We couldn't visit San Fran area without heading into Wine Country of course. Although we do not consider ourselves wine enthusiasts, we gratefully took recommendations for those more knowledgeable than ourselves. I think we if we lived closer, we might very well become wine lovers as the wineries we visited were all great experiences.
Beringer: This was our first stop in the Napa area, a Taste of Beringer tour booked by our hotel. It came highly recommended and did not disappoint. The winery is beautiful and full of history - from the Rhine house to the 200 year old leaning oak. Beringer was actually only one of two wineries to stay open during prohibition (the other was Beaulieu Vineyard). Our tour guide, Jack, was awesome - an older man with a passion for wine and matter-of-fact quips. Some of the more interesting things we learned and wines we tried as we toured the property:
- Smell your glass after it is emptied - the taste and smell was a new experience for us!
- The tunnels are all man-made, by "the same people who built the railroads" (Jack said he had to be PC).
- Caesar changed storing wine in clay pots to casks - wine was stored in barrels from there on.
- There are 7 gardeners dedicated to keeping the property beautiful.
- If you don't think there is enough to do on the property already, there's a picnic area and bocci ball court!
- The Wines: We had a chardonnay to start with a strong "butterscotch" after taste, a zinfandel, a cab, and a cab port. The portions were plenty and poured fast - I had to chug my zinfandel just to get going on the cab! We left with a bottle of the cab port, a unique fortified wine that was none-too-sweet.
Domaine Chandon: While we did not actually do a tasting here, Domaine Chandon is an absolute must stop. It is just on the edge of Yountville, and is grand from the moment you enter, driving through an arch with the vineyards in the background. We were lucky to get a lunch reservation last minute at the restaurant etoile. The Chef, Perry Hoffman, literally grew up in fine dining, as his parents were the original owners of French Laundry. We were treated to a wonderful table on the patio, overlooking the garden (which could have fooled me as a well manicured fairway). Of course, we had to try some of the sparkling wines Chandon is famous for - I had a pinot noir rose and Tony had a reserve chardonnay. We learned afterwards that several of the sparkling wines were favourites at events hosted by the Bush administration. Our lunch was....AMAZING, one of my favourite meals on the trip.
- Appetizers: A delicious beef tartar topped with black truffle, served with toasts and crostinis. This beef tartar may have surpassed my favourite at Living Room in Calgary! Tony had hamachi sashimi with his summer prix fixe menu.
- Mains: I had a wonderful lobster crepe served with a yuzu foam - best crepe ever of course! Tony had perfectly caramelized scallops, served at just the right temperature.
- Dessert: Tony's prix fixe came with a summery strawberry tart.
The experience was so serene and pleasant - don't let Hoffman's young age fool you, he is a culinary master already earning a Michelin Star! Even if you don't stop in for a full meal, the bubbly bar offers a range of mouth watering snacks, like caviar and dungeness crab. Who couldn't use a bubbly stop??
Stag's Leap: This was a highly recommended winery stop - there are actually TWO Stag's Leap wineries as it is the name of the area, but we found the "older" one. We tasted 4 estate wines: An un-memorable chardonnay, Fay cabernet which from where it comes from in the vineyard, is a lighter wine, SLV (Stag's Leap Vineyard) and the Cask23, with grapes from the best of Fay and SLV. I liked the Cask23 while Tony was happy with the SLV - Stag's Leap wine is an indulgence for sure, but I have to say, neither of us were learned enough about cabs to appreciate the quality at $200/bottle for the Cask23, so we left without a bottle.
Pine Ridge: This was the second winery that came highly recommended. We had a flight of cab tastings here: Napa Valley, Oakville, Stag's Leap , and Fortis. The Napa Valley was a standard red wine you could throw down with any red meat, Oakville had a lingering oak aftertaste that I surprisingly enjoyed, The Stag's Leap was one of the best cabs I've had, and so easy to drink and I could have finished the bottle! We regrettably did not pick up the Stag's Leap, but were happy to have experienced such a lovely wine. I would definitely visit this winery again!
Opus One: I had only heard of Opus for its...well...opulence. We had noticed the winery on our first day in the area, its out of the world building. We of course, did not make an appointment for a tour or a tasting, but were still given a "partner" card to the retail store (think cigar room) to purchase. Pretty hard to fork out so much money for a wine we didn't have the opportunity to taste....but I still have to say, the winery is worth a visit if even just for photos. You can buy a bottle and enjoy it on the stunning roof top. We ran into some fellow Canadians who were doing just that (and complaining about how to ship wine back via Air Canada!). An experience, albeit stuffy, for sure, and maybe next time we will go with friends and enjoy it's grandeur.
Mondavi: Our last winery stop was Robert Mondavi - thankfully open until 5pm! Their tasting was more flexible, with a number of reds and whites, 4 to your liking. We decided to have some whites for a change (and I was a little cab'd out). We had an unoaked chardonnay that I quite enjoyed, fermented in steel tanks. Mondavi brought the fume blanc to the region, but it was not a wine I was a fan of. No doubt, I enjoyed the sweet Moscato d'Oro, but alas, I think our Canadian ice wine is better and not worth my packing. We were happy to get in a last tasting, but but it was none too spectacular.
V.Sattui: Although we did not have any wine here, this is a must stop in wine country because of its deli! We stopped by for a snack between wineries that was much needed - V. Sattui features a lush, green picnic area where we indulged in prociutto and cheese. We were introduced the "hottest" in cheese, Carboncino, which is a combination of cow, goat and sheep's milk, and although I laughed when the guy told us it was the latest and greatest in cheese....it really was delicious! There is also a Dean & Deluca conveniently located across the street, but we preferred the food we found at V. Sattui.