As the plane was landing in Louisville last year, bringing us home from our first Napa adventure, I was already turning the pages of my mental calendar.
Perhaps we can go back in five months for the harvest? What about November when the hordes of people have subsided?
The desire to return quickly exhibited signs of desperation as I unpacked my suitcase, fawning over every precious bottle of wine we had discovered and brought back to add to our small, but beloved, collection.
We couldn’t let this be a one-time trip. And we didn’t.
Napa appeals to all of my senses – the smell of the wine caves, the taste of the grapes, the views that are so sweeping you must blink to make sure they aren’t figments of your wildest dreams. And blessedly they are not.
So, a few weeks ago, after a fun-filled day and night in San Francisco, waves of relief began to come over me as we made the drive from the city by the bay to the valleys of Napa.
We’d made it back and nothing had changed. Including Matt and Glynnis, some of our friends who now call Napa home. After hugging and dropping our luggage we were off, cruising past vineyards and views – the adventures of Napa, 2012, had begun!
So as Z and I set out on the streets of San Francisco we had this objective in mind.
Combined with dreams of delectable seafood we knew our steps would lead us toward the water first.
Not the type of travelers who need to see every historical sight, check every museum off of a list, Z and I prefer to simply walk through a city, linking each neighborhood together and allowing their unique nuances and characteristics to be our guide to experiencing a place. Food is the cornerstone of this method, and we have never found that to be so true as in San Francisco.
Starting with a walk to the Ferry Building, we explored the shops and food stalls while we waited for the lunch bell to ring. My favorite find was Happy Girl Kitchen, where they specialize in farm-fresh artisan preserves. I couldn’t leave without a bottle of their spicy kimchee.
I think it will be the perfect partner for pork loin. As soon as 11:30 hit we sat down for oysters and sparkling wine at Hog Island Oysters. With six pairs making up our dozen, we tasted one by one, comparing the sweetness from the Pacific Coast varietals to the more briny flavors of their Atlantic cousins. Deliciousness.
After a lengthy but leisurely stroll to the North Beach neighborhood, we ventured into several shops (including the BEST bookstore – we could have spent hours getting lost in the pages of their unique offerings – City Lights Books) and decided it was time for a pick-me-up.
In the same way that I begin vacations with champagne, a mid-afternoon espresso is essential. And San Francisco is best characterized in its independent coffee shops. Please don’t make a Starbucks stop while you are here.
And this is coming from a self-declared Starbucks Chai-Tea Latte addict. Trust me, find a divey-looking corner coffee brewer and take a seat in one of the mis-matched chairs. You won’t regret it, and your drink will be undoubtedly outstanding.
North Beach is San Francisco’s little Italy. We couldn’t leave without enjoying something from my favorite food-genre. We elbowed our way into a tiny deli and settled on splitting a meatball sandwich with fresh mozzarella.
Perfectly balanced, the meatballs weren’t overworked or dressed up beyond recognition. They were simply Italian meatballs. And I can’t wait to practice this at home.
Chinatown was especially dynamic, bright and undoubtedly delicious. Well worth the visit.
Our day was capped off with dinner at Zuni Cafe where we experienced an unusual pairing that, when all parts were combined, was harmonious and delightful.
Broccoli rabe with oranges and prosciutto. Bitter, salty and sweet, the textures played off of each other. I will be putting my own spin on this concept at home.
It wasn’t long before we were pulling the car into Robert Sinskey Vineyards.
Large lemon trees framed the entrance, and Glynnis and I made sure to help ourselves – this was pre-approved, of course .
I would be cooking dinner the following night and was sure the fresh, gorgeous lemons would come in handy.
Glasses of their crisp and fresh 2010 Pinot Gris in hand, we traveled through a lush vegetable garden and into the caves where precious vintages of their creations were stored. Our guide was laid-back, knowledgeable and set a great pace for the visit. I highly recommend making this a stop on your travels through the Valley.
They enhanced the sips of full-on-fruity 3 Amigos Pinot Noir and the long, licorice finish of the Cabernet Franc. We brought home a bottle of each.
Our next visits were pop-ins at Baldacci Vineyards and Pina, both extremely small productions, resulting in focused, layered wines.
A bottle of the smooth and earthy Elizabeth Pinot Noir, named for Thomas Baldacci’s mother, and the four-element blend in honor of the four Baldacci sons, IV Sons Fraternity, made the trip home with us.
Pina presented us with an outstanding Late Harvest Chardonnay that I can’t wait to pair with bleu cheese. Then we were off to our tour at Far Niente where their boutique ‘winery within a winery,’ Dolce, stole the show.
Our final stop of the day was at the Flora Springs Tasting Room.
We visited the vineyard on our first trip to Napa and have been huge fans ever since.
Outside of their and varied wine offerings, they are just really fun, exciting people who make you want to stay a little longer, encouraging your questions and not once making you feel silly or unwelcome.
Last year it was their Ghost Wine release that we fell in love with, among other varietals, and this year we couldn’t leave without a couple of bottles of their 100 year anniversary Sauvignon Blanc and their Bodacious Cabernet Sauvignon, both only to be found at the winery.
Dinner that evening was in Sonoma at The Girl & The Fig. Best meal of the trip, hands down.
Rooted in traditional French inspirations, the menu is driven by fresh, local ingredients with slight modern touches that aren’t overly showy but manage to elevate each dish to a level that lets you know you are experiencing something special.
We began with a variety of seasonal radishes, some thinly sliced, some left whole, that were accompanied by an unbelievably delicious anchovy butter. You will be seeing a post on my attempts at this in my own kitchen very soon.
Dinner brought us a lovely fillet of wild flounder meuniere over a bed of spinach and Yukon potato puree. Topped with a lemon-caper brown butter sauce, this dish, in all of it’s butter-laden glory, managed not to weigh me down but simply warm my soul.
Z enjoyed a rich top sirloin burger with cheddar, bacon and a freshly fried farm egg. Each bite was better than the next. And if you’ve read any of my past posts then you know how much I enjoy the use of fried eggs as a garnish!
The next day began with breakfast fit for a day of wine tasting at Napa Valley Biscuits. Decadent and over the top, fried chicken, cheddar and fried eggs are sandwiched between perfectly baked biscuits.
A necessary start for this particular day.
Flights of sparkling wine were shared, and we were thrilled our friends Becca, Joe and adorable Emma joined us for the afternoon!
From Iron Horse we completed our day by tasting the wines of Chateau St. Jean. We couldn’t leave without two bottles of their balanced, simply wonderful 2008 Cinq Cepages.
The lemons from the trees at Robert Sinsky’s Winery made the perfect stuffing and the fresh rosemary, growing wild in the backyard, added herby richness.
As the chicken roasted, we bundled up and sat by the fire-pit, enjoying several bottles from Glynnis’s and Matt’s collection.
My favorite of the night was a bottle of Vina Tondonia from Rijoa Matt opened in honor of our upcoming trip to Spain. It had such great personality and attitude – it was a treat!
Sunday was our third and final day in Napa. We took a long drive to the top of Pritchard Hill, where my favorite winery, Chappellet, resides. My romance with Chappellet began last year, when we stopped in for a simple tasting.
It was then I discovered their Chenin Blanc, and I have been in love ever since. We joined their wine club, and I anxiously await the new arrivals of the season.
I know part of my love for Chappellet is rooted in the artistic elements that present themselves throughout the experience. We took a full tour this year, walking well into the vineyards where we were able to observe the design of the building, created to blend in with the hillside.
As the daughter of an architect, I tend to geek-out over this type of thing. The contemporary paintings in the entrance draw me in as well. You feel like you are somewhere extraordinary – and you are.
I treated myself to a very special bottle of their Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon that I plan to enjoy for my upcoming 30th birthday. I can hardly wait!
We traded the views of Pritchard Hill for the equally amazing sweeping landscapes at CADE. This LEED Gold Certified Winery is perched atop the hills of Napa Valley.
We tasted through their portfolio while watching birds bathe in their reflection pond. This is a truly gorgeous winery and my new favorite find for our second visit.
Installations could be found throughout the property as we set off on an in-depth tour of their history.
The wines are award-winning and deservedly so – they offered us the perfect toast to conclude our days of tasting.
As we set off the next morning on our flight back to Louisville, I didn’t experience the same desperation to return I had felt previously. I felt calm and confident in the fact that we will make the journey to Napa every year. We couldn’t go longer without visiting Matt and Glynnis. They have given us a home by the Pacific, nestled in Napa Valley. The sadness of leaving is trumped by the excitement of coming back.
About Lindsey McClave, Foodie Girl:
I have a deep love for food, wine and travel. I’ve been searching for a way to express this love for a while and, after a conversation with my sister and my husband over lunch one day, decided this was the best outlet for me. I have no intentions of becoming a chef or a sommelier and I don’t consider myself an expert in any culinary area. But I am obsessed with learning.