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Jul 15, 2010 06:28 PM

Wine Country Recommendations

My wife and I spent a wonderful honeymoon in SF and the Wine Country, and celebrating our 20th anniversary, we've decided to return--we're flying from our home in PA to spend 4 nights there from July 26-July 30. Things have changed so much in Sonoma and Napa since we were last there, I'm wondering if anyone here has recommendations for great dininng and great wineries to visit. On our honeymoon we had a fabulous dinner at Terra, but I've heard that it's slipped in recent years. I tried to get us a table at the French Laundry for our anniversary date (July 27), but was told TFL was closed until 7/29--and I couldn't secure a reservation for that date (although, being overly optimistic, I did put us on a waiting list). We're having our July 27 dinner at Redd (many here and on other sites have recommended this). We're staying at the Fairmont Sonoma, so I thought we'd have dinner at Sante one night. But are there other musts we should try for dinner? We'll have a car, so I don't feel limited to Sonoma.

As far as wineries, there are several I'm interested in--my wife & I love pinot noir, and I'm also crazy about zinfandels and syrahs. My top choices so far are Storybook, Caymus, Enkidu, Roessler, Loxton, Ridge, and Potelle--we're also planning to visit some wineries we went to on our honeymoon (Stags Leap, Silverado, and Clos Pegase). What should we know before visiting these wineries? And are there others we should consider? One proviso: although I like small, obscure wineries where I can have a more personal experience, my wife doesn't--she prefers the bigger, more well-travelled spots that allow for more anonymity and less chattiness (go figure!).

Any recommendations &/or discussion would be greatly appreciated! Much TIA!

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

Sante Restaurant
100 Boyes Blvd, Sonoma, CA

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  1. Hello! My husband I recently moved Santa Rosa from Pgh, PA. We have had a great experience here so far and are out drinking wine way too often.
    Our favorite place to go to for lunch while wine tasting is Cafe Citti on Highway 12 in Kenwood. I had the lasagna and the hubby had a foccacia sandwich, both were delicious. The lasagna was made with a bechemel and a meat sauce, it was like it eating a scrumptious cloud :) Skip the dessert though...
    Figone's Olive Oil is just about across the street and deserves a stop. I ended up leaving with not only the membership, but also 2 bottles of oil and a bottle of balsamic vinegar.
    ZaZu restaurant has been highly recommended to me, but I haven't had the chance to visit yet.
    Our favorite wineries are....
    J. Rickards
    Mazzocco Vineyards
    Tin Barn
    Talisman Wines (the pinot noirs are out of this world
    )Viansa Winery & Vineyards (the wines are decent but we come here for the patio with a view and their woodburning pizza oven
    )Most of the wineries I recommended are small family operations. Those are the ones we try to stick to, there really hasn't been a large on that I can recommend.
    Good Luck and Happy Anniversary!

    Viansa Winery
    25200 Arnold Dr, Sonoma, CA

    Mazzocco Vineyards
    1400 Lytton Springs Rd, Healdsburg, CA

    Cafe Citti
    9047 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452

    1. I think you would be happy to have made a trip to northern Sonoma county to visit Wilson, Stryker and Mauritson. All three have great zins and are "in-between" on the tourist radar.

      3 Replies
      1. re: otherfootloose

        Thanks so much katjo and otherfootloose! We had a wonderful time in Sonoma/Napa--unfortunately I overestimated the number of wineries we could visit in a day! We had such a nice time hanging out and tasting wines, and the drives were so long that we could only fit in about 4/day. One day we focused on wineries around Highway 101 in Sonoma County, starting with Ferrari-Carano in Healdsburg. From there we went to Bella--probably my favorite winery of the trip--nice cave setting for the tastings and friendly, knowledgable servers--the wines were incredible, too! After lunch we stopped at Family Vineyards, a collective that included Dashe and several other vineyards. Our server was fun, the small group of visitors were having a great time, and even though the storefront is kitschy, it allowed us tastings of lots of small vineyards. Later we visited Mazzocco, which was also one of our favorites--loved the service and the wines. We arrived late in the day and the visitors and server were all in a very convivial mood. The zin and sauvignon blanc were incredible. Had Wilson, Stryker, and Mauritson on our list, but couldn't make it in time. I understand that Wilson is connected to Mazzocco, right? The next day we did the Napa side mostly along Highway 29. Wanted to start with Storybook, but it was by appointment only, and we never got one. We did have a bottle of their "Eastern Exposure" Napa Valley 2007 at Farm at the Caneros Inn--one of the best wines of the trip! Most of the vineyards we visited in this region were the "sentimental" favorites--places we visited 20 years ago on our honeymoon: Clos Pegase, Sterling, Freemark Abbey, and V. Sattui. Clos Pegase was much as we remembered, although looking a bit shabbier. The server was pretty cold, but the wines we tasted were excellent, better than I'd expected. Sterling was ridiculous--the big Disneyfied wine country experience--but it was fun, even though the wines were nothing extraordinary. Freemark Abbey was our favorite on this day--beautiful grounds, very nice tasting room, knowledgable and friendly staff--and the wines were even better than I remembered. My wife always regretted not having had lunch at V. Sattui when we visited 20 years ago, so this was a must for us. It was crazy, even at 2 pm. I've read lots of bad press about this place on Chowhound and elsewhere--but our server was very nice, taking time to talk with us about the wines, even though the place was mega-busy--she also gave us special wine tastings over and above our fee. But one of our wines was corked--and no one there seemed to have noticed. That pretty much epitomizes the place, right? All the same, most of the wines I tried there were great, and I ended up buying 6 bottles, mostly for the uniqueness and sentimental factor!
        And in case anyone's interested, here's where we had dinner:
        Sante: very disappointing--have no idea how they got a Michelin star
        Redd: fantastic--the chef's tasting menu with wine pairings was the highlight of the trip--excellent QP ratio
        the girl and the fig: a fun place--very good food--funky but nice
        Farm at the Caneros Inn: spectacular--the food was incredible and the space was gorgeous--if we ever come back, this is where I want to stay!

        8761 Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA

        Sante Restaurant
        100 Boyes Blvd, Sonoma, CA

        1. re: mwb126

          Thanks for reporting back and happy belated anniversery ... hope you don't wait another 20 years to come back.

          What did you have at Sante?

          Sante Restaurant
          100 Boyes Blvd, Sonoma, CA

          1. re: rworange

            Thank you for the belated wishes! At Sante I had the tuna tartare napoleon with pickled ginger, wasabi fish roe, and sesame tuile for my starter, followed by duck breast with "crispy" duck confit. The tartare looked beautiful on the plate, but it was mushy and unfocused--it tasted like it had been in the fridge too long. My wife had the quail salad, which she said was fine but no big deal. Neither the duck breast skin nor the confit had any "crispiness" to it at all. Both tasted OK, but the confit seemed like it had been sitting under a heat lamp way too long and the breast skin was soggy. My wife had better luck with her entree--she raved about the ocean trout dish, saying it was probably the best trout she'd ever had. It was very nicely done. But my wife's peach crisp for dessert seemed to have been over-nuked in a microwave and had no "crisp" whatsoever. The chefs that night seemed distinctly incapable of making anything "crisp"! It was a Monday night, so maybe the kitchen was not on its game, but at about $350, you expect a bit more. The problems with the food resonated with problems in setting and service. The dining room seemed like nothing more than a tarted-up hotel restaurant, and was shabby to boot. From where I was seated I had to stare at a cloth-covered room divider that was spotted and frayed. My wife had to sit next to a column that was very awkward for servers to negotiate. Our waiter was very friendly at first, but lost interest in us after we got our first course. He rarely checked with us--I had to refill our wine glasses myself--he only became friendly and charming again as he was presenting our bill. I had booked our table weeks before with a special note about our anniversary--besides a cursory "happy anniversary" from our waiter, there was no other special recognition. (In contrast, when we celebrated our 15th anniversary at Gotham in NYC, the chef sent special treats throughout the meal ending with a beautiful little cake made to look like a happy anniversary card.) The sommelier was the bright spot of the evening--she was friendly, very knowledgable, and recommended an excellent Stemmler Pinot Noir that went perfectly with our meal. Bottom line: Why would Michelin give this place a star? The Fairmont touted this at every possible opportunity, and I just don't get it.
            BTW, I really hope we don't have to wait another 20 years to come back to the area! I'll be too old to enjoy it!

            Sante Restaurant
            100 Boyes Blvd, Sonoma, CA