Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Napa Valley

During our trip to San Francisco, one of the only non-negotiables for me was a trip to Napa.  I have always wanted to go to Napa and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for Alex and I to go.  So I got on Google and started looking up different wineries and restaurants to hit during our trip.  At first I came up with a list of 6 wineries that sounded interesting, but quickly realized there was no way that we could do 6 wineries in one day.  I suppose if you have a designated driver and only want to do tastings, rather than tours, you could realistically hit 6 wineries in one day, but I really wanted to be able to do some tours and take my time.  So in the end I settled on a tour at Frog's Leap, a tasting at Honig Vineyard and Winery, and a tour at Domaine Chandon.  For the record, the wineries I decided not to visit were Cakebread Cellars, Grgich Hills Estate, and Sterling Vineyards (which I really wish we had been able to visit because I have heard so many wonderful reviews of Sterling, but it was just too far).   So we rented a Zipcar, printed out some directions, and were on our way!

More after the jump!

So the first place we hit was Frog's Leap and I was instantly obsessed.  I loved it.  The vines pictured above are from Frog's Leap, who had just finished harvesting their grapes the week before (but if you look closely there are a few grapes still left on the vines).  And throughout the day I compared every other vineyard to Frog's Leap and nothing compared.  I loved their Rutherford and their Sauvignon Blanc.  Both were absolutely delicious (although the Rutherford was out of our price range at $75 a bottle).  Alex really enjoyed their Petit Sirah as well.  And we both liked their Chardonnay, which is almost unheard of as neither of us ever like Chardonnay.  I also just loved the entire experience.  Frog's Leap grows everything themselves and produces and bottles all of their own wine.  Many other vineyards buy grapes grown by other producers to manufacture their own wines, but not Frog's Leap.  They also had a gorgeous garden (of which I took many many pictures - most of the pictures below are from the Frog's Leap gardens) with all sorts of fruits and vegetables, plus some chickens.  They use an old method of dry farming (with no irrigation whatsoever) to "stress" to vines to encourage them to grow deeper, stronger root structures and smaller, more flavorful grapes.  And their house is completely green - the insulation is old Levi's and tshirts, all of the glass is recycled, the wood is mostly found wood from old barns/buildings.  Plus they are run entirely on solar energy.  It was just such an amazing experience.  And I really can't say enough about their wines - so delicious.  We also picked up a bottle of their rose and of their dessert wine after our tourguide was nice enough to pour us samples of both.  If we make it back to Napa in the near future I am definitely revisiting Frog's Leap.

Then we visited Honig.  And I don't know if it was the fact that we just did a tasting at Honig, rather than a tour, but I felt like everything Honig did, Frog's Leap did better.  Their Sauvignon Blanc was good, but Frog's Leap's was better.  Same with their high-end Cabernet Sauvignon - the Rutherford was better.  But with all of that said, Honig was a pleasant experience and we did leave with a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon (but not the high-end one obviously).

Next we stopped for lunch at Bouchon Bistro in Yountville.  I would have LOVED to stop for lunch at French Laundry, but there were a few problems.  One, French Laundry doesn't serve lunch.  Two, French Laundry is way out of our budget.  Three, there is no way we could have gotten a reservation.  So we decided to stick with Thomas Keller and hit Bouchon Bistro instead.  Alex and I shared half a dozen oysters, a Blanquette of Sweetbreads special, and his Poulet Roti (roast chicken).  Alex and I disagreed over which entree we liked better (I preferred by sweetbreads, and he preferred his chicken), but both were very nice renditions of classic French bistro fare.  Plus, they were perfect for the cool, dreary, and intermittently drizzling weather.  I probably won't return to Bouchon Bistro the next time I visit Napa, but only because there are so many other amazing restaurants in Yountville alone that it seems silly to revisit the same one if it is really good, but not out of this world amazing.  FYI, on our way to Bouchon Bistro we drove by the French Laundry (as it is just down the street) and it looks absolutely charming.  One of these days we will eat there for sure.  After lunch we picked up a few macarons from Bouchon Bakery (which is right next door to Bouchon Bistro and bakes the amazing bread that Bouchon Bistro serves) and some coffee from the Yountville Coffee Caboose (their chai latte was one of the best that I have ever had, with loads of cardamom and other spices) and then we were on our way.

Our last stop of the day was at Domaine Chandon (their vines are pictured in the first picture on this post), which is owned by the French champagne producer Moet et Chandon and therefore uses the traditional methode champenoise to produce its sparkling wines.  For our tour we had an amazingly bubbly tourguide named Georgia who showed us around and explained the history of champagne, as well as the history of Domaine Chandon, and the process of making champagne.  It was really interesting.  And very different from Frog's Leap and Honig, both of which were small to mid-sized vineyards, whereas Domaine Chandon is gigantic and makes sparkling wines as well as still.  For our tasting we decided to try out their Etoile line.  I really enjoyed their Etoile Rose, which was a little fruitier and not as dry as the Etoile Brut and the Tete de Cuvee.  Supposedly there were notes of candied ginger, nutmeg, raspberry and cocoa, but my palate just isn't that good.  Haha.


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