Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Travel Tuesdays - Wine Country

During our visit to California in June 2011, Katie, Christian, Ronnie and I spent 2 days in Wine Country.  Red wine and I get along very, very well.  I had wanted to go to Napa for years, and was so excited for this part of our trip.  We were incredibly lucky to share this experience with my sis and bro-in-law, and not just because they're awesome.  Katie has been to Wine Country at least 7 times since she moved to SF, making her the perfect tour guide for us Napa virgins.  It was also great for Christian and Ronnie to enjoy Napa together.  Ronnie isn't a huge wine fan, and Christian doesn't drink at all, so they were able to experience Wine Country from a different perspective (although I'll take my perspective on Napa over theirs any day!)

We spent the first day wine tasting in Sonoma Valley.  Katie highly recommended visiting Sonoma as well as Napa, and I'm so glad she did!  Sonoma is a very quaint, quiet valley.  There was no traffic, and the wineries were very small and cozy.  It was so fun tasting such delicious wines at small, family-owned, mom and pop type wineries.  We tasted some amazing wines, mostly zinfandels and syrahs.  I felt like each wine was more delicious than the one before!

Note that Ronnie and Katie are holding their wine glasses correctly, from the stem, while I am holding my wine glass incorrectly.  The heat from your hands affects the temperature and ultimately the flavor of the wine, so do like Ronnie and Katie and hold your wine glass from the stem!

After visiting a few wineries, drinking wine and enjoying gorgeous scenery:

it was definitely time for lunch.  Christian and Katie found a very cool lunch spot in Healdsburg called The Wurst.  The Wurst is a sausage grill restaurant that has so many different sausage varieties, most I had never heard of!  Ronnie was very excited about this place.  I was... not.  I'm not a big sausage eater.  I'm not really a big meat eater at all, and sausage is up there on the list of things I could never eat again and be perfectly happy.  But, I had been happily sipping wine in Sonoma all afternoon, so I decided to let me Ronnie, Katie and Christian enjoy their sausage lunch without any complaints.  Can I just say, I LOVED the food at Wurst!  Katie, Christian, and Ronnie each got some variety of sausage in a bun, and I got one of the most delicious salads I've ever had!  Pear slices, Gorgonzola cheese, candied pecans, and leafy field greens in a fabulous vinaigrette?  Yes please!  Who knew I would get such a fresh, yummy salad at a sausage place?  Although I didn't taste any of the sausages, I still claim that I had the best lunch out of all of us!  Plus, we got to eat on the gorgeous patio under a big umbrella listening to live music.

 What more could you ask for?  Maybe a fabulous dinner at Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant in Forestville.  After we checked into our hotel, rested, and freshened up, we had an absolutely unbelievable dinner here.  The place was pricey, but totally worth it for a special occasion.  You can choose from a 3 or 4 course menu for a set price.  We all chose the 3 course option and it was the perfect amount of food.  I had an yummy field greens salad to start, and delicious wild Alaskan halibut as my main course.  But the dessert... oh the dessert.  I had one of my all time faves, chocolate souffle with creme anglaise.  I simply must learn to make chocolate souffle myself.  I'm pretty sure the noises I made while eating my souffle were slightly inappropriate.  Think Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, except there was no faking it involved.   We pretty much ate like royalty, while sipping on local wine.  My own personal paradise...

The next day we slept in, got some complimentary breakfast at the hotel, and headed off to Napa.  Our first stop was Cakebread Cellers.  This was one of the wineries I insisted on visiting while we were in Napa.  I absolutely love Cakebread wine.  I was first introduced to Cakebread wine when I started waitressing years ago, and it is still one of my favorite winemakers.  It's hard to find, and typically can only be purchased in restaurants for a huge markup (although I found a few local liquor stores that carry their cab sav!)  We did a tasting/tour at Cakebread and I loved every minute of it!

Cakebread Cellars is the only place we went to that had white wine I actually liked!  I'm usually strictly a red wine drinker.  White wines just aren't flavorful enough and always taste watered down to me.  If I am going to drink white, a crisp sauvignon blanc is about all I'll do.  But the 2008 chardonnay reserve at Cakebread was awesome!  Creamy and bright, with a smooth and smokey finish, it was totally not what I expect from a white wine.  I simply had to buy a bottle!

At this point my collection of bottles was adding up, and we were stuck packing all of them in with our luggage because most places cannot ship to Massachusetts.  So I bought a bottle of chard reserve for myself, and a bottle of sauv blanc for our friends Vann and Liz because they are white wine drinkers and we wanted to get them a gift for watching Bru for us while we were away!

Next stop, Paraduxx.  This place is beautiful!  They gave us a lot of reds to taste for not a lot of money, and we got to enjoy them with cheese and crackers on their awesome patio.

Clearly, lunch was in order after all that wine!  We had a yummy lunch at Go Fish, and then headed to our last stop of the Day: Mumm Napa.  Mumm specializes in sparkling wines.  It was the one other place I really wanted to go to, and it was fabulous.  One of the coolest things about Mumm is they gave Christian a glass of yummy sparkling grape juice on the house for being our designated driver!  Some people spring for bus tours of wineries, but a lot of people drive around Napa tasting wines all by themselves.  It was great to see some of the wineries doing their part to encourage responsible wine tasting and rewarding designated drivers.  Katie got herself a glass of Brut, Ronnie got a glass of water, and I enjoyed a 3 flight tasting.

It was delish.  I also picked up a bottle of sparkling wine for Vann and Liz as an extra thank you, and to give them something to celebrate their upcoming wedding!  They tied the knot on July 29, about a month after we got back!

I had such a great time in Wine Country.  It is so beautiful and peaceful out there.  I thanked Christian over and over again for driving us around, and he told me that, even though he doesn't drink wine, he loves coming to wine country for the delicious food and atmosphere.  We had an amazing 2 days experiencing a lot of what wine country has to offer, and we look forward to planning a return trip someday!

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