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Sonoma and Napa: Wine and Food Report from Honeymoon

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KevinJF Jul 24, 2012 02:09 PM

Preface: My wife (Kate) and I went to Napa and Sonoma for our honeymoon. Although a wine lover, I drink mainly European wines. I have been to Napa once before, but I had never previously been to Sonoma (my wife had never made it out of SF). I know that there are many on this board who are much more knowledgeable about the region and its wine. Please excuse my ignorance. I did not take notes on the trip, so some details are missing. Do not hesitate to ask any questions if you have them. The itinerary listed below only lists the wine and food activities of the trip (spa services, horseback riding, redwoods, etc. are omitted).

Overall, it was a great time. With the exception of the French Laundry reservation, which was made by the concierge at the Sonoma Mission Inn two months in advance, I made all the meal and winery reservations.

Tuesday 6/26

Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
100 Boyes Boulevard
Sonoma, CA 95476

• The hotel is very nice, but has too many additional ancillary charges on top of the base price (e.g., $30 admission fee to the spa just use the natural thermal pools or the steam room).
• We stayed in a Mission Suite, which had a giant Jacuzzi tub, which Kate loved.
• The casual restaurant linked to the hotel, The Big 3, had excellent and healthy breakfasts (great berries, macrobiotic miso soup with a bounty of beautiful mushrooms, etc.).

• Dinner Santé @ the hotel
We did the tasting menu; it was very good, but not outstanding.
The sommelier was very friendly and helpful about wine for dinner, Napa vintages, and the region (he gave me a map). We started with a half bottle of 2009 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc and then drank a 2009 Ca' Marcanda (Gaja) Promis Toscana IGT at the suggestion of the somm. The Gaja was good, but not great (n.b., Super Tuscans are not my usual wine of choice).

Wednesday 6/27

Robert Mondavi Winery
7801 St. Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562

• Exclusive Cellar Tasting
This was a great private tasting in a beautiful glass enclosed tasting room, which was surrounded by barrels in the cellar of Mondavi. We tasted the following with cheese and charcuterie:
2008 Chard. Reserve
2010 Fumé Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc)
2010 Pinot Noir Reserve
2008 Cab. Reserve
2009 Stag’s Leap District Cab.
Tricia, our superb hostess, gave us the option to open any bottle that was available. Naturally, I choose the oldest, the 1998 Cab Reserve. The somm. at Santé had discussed the 1998 Napa Cab vintage with me at dinner the night before. He said that the vintage was initially panned by critics, but is now drinking much more like a Bdx, than a Napa Cab. The nose of 1998 was strongly of Left Bank Bdx. Although it tasted very good, it smelled better than it tasted. Kate preferred the 2008 Cab. After the 1998, my favorite was the Pinot Noir.

Mustards Grill
7399 St. Helena Highway
Yountville, CA 94558

• Lunch
I had salad, chicken, and iced tea. This was my second trip to MG.

Frogs Leap Vineyard
8815 Conn Creek Road
Rutherford, CA 94573

• Tour and tasting
This was a good tour, which included time in the vineyards, but nothing noteworthy.
I liked the whites, but not the reds. I bought some olive oil.

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

• Dinner
The meal was great; it met, but did not exceed, my high expectations.
The very long wine list is a minefield of overpriced wine, some more than 5x retail. Who wants a bottle of 1990 Leoville Barton for $925?
I went with three half bottles, none of which broke the bank:
1998 Saint Chamant “Cuvée de Chardonnay” Epernay
2001 Lopez de Heredia, “Viña Tondonia,” Riserva
1999 Ch. Musar

Thursday 6/28

Pride Mountain Vineyards
4026 Spring Mountain Road
Saint Helena, CA 94574

• Tasting and tour
We had signed up for the tasting only, because the tour and tasting was sold out.
The “tasting only” over-delivered for $10. We had a tour with barrel samples and ride in a horse-drawn wagon. It was great to taste the barrel sample and then taste the same a year later as it being bottled.
The view is stunning and definitely worth the trip up the mountain. I liked the wine, but the tour went much longer than expected, so I never bought anything.

Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road
Rutherford, CA 94574

• Lunch on the patio
I have been before and love the view and setting. We had the pork, which was the prix fixe option, to which we added a dozen raw oysters as a starter. After initial glasses of Schramsberg sparkling wine, we had a 2005 Dom. du Pegau CdP., which although young, was drinking very well. I had recently drunk the 2004, which I had liked even more.

Del Dotto Estate Winery & Caves
1445 Saint Helena Hwy S
Saint Helena, CA 94574

• Cave tasting
This tour offered a lot of barrel tastings, which were interesting, but I would have liked to have tasted more of the finished wines. I particularly liked viewing the exemplar barrel showing the different toast levels. We had cheese and charcuterie with wine at the end. I bought some olive oil.

Redd
6480 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

• Dinner on the patio
I had California wild salmon, which was excellent, and scallops as a starter. For wine we had a bottle of 2009 Littorai Pinot Noir The Pivot Vineyard, which I also enjoyed. The food and service were both top notch.

Friday 6/29

El Molino Central
11 Central Ave (along Hwy 12)
Boyes Hot Springs, CA 95416
(v. close to hotel)

• Lunch
This was an early taco lunch, which was quite good. Tricia at Mondavi recommended this for tacos.

Applewood Inn and Restaurant
13555 California 116
Guerneville, CA 95446

• Pick up picnic basket for afternoon

• Picnic on the coast at Jenner
This was an excellent picnic basket with a lot of food.

• Dinner at Applewood Inn
We did the tasting menu, which was very good (similar caliber as Santé (both have 1 Mich. *)).
The wine pairings were forgettable.

Saturday 6/30

The Girl and the Fig
110 West Spain Street
Sonoma, CA 95476

• Lunch
I had arctic char, which was the special. It was good, but the salads were the highlight. We had iced tea with lunch.

Littorai Wines
788 Gold Ridge Road
Sebastopol, CA 95472

• Tour and tasting
This was a great tour with one other couple at the beautiful winery and The Pivot vineyard property. This is a fully integrated biodynamic farm implementing the vision of Rudolf Steiner. The property is on high ground, but not quite as high as Pride. In addition to the vineyard, the property also grows the herbs used in the biodynamic preparations. There are also bee colonies, wetlands, cattle, chickens, and ducks. This tour gives a good explanation of biodynamic practices. We tasted a couple Chards and some Pinot Noir. I bought the following, but liked everything I drank:
2009 Littorai Pinot Noir The Haven
2009 Littorai Pinot Noir The Pivot.

Merry Edwards Winery
2959 Gravenstein Highway North
Sebastopol, CA 95472

• Tasting
This was a private tasting. The host, although quite friendly, did not have a lot to say. It was up to me to ask questions. I tasted a number of Pinot Noirs and one white, which I believe was the Sauvignon Blanc I had drunk at l Santé. I liked these wines, but not as much as the wine at Littorai. I bought one bottle, a 2009 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Meredith Estate.

Cafe La Haye
140 East Napa Street
Sonoma, CA 95476

• Dinner
I had a very good steak. The place is small, but the service is friendly and attentive. We bought a wine at a local wine shop on the way to the restaurant, a 2006 Capanna Brunello di Montalcino, which went very well with the steak.

Sunday 7/1

Terrapin Creek Cafe / Restaurant
1580 Eastshore Road
Bodega Bay, CA 94923

• Lunch
I had Mediterranean fish stew and Kate had Dungeness Crab Cake Salad. The food was very good; Kate especially liked her dish. This has to be one of the least expensive Michelin starred restaurants. I drank coffee.

Bistro Des Copains
3782 Bohemian Highway
Occidental, CA 95465

• Dinner
This was a small, but charming restaurant. The food was very good (I had California wild salmon), but my glass of Pinot Noir was warm.

Monday 7/2

Vérité Winery
4611 Thomas Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448

• Tasting
This was a private tasting with three bottles to ourselves. The wines, the 2008 La Muse, La Joi, and Le Désir were all excellent. I had never had any Vérité wines, or any wine with a perfect score from RP, so I was curious. Unlike RP, I would not have given the three wines two 100s and one 99, but they all are solidly in the mid 90s. If they cost a lot less than the price of $450, I would have bought some. My favorite was the Joy, which RP ranked the lowest at 99. I think I drank half the bottle of the Joy, an aptly named wine. Although a bit pricey at $75 per person, we received a surprise $25 discount for staying at the Sonoma Mission Inn.

Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs
650 Lytton Springs Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448

• Tour and Tasting
This was a great private tour and tasting. We were in the vineyards of the old Zinfandel vines and in all working areas of the winery while work was actually being done. Ridge is probably my favorite U.S. producer over a wide price range. I have never had a less than good glass of Ridge wine, regardless of the varietal or year. We drank a range of wines, which were accompanied by cheese and charcuterie:
2009 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Estate
2009 Ridge Merlot Estate
2007 Monte Bello
Chard and Zin, the details of which I cannot recall.
We bought a 1999 and a 2007 Monte Bello, a 2009 Cab., a Rosé, and 2 Monte Bello Chards. I also joined the Monte Bello Collector wine club.

The Girl and the Fig
110 West Spain Street
Sonoma, CA 95476

• Dinner
We greatly enjoyed our prior lunch, so we returned for dinner. This meal was disappointing due to my steak being medium well instead of the ordered medium rare and Kate’s burger being well instead of the ordered medium. The wines were good, which we shared with a couple who joined us for this meal:
2011 Domaine du Gros Noré Bandol Rosé
2009 Ridge, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County (Carignane/Carignan).

Tuesday 7/3

Joseph Phelps Vineyards
200 Taplin Road
Saint Helena, CA 94574

• Phelps Napa Rocks Seminar and Tasting
The seminar was supposed to be on the geology of Napa Valley, but it strayed into Napa wine history, wine tasting 101, and the greatness of Joseph Phelps/Insignia. The wine that I enjoyed the most was the Pinot Noir (I think it was the 2009 Freestone). The 2008 Insignia tasted hot/alcoholic (supposedly 14.5%). In my opinion it did not compare well to its peer wines at Ridge (2007 Monte Bello) and Vérité (all three of the 2008 wines).

Redd
6480 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

• Dinner
Fearful of the traffic in St. Helena, we canceled Cook to go back to Redd, which we loved the first time. Redd did not disappoint on the return trip. We initially had a drink at the bar at 4:30 and then sat at a high top table in the bar area at 5:30. Being in the bar area gave us access to the bar menu. We especially liked the spiced nuts with sugared bacon to snack on at the bar. We started with oysters, which were paired with a half bottle of Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) recommended by the helpful and friendly sommelier. After the nuts and oysters, I returned to my old standbys scallops and California wild salmon. With the salmon we had a bottle of 2008 Dom. Robert Chevillon, Les Roncieres, a Primer Cru from Nuits-St.-Georges, which was very good and a marked departure from the California pinots.

My favorite vineyard visits/tastings/tours were Mondavi, Pride, Littorai, Vérité, and Ridge.

We would definitely return to the following restaurants: Auberge du Soleil, Redd, and Terrapin Creek (for dinner this time).

  1. l
    Leely2 Jul 25, 2012 09:28 PM

    Thank you very much for this report. I've never been to Redd, but have had it on my list for a while. Sounds like I must make the trip soon.

    Congratulations on your marriage!

    1. p
      pinotho Jul 24, 2012 02:27 PM

      this report is appreciated, thank you Kevin.

      1. d
        DavidT Jul 24, 2012 02:21 PM

        Sounds like quite a week! Thanks for the report.

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