Feast your senses on Napa Valley's fresh food, vibrant surroundings, caring service and of course, tantalizing libations. Indian Summer season is high time for a well-deserved visit to Northern California's warm, sunny days and cool, breezy nights.
No matter how far one must travel to discover the likes of Sonoma, Yountville, Calistoga and more, part of every memorable trip is the journey there. Ours started out at the crack of dawn, where as we boarded a bright red Airbus 330, I could have sworn that Richard Branson himself was checking passes. Or was that just the lack of my usual am double-shot espresso? (You know you're flying early when even Starbucks isn't open yet!) All in all, it was an enjoyable ride.
On board, there was diversity galore! Our fellow passengers represented at least 15 nations, and the in-flight entertainment console offered browsing music, games and movies in everything from American to Zulu. Spanish 'Food Cubes' unfolded into an array of organic hummus, British water crackers, Belgian chocolate and itty bitty President brie triangles. Illy iced cappucino did the trick for my morning brain fuzz, so as I browsed music selections to make a personalized playlist, I came across Japanese pop, Brazilian blues and Jamaican reggae. Films that had barely come out on the big screen dotted my mini display (with cinema-worthy price tags to match). A few magazines and a nap later, we touched down at SFO and hurried over to pick up our rental car-lette to cruise up route 29 to Wine Country, USA.
If you had to choose only one winery to visit, it would be a challenge to dream up a better choice than Reverie ... a gorgeous haven hidden high atop Diamond Mountain. Scoped out on a whim by a millionaire who got fed up with his downtown investment lifestyle, thirsty for the natural beauty of abundant earth. Call ahead to see if Guillermo will take you on a tour; not only will you learn a lot, but you'll likely spontaneously decide to retire in a heavenly hilltop mansion nearby. Some prefer the Poe-esque cave walk-through; most fall in love with the redwood tasting room. Picture staggering redwood trees growing for centuries in a perfect circle, subtly complemented by homey benches to make the perfect setting to enjoy Reverie's special reserve collection. Relax, stay a while.
While Bleu-Blanc-Rouge has flown above Red-White & Blue for centuries in the domain of wine production, I must admit that Napa is doing quite a number in out-taste-testing Bordeaux, Bourgogne and Côtes du Rhône with superb reds and whites. In the bubbly category, Reims still reigns over Yountville; however, Chandon's milder, sweeter variety of pinots in their Cali sparklings is pleasing to the fun-loving, laid-back American palette vs. the sharp, brut air of traditional Moët.
The perfect way to discover Domaine Chandon's encyclopedia of local wine selections is to pair their best vintages with their best dishes. I'd say five courses would suffice (after all, a bike ride along the vineyards can only burn so many calories). Young star chef Perry Hoffman, son of the original owners of French Laundry, is a natural. He has a sweet touch on savory sauces yet desserts are rich and dark; this presents a refreshing contrast to the by-the-book culinary style of the Atlantic coast.
Amuse your palette with a single, beautifully posed citrusy prawn. En entrée, a zingy lobster bisque for him and warm foie gras a la poêle with cherry-cabernet reduction for her ... move onto Rising Sun-inspired halibut with soba noodles and then more candy-like cherries accompany the magret de canard. Quack. Yum. The lamb rack is delicious and certainly more manly than the duck; rosemary and thyme dance on your toungue, perfectly partnered with a glass of Russian River pinot noir. For dessert, yep, you guessed it --more cherries. Valrhona Chocolate Pâté would be amazing on its own, but Perry spiced it up with black pepper ice cream and topped his masterpiece with sun-dried cherries. Scrumptious. But no meal is complete without my macchiatto, certo. Even if that means staying longer than any other guests at Etoile. Grazie, caro!
Back at home at Maison Fleurie after a long day in Napa's creative playground for Michelin starlets, ah. Cozy French country charm and generous, hot breakfast awaiting in the morning. Somehow the appetite keeps coming back ... it must be the fresh air. Or it could be the just-popped muffins, scrumptious quiche, crunchy handmade granola and more delights waiting at your table. The smell of organic coffee wafts up to your room ...
Take your time getting back home on this unforgettable, uniquely Californian detour ... Along route 1, one must travel to discover at hidden wineries along the coast ... and what a breathtaking ride it is! If you are lucky enough to be the passenger, take a hi-def mini camcorder w/ you to capture the beauty of the Pacific splashing along pebbly beaches for your driving companion (and your jealous friends back home) to enjoy. The only question you will ask yourself after the trip is "So when are we going back? Soon?"