Category Archives: California

Wine Tastings in Sonoma & Napa

Ready to begin the first tasting at the Jordan Winery.

Ready to begin the first tasting at the Jordan Winery.

 

Today is a day for wine tastings and we begin by heading north to Healdsburg and the Jordan Winery.  But first, we visit the town and do a bit of shopping at the Shed, a store/restaurant/function space that’s gotten a lot of great PR, including a recent spread in Bon Appetit.

Inside Shed.

Inside Shed.

Then, on to the beautiful Alexander Valley and elegant Jordan Winery for a Tour and Library Tasting.  The Franco-inspired grand chateau is the centerpiece of the 1,200 acre estate that focuses on producing Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  My husband and I were first introduced to these wines by some good friends years ago and we have enjoyed them ever since.  It was a great treat to see where they are produced and learn about the nuances between each year’s vintages.  Better yet, it was a great experience to be able to taste the differences.  Some of the better years are now only available through the winery.

I did not know they also made an olive oil – and it was delicious, but only available here; since I’m not flying back east with oil in my luggage, I’ll have to pass for now.

We started on one of the beautiful terrace patios and moved inside to the actual library, then through a “secret” passage into a private dining room.  The food pairings were nicely done and complemented each wine.  This tasting featured hors d’oeuvre-style food parings.

We headed back to charming Healdsburg for a Mexican lunch and then on to Calistoga for a tasting of sparkling wines in the Schramsberg caves. It was at the Schramsberg Vineyard we learned a little more history about the area and the Diamond Mountain District, since Jacob Schram was one of the early founders of wine growing in the Napa region. It was a fascinating history lesson topped off by entering part of the expansive man-made caves (Napa Valley’s oldest), carved in the mountain.

Our tasting consisted of four types of sparkling wines and one Cabernet Sauvignon made by the vineyard’s current owners, the Davies family.  I was not a fan of the sparkling wines, but I’m not a big fan of sparkling wines in general.  I did like the Cab, but it has not been released outside the Winery.

Outside the Schramsberg Vinyard.

Outside the Schramsberg Vineyard.

The Schramsberg tasting was interesting.  Set deep inside the cave tunnels, we turned a corner and were greeted with a candle-lit setting.  With the curved ceiling covered in dark moss, floor to ceiling rows of thousands of stacked wine bottles and the dim candlelight, it created a very medieval effect.  Our personable guide kept things lively as she recounted stories of the early history, details of the wines we were tasting and instruction of the proper way to remove a cork with a saber (or a plain knife).

I also loved seeing the original German barrels, carved with bears, from the 1800s, two of which were lost in a poker game to the Beringer brothers and were at their winery for about 100 years, until the Davies family won them back.

The nearby small town of Calistoga had a nice, a slightly western, low-key vibe and some cute antique stores.  The beautiful drive back to Sonoma took us along winding, mountain roads with gorgeous vistas.

Again, the weather was perfect, the sky blue and no humidity (a nice change for us).

Dinner was back along the Sonoma Plaza, at the well-known Half Moon Café, where we dined on the patio and enjoyed some excellent seafood.

 

If you go:

Reservations are required for both these limited-space tastings. Each guided tour and tasting lasts about 90 minutes.

www.jordanwinery.com $40 pp

www.scharmsberg.com  $60 pp

View of farms at the Jordan Winery.

View of farms at the Jordan Winery.

Wine Country, USA

St. Francis Winery & Vineyards

St. Francis Winery & Vineyards

I’ve come to California’s wine country for a girl’s trip to celebrate a sentinel birthday (I will never say which one).  After meeting in San Francisco, we’ve rented a car and headed to the wine region.

The weather is perfect and we have decided to launch our food, wine and shopping journey with a tasting dinner at the St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in nearby Santa Rosa. And, OMG, what a wonderful way to begin.

Fourth course: NY Strip Loin

Fourth course: NY Strip Loin

Second course: Red Wine Braised Duck

Second course: Red Wine Braised Duck

We arrived just in the nick of time (they keep to tight schedules here), tired and hungry. The food and the wine pairings were absolutely wonderful. We started the meal with Arctic Char à la Barigoule (with a celery root – Yukon Gold potato purée), paired with a Chardonnay.  Next was a Red Wine Braised Duck with coriander spätzle along with a really nice Pinot Noir, and a Smoked Beet Salad with goat cheese fondant and green garlic purée along with a different red.  Our main course was a Coffee & Cocoa Crusted NY Strip Loin with roasted cauliflower, smoked garlic and crispy shallots, set off with a terrific Cabernet Sauvignon.  For dessert, an incredible cheese selection (almost like a cheesecake) was served with a Mexican Chocolate Pot du Crème and a Port.

The meal was perfectly portioned and exquisitely prepared and served.  It was heaven.

Refreshed and pretty mellow, we headed to Sonoma and the historic bungalow we had rented for a few days. This turned out to be a case where the photos looked great and the actual bungalow even better.  The two-bedroom, mission-style home is just a couple of blocks off the town plaza and has been beautifully restored and outfitted.  Bikes included.

We settled in, walked to the center of town and around the square, taking in the historic sites, mission-style, beautiful park and even the first Williams-Sonoma. Although It’s hard to believe we could eat more, we eventually stopped in at Oso (a new restaurant we’d heard about from our new friends at St. Francis), and shared a few delicious appetizers before calling it a night.

If you go:

You will need reservations for the dinner and wine pairing. $60 pp.  Each seating has a maximum of 16 guests.  www.stfranciswinery.com

Oso, 9 E Napa Street, http://www.ososonoma.com

Patio at St. Francis Winery.

Patio at St. Francis Winery.