5.18.2013

I am no Robert Parker

I am no Robert Parker when it comes to tasting wine, heck...I don't even know how to read the tasting charts that other wine critics have created. However, I am quite good at being open to have a 2 ounce taste in my glass and trying to figure out if I can track down these berry, leather and chocolate flavors that the sommelier has attested are in the Pinot Nior I am swirling around in my steamed wine glass. I can admit, after being to several different wine regions in the sunny state of Cali-forn-i-a I am able to slowly start depicting the difference in wines.

Last week after Spencer finished his Step 1 exam we hopped on a flight to San Francisco and met his parents for a weekend adventure to Napa Valley.
I have only been to San Fran a handful of times - normally it consisted of sprinting through the airport to make an international connection, or parking a vehicle at the Giants stadium to go and watch a game before jetting back up to the mountains. So, with the limited time that I have spend in the heart of downtown and all of the positive things I had heard I was very excited to maybe finally have the opportunity to jump on a cable car (fast forward 24 hours, I never rode a cable car while in San Fran my little size 6.5 feet, cabs and the rental car were our main transportation...completely okay with me!).

Spence and I set off in Union Square and were immediately turned off by the amount of Saturday chaos - has Orange County tainted us? That is a scary thought. We both agreed you could throw us in downtown LA and we would be much more comfortable. After walking around the same block for a good 30 minutes, hangry (hungry and angry), we settled on a burger place Super Duper, well tried and true to the name it was indeed super duper. After having some sustenance the SF adventure continued - China Town (where I was told that tea would make me more beautiful...what the heck?), the Nike Store where I checked out Nike's running watch colab with TomTom. One word: NEED. Then we headed to the place I knew well in the city, AT&T Park for a Giants/Dodger game, completely non-bias. My goodness I have never noticed before how devoted Giants fans are...Long story short, we found some decent tickets, it was cold, I was SUPER happy to be watching baseball (I love going to games, honestly it is one of my favorite summer things to do. Spence doesn't like watching ball), the game went into an extra inning, the Giants won. We got in a cab with a really weird cabby, who asked us if animals made you fat. Of course, we thought this was going to break into a conversation of why we should be vegans - well my friends low and behold we wanted he ended up telling us that his cat was making him fat because of its fur getting into his stomach. Hi, ummm are you licking your cat?

After a nice rest we started our day off at Sears Fine Foods were I had some decent pancakes and an overload of bacon and sausage (hey...I was on vacation!). We piled in the car and were Napa bound (well more specifically Yountville). We had a an exquisite adventure throughout the Napa Valley, I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go there, I really hope that I can make it back sometime. Here are some highlights from our trip:

We stayed in the cute and quaint little town of Yountville, where I could easily live. It is home of a handful of Michelin star restaurants, flourishing gardens and adorable little houses. You could easily walk across the entire town in a matter of minutes (which, I will admit made running in the morning slightly difficult). We rolled into town with no method to our madness, and madness it was. We quickly found that it would be advantageous if we made appointments for tastings - so we ventured through the valley stopping at one winery and the next booking tastings.

Our first actual tasting, and hands down my favorite, was Raymond. Remember when your parents told you never judge a book by its cover? Well, we rolled up to a plain white building with a dirt parking. I judged a book, I didn't have high expectations I thought we would walk in and it would be pretty plain jane. Well, I was REALLY WRONG. This place blew my mind! They have a handful of well decorated tasting rooms, all offering a completely different experience.
Why, yes that is a cirque du soleil mannequin hanging there. Oh, those are a few of the wines we tasted too. 
This was the wine library room. 

Just being adorbs outside. 


This was one of my favorite parts. Each of these hands holds a scent - the scent is related to  something you read on a wine label: cherry, leather, chocolate, patchouli, etc. You can walk around and smell the different smells to stimulate your senses prior to tasting. 

This is the crystal room where we tasted wines. Why the crystal room? Well, because everything that provided light, as well as the decanters were made by Baccarat. Did I mention they were playing great music too? And the gentleman pouring for us was full of great stories. 

The lawn furniture. This is made from plastic. I will own this some day....
Next stop? Dean & Deluca for a light lunch. Spence and I spilt a prosciutto sandwich, it was so basic and so satisfying for being just prosciutto, bread and a little butter. I could have easily bought the entire store.

We ventured down to Beringer to see the grounds. They were beautiful, I wish my mom would have been there with me to experience how lovely they were.

This was a part of the caves at Beringer. It was supposed to be closed to the public and for tours only, but, the door was open....so that means it's fair game right? From what I was quickly able to see it looks beautiful. 

The Beringer house. This honestly reminded me a of a spooky story, I was waiting for bats to fly into my hair. 

We jetted back up the road and made a random decision to stop at Heitz Cellar, right next to the Sutter Homes monstrosity. First, they had complimentary tastings there - AWESOME. Secondly, they had one of the most magnificent backyard area.
Pano of the vinyard
Then, of course it wouldn't be a trip to the Napa Valley for us without a pit stop at Elizabeth Spencer Winery, yes...we did. The tasting room was really unique - they had taken the old post office and renovated it, keeping the integrity and history of the building. They have a great little backyard set up, which, when we went back the second day we sat outside until the bad weather ran us out. I highly suggest going off the beaten path and finding this little building - the Zin was magical.
Yep. This really happened. 

Wine Library. 

Day two. 

We abruptly had to leave in order to make a tasting down the road at Cakebread, where we showed up late and went on a wild goose chase to find our tour. Alas, we found them in a great room which had a cork ceiling. The man that took us around was hilarious, it turned out that another couple in our group was from Colorado as well! After visiting several different wineries in a day Spence and I were slowly starting to see the subtle differences between the wines, locations and people (who knows, maybe it was the wine talking?).
The ceiling at Cakebread that I instantly fell in love with. 

WineVines. 
A bike contraption. 
We headed back to Yountville to our cozy little hotel and parked the car. We were not done tasting yet, even though it was nearing 5 o'clock - we headed to one of my new favorite places Maisonry. This place was filled with art, wine, cheerful and friendly people and provided an experience like no other...how could you not like that? Instead of being a winery this places acts more as a liaison for very small wine makers around the valley - actually, we were luckily enough to have one of the wine makers  come and visit our table and give us the story behind his wine, R.A. Harrison Family Cellars. Spence and I liked Maisonry so much that we actually found ourselves back there the following day just to enjoy a glass of wine prior to dinner.

Lush

Ma(i)sonry

I wish I had this table

Bikes and sidecars. 

I hope you have a big bottle of wine you need to open
And we are out....

That night we had a very enjoyable dinner at Mustards Grill. My favorite part was roaming the garden and picking little snippits of the greens and giving them a taste test. Everything passed. The restaurant is in an old truck stop that has been renovated - the whole place said hey we are laid back, but ultra classy. 
The garden

Admiring the greens. I wish I could have a garden! 
The best part of the night was getting back to the hotel. Walking into our room to find that our room had the sheets turned, cookies on the side tables, the lights dimmed and easy going music - it made me just want to be a 3 year old and jump on the bed while eating cookies and getting crumbs everywhere. Okay, I maintained my adultness and headed down the fire place to enjoy one last glass of wine for the night. Talk about my caloric intake for the day - oy vey! 

(Okay, so it has taken me over a week to write this post)

Day Two:

Let me tell you, running in Yountville is one of the harder activities I have decided to do. Why? Well, because I had no clue where on earth I was going. I just knew the town and was well award after a quick drive through that that wasn't going to suffice for my minimum 5 mile run. But, I figured it out. I ran from one side of town to the other a few times and then up to the VA, which by the way was totally cool and right next to Chandon! I arrived back to find Spence still in bed, but, was quickly able to motivate him when I mentioned going to Bouchon for some coffee and morning snacks. We walked into town and grabbed some goodies to go.
First winery stop of the day? Pine Ridge Vineyards, this place was amazing! We arrived early and were able to sit outside and enjoy the crisp morning air that had settled into the valley floor (yes, I like cold). Our tour brought us all over the estate, through some sample vineyards and into their caves. Now, mind you, these were the first wine caves I have really ever been into, minus my seeking into Berninger the previous day, it was so cool in there (literally and figuratively)! Barrel after barrel was lined up, we learned about the different woods used to make these barrels, the different regions they come from etc. After winding back and forth for a while we started down a long cave, at the end of it you could see a table set up for tastings, behind that there was a beautiful glass sculpture lit up at the end; it was like a movie. We sat around the table and our guide shared his story with us, and we chatted about all the different wines and shoved our faces with delicious cheeses (this was quickly becoming our favorite part). First wine cave experience? A+. Honestly, who doesn't like wine tasting at 10 am on a Monday?
Where we did our wine tasting

Pretty. 

Yes please. 


We quickly jetted down the valley and on to our next tasting. I honestly was keeping all of the times and locations in my calendar so that we wouldn't forget, it was almost slightly overwhelming BUT so much fun! We arrived at the gates of Far Niente, fashionably late. I cannot tell you the last time that I actually showed up on time for an obligation outside of work - Ooppss? Far Niente was like nothing I had ever experienced before - first, you pull up to the gates and they have to let  you in after you call and tell them you are there. Neat? It makes you feel luxurious. The grounds are lush and landscaped to the 9's, I told Spence my mom would LOVE it here. The building was beautiful and classic looking. After spinning down a spiral staircase (in a dress, I REALLY don't recommend wearing a dress) we caught up with our tour guide just as they were entering the caves. Let me backup, our tour guide (Zach) was fantastic very eccentric, fun and full of odd information.  They have a cave there that is 2 football fields long! They also have a beautifully decorated room for their Dolce wine, the library was pretty neat, even how the barrels were stacked was beautiful. Then, the cars. Cars...at a winery? Yes, they have an arsenal of beautiful collectable cars - many of those Spence was basically drooling over.
The tasting was fun, we shared some great laughs with the other 4 people on our tour. Learning about the wine and cheese pairing was imperative for the right tastes, I gladly gave up my blue cheese (yuck!). After drinking double the amount the you normally do at a tasting we took one last gander at the gardens and took off in-search of food.
Barrels

Wine library

Wine Library

Pretty neat. 

Pretty neat! 

Tasting

Outside looking in

Where it all began
We were in need of food, and had heard all the fuss about Gotts, and we do love a good burger (this was burger number 3 for us in a matter of days, this NEVER happens). We sat outside at one of the tables and enjoyed the little sunshine we had. The food was great, the service was fast and I was in a food coma.
After that we headed back to Elizabeth Spencer to finish the wine tasting that we had started the day before. We decided to sit out side but were quickly moved inside when the rain came. Once we finished our tasting we had to quickly jump in the car again to head back to Yountville for an appointment at Jessup.
Okay, so we didn't have to quickly go anywhere...we were on wine time, but, we got back to the hotel relaxed, did some exploring and then headed across the street to Jessup Cellars to meet our wonderful host Laurel. She was a fantastic person to do the tasting with, she was funny, very knowledgeable and realized our love for the cheese plate that we had quickly devoured and supplied us with another. My favorite wine that we tasted there was the Manny's (Spence and I popped open a bottle of this on Tuesday and, yes, it was GREAT - just like the description of wonderful to drink on any occasion that statement is true ). Jessup is owned by several doctors, so, if Spence wanted to get into the wine business in a few years once he finished school I am A-okay with that! I really enjoyed Jessup and highly recommend it.
Dinner that night was at Farmstead. They have taken a barn and renovated it into a restaurant leaving all of the hay tools and other equipment as decor - it reminded me a lot of my family's farm in upstate new york, just slightly more chic (and clean). The cheese biscuits were amazing, the salad Spence and I spilt actually inspired me to make a similar one upon our arrival home. The service was okay...and they give you wine tokens at the end for a free wine tasting at the winery next door. We brought our own wine from one of the various tasting adventures we had gone on earlier in the day, and there was a minimal if any corkage fee.
By the end of the day I was exhausted and we found ourselves out in front of the fire place on the couches at our hotel, North Block.

Day 3:
It was time to pack up and go. Of course, a morning without coffee for us is like a day without sunlight. We ran right up the street to this cute little gas station called Kelly's, where you can get fancy coffee and fill up your tank - like an upscale 7-11? Errrmmm....The only thing I was disappointed with was their small selection of scones, and other breakfast snacks. I ended up grabbing two mini pieces of biscotti and rummaging around the room for other things to eat.
We had one more stop to make, Domaine Carneros, for a sparkling wine tasting before we headed to the airport. We arrived early and found a lovely place on the patio for a tasting. A nice gentlemen supplied us with some bubbly and a cheese platter. We sat in the sunshine, enjoyed the rolling hills covered in vines and learned about the process that goes into making sparkling wine. It was a GREAT way to end the trip.
Not Bad. 

Not Bad, at All. 
We got to SFO, and awaited out flight home. We landed in Orange County and promptly got back on our normal routine. Going to Napa was amazing, and I am so thankful and blessed that I was able to go on such a great trip. I hope that I am back to go back and experience more soon.



Sending Love from SoCal

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