some other wines along the way. The great local wines we tasted at TORC included El Molino Chardonnay and Hourglass HGIII Red Blend. The Los Padres, Hunter Hill, and Bruzzone Family wines weren't from Napa, but they were great nevertheless!
Chimney Rock, El Molino, Los Padres and Reynolds Family Winery were all fantastic!

Los Padres, Bruzzone, Reynolds and Chimney Rock were the best deals.

Chimney Rock and Reynolds Family Winery top my Favorite category. The 2006 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley was the best wine I tasted all weekend!

The best deals in red wines were all over the place. I enjoyed the glass of Hourglass HGIII the best of these reds.

There are many great restaurants and wineries in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys and we always enjoy the food and wine whenever we visit. The wineries and the cost of tasting sure have changed since we've first toured the area in the mid '80s though, so we've scaled back our wine tasting to fit our budget. Whatever your budget, you should go at least once, because it will always be more expensive later!

At Reynolds Family Winery we learned that many of the newer wineries in Napa Valley are not accessible for tastings without a prior appointment being set up (like they were). This is a result of the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance that restricts new wineries from having tours and tastings open to the public. I hadn’t realized that the last few times we’ve visited.

Check out my Napa Trip video by clicking here.  


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