Saturday, February 28, 2009

California, Day 2: Napa

I started this blog post yesterday with a comment about how the weather was very similar to Napa with a high in the low 50's and rain showers. Yeah, that changed today at around lunch time when big, heavy snowflakes gradually replaced the rain. Now it looks like it should be January, not March. It's a good thing we have plenty of wine in the house.

We took off from Healdsburg on the morning of February 13 -- yes, Friday the 13th -- after a very hearty breakfast at the Camellia Inn, another one of those "we liked it so much we had to do it again" places from our previous trip. Breakfast was an egg casserole with a rich, creamy mushroom topping, yogurt berry parfaits, and fresh French bread. And coffee, lots of coffee, of course. Oh, yes, I was a happy woman. I'm a sucker for a good breakfast.

I volunteered to drive the first leg, which took us through Alexander Valley, where we did not stop and taste because it felt a little too early in the morning to drink wine yet. Then we went up near or through Robert Louis Stevenson State Park with the emphasis on "up" -- yes, there was snow at the top, so maybe this post is related to the weather after all. I'm so very glad we hadn't tasted anything yet because the road twisted and turned over the mountain, and I likely would have lost my lovely egg and mushroom casserole on the other side, especially if I hadn't been driving. As it was, I had to take a moment at our first stop and have a couple of crackers to settle my stomach.

Langtry Estate and Vineyards, named for late nineteenth-century British theater actress Lilly Langtry, who originally owned the property, is actually in the Guenoc Valley AVA of Lake County. The tasting room sits high on a hill overlooking some beautiful countryside and (surprise!) a lake:

The wines were pretty good, too, and we debated over purchasing one of their excellent Petite Sirahs, the 2005 Serpentine Meadow, I think (I was not good about taking notes this trip). However, we once again came up against price point; this one was $40.00. We're not stingy about wines, but we've been doing this long enough to know that you can find a great bottle for under $30 and really good bottles for under $20. Plus, when we've had expensive bottles of wine, we tend to save them for a really long time, and I just know we're going to lose one at some point. So, we saved those coveted spots in Bertha and moved on.

Side note: Last night was Open That Bottle Night. We'll be opening ours today. I'll let you stay in suspense as to what that fabulous bottle will be. It will be one of the nicer ones we brought back from the Pacific Northwest a couple of years ago.

Back on the road with Hubby driving this time, we headed back toward Napa through Pope Valley. Being in Napa made us a little rebellious. We didn't want to go to big, commercial wineries. Nor did we want to waste time at places that had wines we could get back home. So, Pope Valley Winery seemed to be a perfect stop. The tasting room is in a little shed-type building off the main winery, which was build at the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth centuries and dug out of the hillside by Chinese railroad workers. The son of the owner poured in the tasting room as the winemaker racked the wine next door. It felt rustic, classic, and miles away from the mass-production facilities that we would pass later that day. We came away with a bottle of their 2002 North Coast Zinfandel Port and a couple of pictures:

After another fun drive over a mountain, we arrived in St. Helena in time for a late lunch. Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen is a charming restaurant in downtown St. Helena with upscale but accessible "California cuisine." I had the Chinatown duck burger with housemade shiitake ketchup and fries, and Hubby had the soup of the day, Manhattan clam chowder. Kudos to Cindy because that was the best burger I've ever eaten.

Napa Valley is, as promised, a true valley with straight roads and lots of wineries and vineyards. We started our afternoon in the Carneros region at Madonna Estate, which I had heard of and was curious about. We lucked out and found that their reserve tasting room, where they have a display about the four generations of Bartolucci winemakers, was open. Their 2005 Dolcetto earned a spot in Bertha, and we liked everything else so much that we joined the wine club.

After that tasting, we drove into Napa itself and left our car and stuff at the Cedar Gables Inn. If the Camellia Inn was a charming house in the California countryside, the Cedar Gables Inn is a beautiful manor that could have been plucked from the English Countryside and plopped in downtown Napa. It's definitely one of the prettiest B&B's we've stayed at, and my inner Gothic writer loved the setting with its rich colors and dark wood.

The weather seemed to have chased most people out of downtown Napa because the streets were fairly deserted. Our first stop was the Ceja Vineyards tasting room (warning - web page has loud music), where we tasted some good wine but nothing spectacular. Then it was on to the joint tasting room of Trahan and Olabisi, two wineries that make less than a thousand cases per year. In Napa terms, that's tiny, not just small, scale, but quality definitely outshone quantity. The wines from both wineries were excellent. We enjoyed talking to Chuck Custodio, the owner and winemaker at Trahan and bought a bottle of his 2005 Suisun Valley Petite Verdot.

By dinnertime, downtown Napa had come alive. We ate at Ristorante Allegria. I had an Insalata Mista and the Pappardelle Allo Zafferano, which is pasta with shrimp, artichoke hearts, wild mushrooms, and tossed with shrimp bisque. Everything was fresh and very good.

Next stop: Lodi

No comments: