Best bets in Napa and Sonoma

As usual, I apologize for our severe lack of posting recently. I’ve been busy launching a new product, and Jessie has been tied up with loads of top-secret PR work.

We did, however, find time to sneak out to Napa and Sonoma, Calif., a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s a brief summary: Four giant thumbs up. We tasted at 15 wineries (not bad, considering we had only four days), ate three amazing dinners (and cooked in our condo one night) and four great lunches.

If you have a few minutes, here are a few of my favorite things:


It’s all about the wine, right? Here’s my suggestion: Get the touristy wineries out of the way the first day (Sterling Vineyards is a great place to start: good introduction to the mechanics of winemaking, and a fantastic view), then head out to the lesser-known wineries, and some of the old standbys.

The best: Gundlach Bundschu (pick: 2007 Estate Cabernet Franc), Porter Creek (pick: 2008 Mendocino County Carignane), Clos du Bois (we’ve been big fans of CDB for awhile – and we picked up six reserve bottles at the tasting room and joined their wine club. Pick: 2007 Alexander Valley Old Vine Zinfandel).

Wild card: For a taste of Napa Valley history, check out Chateau Montelena, the subject of the movie “Bottle Shock” and the famous Judgment of Paris in the ’70s that put California wine on the international radar. We also joined their CellarMasters club, and I’m looking forward to the first shipment, though, unfortunately, the shipment doesn’t include a bottle of their ’73 Chardonnay.


We ate dinner at three fantastic restaurants and, no matter what time of day it was, we never had a bad bite of food. We ate dinner at Morimoto Napa, El Dorado Kitchen and Bottega.

The best: Others in my party might disagree, but I’m voting for Morimoto Napa. The food was exquisitely prepared and loaded with creativity. I had roasted bone marrow to start. It was a leg bone from a cow, sliced lengthwise and roasted under teriyaki-like spices until it reached butter-like consistency. For a main course, I ordered the duck confit, presented in multiple ways, including in fried rice, a fresh duck breast and confit thigh. Confit is duck aged in duck fat — and yes, it’s just as good as it sounds. Good enough that I had it at El Dorado Kitchen, too, though Morimoto’s was better.

I also had bites of the black cod, which was very good, and the pork chop, which could possibly be one of the best pieces of pork I’ve ever tasted. Jessie’s “angry chicken” had great flavor and good heat.

Wild card: There are some great places to have a picnic, but the combination we tried was perfect. We bought sandwiches and pastries at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville before heading out for the day, then ate in the picnic area at Gundlach Bundschu. We also enjoyed the sandwiches we bought at the Dry Creek General Store in Healdsburg, though be prepared for a long wait.


The best tasting rooms: The tasting rooms at Gary Farrell and Porter Creek (at right) had great views. If I were to film a movie about a small independent winery, I’d shoot it at Porter Creek. The tasting room is big enough for just two or three couples, but the staff there was great and kept our glasses full, even though we were standing outside. Two days before we were there, Porter Creek was mentioned in a New York Times article, which undoubtedly drew in part of the crowd. We went there from a recommendation and will definitely return.

The best tourist trap: It’s tough to choose between the gondola ride up to Sterling Vineyards, the massive French chateau-styled tasting room at Domaine Carneros (at left) and the biggest tourist trap of them all, Castello di Amorosa (which, surprisingly, had some decent wines and a tasting fee that was less than Chateau Montelena).

We ended up bringing 24 bottles of wine home with us, and we’re looking forward to drinking all of them and traveling back to Napa and Sonoma in the near future.

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About the Author

Owner of a graphic design firm specializing in magazine design and wannabe chef. Former resident of Belgium, the United Kingdom and...North Dakota.