We had an amazing whirlwind trip through wine country. Pics on flickr, full story on the flip…
- Fly American Airlines in seats 13A&B. Ugh. These seats shouldn’t exist; some rogue aeronautical engineer must’ve angled for a promotion by squishing everyone else by a half-inch and cramming a pair of seats in the resulting space. No legroom, no window, no room to recline the seat. Not a fun way to fly transatlantic.
- Arrived in SF0, picked up the car (upgraded to a convertible! A blue Chrysler Sebring). Checked into the hotel on the late side, just managed to make it to Garibaldis, a nice american bistro. Yum. Antipasti: falafel, risotto croquettes, and roasted figs with bleu cheese. Pame had the sea bass with corn, fava, and cherry tomatos. JB had lamb loin (a little sweet, but good) with garlic mashed potatoes and ratatouille. We hadn’t eaten since a hung-over lunch at the airport, and combined with the time-change, we were famished by the time we got to dinner.
- Breakfast at Ellas, a sweet little diner across the street from the hotel. JPB had pancakes, Pame had cornmeal (fried) with poached eggs and Cappucino. Parklife. Trouble with the convertible top. American Rags, the Haight, no Neinam Marcus returns on vacation, late Thai lunch at Citrus [something]: Garlic edamame, spring rolls, soba with lime and coconut. Tunes from Amoeba, hop in the car, go!
- Drive to Sonoma, check in (almost late!) to Bungalow 313 (formerly called “The Brick House”), farmers market (strawberries, fudge, olive oil), two half-bottles of sparkling white, stop in to Shiso “for two pieces of nigiri, I promise”. Hah. Jason served up: uni nigiri, negi-hama roll. Sunomono, shrimp bisque with citrus, two pieces toro nigiri. Ok, we’ll stay for dinner. Omakase for two, please. Real Kani on heirloom tomato with wasabi oil and lime. Shishito peppers with bonito flakes, “sushi dessert”: unagi with melted Reese’s peanut butter cup and peanuts, lightly tempura’d roll with tuna, white tuna, scallion, avocado, with truffle and ponzu dipping sauce, tuna and whitefish (snapper?) tataki, kobe with asparagus, scallion, + truffle, too much nigori for Pame, lagunitas IPA and Hitachino White Ale for JB, one piece hamachi nigiri for dessert, and go home to watch L. A. Ink.
Breakfast: strawberries and fudge, croissant, Pame put the wrong addy into the GPS, then:
Domaine Carneros: sparkling and pinot noir, sparkling cheese plate. We bought a few bottles and they gave us a cardboard-and-styrofoam travel case for 12 bottles of wine. This is key for any Napa/Sonoma trip!
Artessa: nice building, mediocre wine, mediocre tour w an enthusiastic but dim 20 yr old guide. Following tradition, monks sing to the wine as it ages (via CD player).
Darioush: opulent persian estate, mediocre wine. Met drunk party (Charlie, Jim, two women named Barbara) and followed them (raced) to Andretti Winery before closing. Made it just in time, and in characteristic CA fashion, they let us hang out and sample about 4 wines. Closer to our dinner res than our B&B, Charlie and Barbara kindly invited us to their (very Republican) home, where we had another bottle. From there we drove to
Foie Gras terriene & mussels for Pame, [unknown app] & steak for jb.
Breakfast: scones & leftover steak, strawberries, blackberries, gifted a cooler by the b&b. Drove up to Sonoma Valley.
Small, friendly, decent wine (we bought a nice old-vine zin.)
Wine Country Chocolates:
small wine-themed chocolatier across the street from Eric Ross. A nice treat, but not worth travelling for.
Benzinger: a nice family winery, totally biodynamic (they raise their own bugs), nice wines. When they learned we were on our honeymoon they comped us a tractor tour. Fun! We got a nice Sav Blanc called “Casey’s Block”, named after a worker who died in an accident.
Imagery: sister winery to Benzinger. The wines were ok (not great) but we bought some groovy port sippers & had a nice picnic lunch.
Then: drive up to Old Crocker Inn (middle of nowhere). Poolside champagne, reading, and Pame’s return to painting, followed by late dinner at Hacienda, (the only place still open).
B&B Breakfast of real peaches & cream & scone, smoked salmon & avocado crepe, & good coffee. And a fruit cup. Headed to Francis Ford Coppala’s 2nd winery (first Malbec sighting), and then to Healdsburg for a late lunch at Charcuterie (bacon, brie, grape & almond salad, smoked chicken rigatoni w sundried tomatoes & cream sauce). Then: Tasting rooms on the town square:
Kendall-Jackson: mediocre, but free tastings. We found that the further you go from Napa, the better the tastings are: Napa charges $15-25, Sonoma $10-15, and Anderson Valley $5-10, often refunding the tasting fee if you buy something.
Rosenblum Cellars: overrun by the elderly and the rude, the wine was alright, but the service was awful and we were roundly ignored. A nice chocolate dessert wine though.
La Crema: underwhelming wine, lots of kids running around. One tipped over a glass, but thanks to the stemless Riedel O-style glasses (which must be in style; they were EVERYWHERE) We didn’t stay long.
Jolly Australian vintner, food pairings (cheese & pickles, chocolate, salami), and OUTSTANDING wines. (Note: since getting back, the Williamson Rose Pinot Noir is the first (and only) bottle we’ve opened. It was beyond fantastic, somehow tasting like California, and took us right back to our honeymoon.) The only complaint: they sold out of the malbec! On the wine list, it was only the 2nd malbec we’d seen all trip, and we couldn’t have any! When a spotted an unsold display bottle, I thought we’d hit the jackpot. “I can’t sell that to you,” the Aussie said. “Its been sitting out.”
Laid out like a normal bar, sharing the bar with a couple our age, and staffed by an affable 20-something bartender, this place felt familiar. The brazilian next to us was loud and drunk, but after she left the bartender made a quick recovery. They also feature a “scent bar” (exactly what it sounds like: pungent samples (vanilla bean, rose petals) under glass. It has a very victorian vibe to it. Pame was in heaven.) We bought a bottle of bordeax blond.
Our last winery of the day, owned by a Croatian. We bought a Barbera port as a gift (to match the port sippers from Imagery)
We thought we were done for the day, but next door a community art gallery was having a charity auction–with wine, naturally. There were paintings, prints, and photos, but the Main Attraction were wine bottles painted (or otherwise decorated by) local artists. Wined-out, we split up: jb hit the bookstore, and Pame checked out some t-shirts. After asking around for a good place to eat and hearing “Ravenous” more than a few times, we headed there around 730 and left our names to me seated at 830. They first sat us outside, but it was too cold, so we moved inside to eat at the bar. Pame tried ordering the chicken, but they were out (the waitress hadn’t told us). Instead, we ordered crab cakes to share, Pame ordered smoked salmon and caviar on corn cakes and jb ordered lamb. After a blueberry mojito and an hour-and-a-quarter wait, our entrees still hadn’t arrived. When they finally turned up, there was dirt in Pame’s salad and bone shards in jb’s tepid lamb (which were next to piping hot potatoes–it wasn’t too hard to guess what happened in the kitchen). That was the last straw. They comp’ed the meal and we raced out, hoping to make it to Willie’s Seafood & Wine Bar to get a proper meal before closing.
We made it with minutes to spare, and were pleased to find friendly, attentive service and delicious food. Pame had a lovely dinner of raspberry cocktail (with a superfine sugar rim), oysters on the half shell, and roasted artichokes. JB had a hamachi ceviche and bacon-wrapped scallops. Tired but full, we head back to the far-away inn.
Breakfast at the inn was a fruit cup and “peachy french toast”. Not as good as the day before.
We went down to the Alexander Valley and Healdsburg. First we stopped at
Bella Vineyards, which was beautiful–easily one of the best experiences of the trip. The vineyard is all underground and has great light fixtures. We started our tasting at the barn, and made our way to the cave where wines were paired with BBQ kobe-style beef (amazing!) and cheesecake brownies. Choosing a wine was difficult (we only had room for one) but after much deliberation (and perhaps another sip or two–strictly for comparison purposes) we left with a delicious syrah. Then we pointed the car towards
Preston, another of the “must-visit-spots” was recommended for its wine as well as for its organic farmstand and picnicking. They make outstanding cheeses and the cherry tomatoes may be the best I’ve ever had. We bought a pug’s leap petit mercel and a mozzarella/farmer’s cheese, a pound of the aforementioned cherry heirloom tomatoes, a sweet israeli melon, an apple, and some bread. Combined with some prosciutto and roadside organic cherries, we had an outstanding picnic.
Full and happy, we moved on to Michel-Schlumberger. They had several events (a vineyard tour, a charity auction) and the atmosphere was a bit chaotic, but we managed a quick open-house tasting and bought two super-nice bottles of Bordeaux (2002 & 2003). JB ate a bunch of truffles there too (ok, only two). Next up was
Gary Farrell, which might have been one winery too many. (I know, I didn’t think there was such a thing either.) Farrell was a bit too pretentious, and full of people from a bus tour, and we were totally wined-out. We headed back to San Francisco.
Traffic got bad, so we pulled off the highway in Santa Rosa to get a bottle of water and maybe some ice cream. There were signs for a Charles M. Shultz Museum, and after a few missed turns we managed to find it. JB’s Museum of Natural History ID got us in for free, and we were rewarded for taking the Museum survey with a bag of small souvenirs (mostly Peanuts greeting cards). Back on the road! Still plenty of traffic! Boooooo!
Back in SF, we got ready for our anniversary (of the city hall wedding) dinner at A16. After some trouble finding a parking spot, and more trouble finding a table that wasn’t next to a sloppily drunk bachelorette party, we had nice meal: JB had an octopus salad and a salaccia pizza, and Pame had 2 half-portions of pasta: ricotta gnocchi with cherry tomatoes, and squid ink tonorelli with calamari and zucchini blossoms.
Back to reality. JB went downstairs to get coffee, and we got all packed up and ready to go. We stopped at a crepe cafe for breakfast (western omelette and crepes with butter and sugar) and headed to the airport to return the car. Our flight was delayed by four hours, so we bought some books (Pame) and the NY Times (JB) and sat down at the airport Anchor Steam Cafe to read and have a few last SF drinks. All in all, not a bad way to spend a delay. Or, for that matter, a honeymoon.