Tag Archives: champagne

Travelogue: CA Wine Tasting

14 Dec
Poetry Inn Napa

View from the Poetry Inn

This past August, D and I went on a relaxing, wine-filled vacation to Napa.  Below is a travelogue of our favorite vineyards, restaurants and other points of interest during our trip.  We pulled together this itinerary through polling a handful of friends who are Napa experts and took the best-of-the-best from each.  These are all spots that we would go back to again despite there being nearly 200 wineries and tons of great restaurant options in the region.

Wine
Cliff Lede
1473 Yountville Cross Road
Yountville, CA 94599
This vineyard names all of its plots of land after the owner’s favorite classic rock songs.  The two signature cabs this vineyard produces every year are called the “Poetry” and a special cab blended from the best two plots of grapes that season.  Each year the name of the latter wine changes based on the names of the plots from which the grapes are harvested.  For example, last year’s vintage was called Imagine Rhapsody after plots “Imagine” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  The year before that was called Lonely Wizard named after “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Pinball Wizard.”  Totally gimmicky and kitschy, but we love it and we LOVED the wines too.  If you’re a modern art fan, there is also a small modern art and sculpture gallery on the property which was a nice touch to our visit.  Reservations are not required, but if you want to taste their signature “Poetry” cab, you will need to reserve a private tasting in advance.  Also, if you are in Napa for a really special occasion, be sure to book a room at their sister property, the Poetry Inn, a five-bedroom inn which is located up the hill overlooking the vineyards.  Each of the rooms is named after a poet (Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, etc.) and are spacious and beautifully decorated with heated floors, private patios and an indoor/outdoor shower.  The hotel has stunning views of the wineries below and mountains across the valleys like the one of the sunset below.  The best treat of our stay was a three-course breakfast (included) that we had on our terrace watching the fog rise off the vineyards below.  Simply stunning!

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Pride Mountain
4026 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
A hidden gem in St. Helena. This was D’s favorite vineyard of our vacation. It is about a 15-20 minute drive away from most other vineyards in the area, but it was SO worth the drive.  Pride Mountain is located at the top of, well, a mountain and has stunning panoramic views of the hills and valleys below. Advanced reservations are required so make sure to connect with them before you trek up the mountain to their winery!  We signed up for what we thought was a $10 tasting, but ended up getting a private tour of Pride Mountain’s property, caves and tasting rooms.  Our guide let us do a barrel tasting and comparison with the finished bottle which was a unique experience.  After our visit, we were encouraged to drive around the property and have a picnic lunch with our sandwiches from Oakville Grocery in the vineyards overlooking the valley.  We bought a half bottle of wine and had the most relaxing afternoon in the shaded picnic area enjoying the scenery.

Pride Mountain Vineyards

Pride Mountain Vineyards

Quintessa
1601 Silverado Trail
Rutherford, CA 94573
My coworker recommended this vineyard to us, describing the vineyard and tour as “magical”.  She could not have been more right.  Advanced reservations are required for this tour and while this was the most expensive tasting ($45), it was worth every penny.  We had a private guide who started our tour with a hike up from the estate to the vineyards where we were greeted with the stunning view in the picture above.  At this spot, our guide poured us Quintessa’s Illumination-brand Sauvignon Blanc while explaining biodynamic winemaking and Quintessa’s history.  Biodynamic winemaking can sound a little bit weird/hippy if you’ve never heard of it before (i.e., burying a cow skull full of manure at a certain place in the vineyard dictated by lunar patterns), but our guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about it, that we were totally on board with the craziness.  After this history lesson, we returned to the estate and went on a tour of the building, caves and manufacturing areas.  The tour culminated with a private tasting (accompanied by three cheeses and homemade crackers) of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Quintessa red wine blends.  This vineyard is unique in that they only make one varietal per season and the blend changes depending on what are the best grapes produced that year; the rest of their harvest is then sold to other wine makers.  It was so interesting to taste the differences between the three vintages, especially after learning about the crops, weather and grapes used for each vintages.  All three tasted great and if I had unlimited funds, I would have bought a case of each home!  Instead, we settled on one bottle of the 2007 which was my favorite.

Quintessa Winery

Quintessa Winery

Schramsberg
1400 Schramsberg Road
Calistoga, CA 94515
If you like sparkling wine, this is your spot!  Reservations are required and the cost is $45 per person.  This vineyard was our first stop one day (10 am tasting!).  It was a great way to start our day of wine tasting since most wineries in Napa specialize in heavy reds.  Schramsberg became famous in 1972 when President Nixon served one of their sparkling wines at the “Toast to Peace” in Beijing.  Since then, every U.S. President has served Schramsberg at the White House.  Our tasting began with a tour of the property, caves and manufacturing facilities.  In the caves, our guide taught us how to riddle, which is how champagne is produced.  We were then led into a tasting room where we tried EIGHT different sparkling wines!  It was almost too much, but in my opinion, there can never be too much champagne/prosecco/cava/sparkling wine! 🙂  The highlight of this vineyard for D was when our guide took out outside and taught us how to remove the cork from a champagne bottle using a saber.  Here’s a primer if you want to try this at home (which I don’t recommend since D had a bottle explode in his hand when he did…)

Schramsberg Sparkling Wine

Champagne Saber at Schramsberg

Schramsberg

Schramsberg Sparkling Wine Tasting

Kuleto Estate
2470 Sage Canyon Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
This vineyard isn’t one for the tour buses!  Like Pride Mountain, Kuleto Estate is at the top of a mountain; the last few miles of the drive are on windy dirt roads which keeps large groups away and builds anticipation leading up to the arrival.  Kuleto Estate is not just a winery, but is also Pat Kuleto (San Francisco restaurateur’s home).  The visit began with a generous pour of rose to accompany a tour of the property, herb garden, vegetable garden and flower garden surrounding Pat’s home.  We then returned to the main building and had a formal tasting with complimentary cheese and crackers.  I don’t remember the wines being anything remarkable, but the scenery and atmosphere were breathtaking.  Our tour guide told us the next tour was closed for a private proposal.  With the stunning panoramic views and intimate, homey feel of the winery, it’s no surprise someone picked this as a spot to get engaged.  What a lucky girl – I hope she said yes!!  Side note – reservations are required and the cost is $35 per person for a tour and tasting.

Kuleto Estate

Kuleto Estate

In addition to the vineyards above which I would highly recommend, we also visited the following wineries.  Let me know if you are curious about a particular one on this list.  It’s not to say we had a bad experience at any of these, but relative to the five wineries listed above, they couldn’t compare.

Siduri – Makers of the wine Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) drinks when he’s performing.  We did not get to taste this wine which was the whole purpose of our trip to this vineyard which was disappointing.  Also, the tasting is located in a warehouse since Siduri does not actually own any vineyards from which they produce their wines.
Martinelli’s 
Wilson – Makers of the Vineman cabernet which they must sell out of every year the Vineman triathlon (no affiliation) comes through town.  Very nice patio to enjoy a bottle (or two) of their rose.
Gloria Ferrer – Sparkling wines.  Gorgeous views.  Does not do tastings so you must purchase a whole bottle.
Beringer
Viader – stunning views (on top of a mountain); owned and operated by a female Argentinan which I though was cool
Failla – Winemaker Ehren Jordan’s private label.  Specializes in pinot noir.  Very relaxed/intimate tasting on the porch of a house.
Regusci
Cline – stays open until 6 (most vineyards close at 4 or 5) so the crowd can get rowdy later in the day.

Restaurants
Barn Diva
231 Center Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448
The menu is 100% local – everything in the restaurant (food, wine, decor) comes from the region.  Healdsburg is about a 30 minute drive from Napa and Sonoma so it’s going to be out of the way unless you are doing tastings in Healdsburg/Wilson.  The desserts were particularly superb and they have a great wine selection.

Bottega
V Marketplace
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
Italian cooking by Michael Chiarello of Top Chef fame.  This place was superb.  Be sure to request a seat in the covered outdoor patio by the fireplace.  The polenta appetizer and roasted duck entree were my favorites.

Auberge du Soleil, Napa

View from Auberge du Soleil

Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road
Rutherford, CA 94573
We only had time to get drinks at this restaurant and luxury hotel, but hopefully we’ll be able to return for a full meal someday as I wanted to snatch plates right off the waiters’ trays as they delivered to our surrounding tables.  The outdoor patio is gorgeous place to watch the sunset after a long day of tastings.

Quintessa Winery Caves

Quintessa Winery Caves

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Thanksgiving Dinner: Pear Bellinis (aka Christmas in a Cup)

29 Nov

Pear Bellini

My Mom started making this recipe a few years back.  It’s a great seasonal twist on a traditional bellini; adding with rosemary and cranberries as a garnish makes this cocktail even more festive for this time of year!

Pear Bellinis with Rosemary & Cranberry

Ingredients
Pear nectar (I like this one)
Prosecco, or any other dry sparkling white wine
Fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish
Handful of fresh cranberries, for garnish

Directions (per serving)
1.  Pour ~2 oz. pear nectar into a champagne flute.
2. Slowly fill glass to top with ~4 oz. prosecco.
3. Add 1 sprig of rosemary and 3-4 fresh cranberries for garnish and you have Christmas in a cup!! 🙂