Saturday, October 24, 2009

Best Sonoma County Restaurants - 2009/2010

The new "Zagat 2010 Bay Area Restaurants" and "The Michelin Guide San Francisco, Bay Area, and Wine Country Restaurants 2010" were recently released. Here's an update on the critics' favorite restaurants in the Sonoma County.

The only restaurant Michelin awarded three stars was The French Laundry in the Napa Valley. Michelin awarded two stars to four Bay Area restaurants with Cyrus in Healdsburg being the only Sonoma County recipient. Thirty-four restaurants received one star. The Sonoma County recipients are Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant in Forestville, Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, and Sante in Sonoma city.

Only 1 of the 25 most popular Bay Area restaurants according to Zagat is in Sonoma County: Cyrus. Not one other restaurant in Sonoma County made Zagat's most popular list.

The top rated restaurants for food in Sonoma County according to Zagat are Cyrus (29 points), Applewood Inn and Restaurant in Guerneville (27 points), and Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant (26 points).

"The San Francisco Chronicle's" top rating is four stars, which were awarded to one Sonoma County restaurant: Cyrus. Three Sonoma County restaurants received 3.5 stars: Madrona Manor, Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant, and Dry Creek Kitchen (Healsburg). Eight restaurants are the recipients of three stars.

Lunchtime on my tours in Sonoma County usually finds my guests in either Healdsburg or the town of Sonoma. My favorite lunch spot in Healdsburg is Willi's Seafood, which features small plates of the freshest seafood. In Sonoma city, I recommend The Girl and the Fig for French influenced California food and Della Santina's for Italian cuisine. If you would like to take a private tour in Sonoma County that includes a meal at one of these great restaurants, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Best Napa Valley Restaurants - 2009/2010

The new "Zagat 2010 Bay Area Restaurants" and "The Michelin Guide San Francisco, Bay Area, and Wine Country Restaurants 2010" were recently released. Here's an update on the critics' favorite restaurants in the Napa Valley.

The only restaurant Michelin awarded three stars was The French Laundry in Yountville. Michelin awarded two stars to four Bay Area restaurants with The Restaurant at Meadowood being the only Napa recipient. Thirty-four restaurants received one star. The Napa recipients are Etoile at Domaine Chandon, Bouchon, and Redd in Yountville; La Toque and Ubuntu in Napa city, Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, Terra in St. Helena and Solbar in the Solage resort in Calistoga.

Only 2 of the 25 most popular Bay Area restaurants according to Zagat are in the Napa Valley: The French Laundry and Bouchon. Other Napa Valley restaurants on the list are Auberge du Soleil, Bistro Jeanty (Yountville), Ad Hoc (Yountville), Mustard's Grill(Yountville), Redd (Yountville), and Hog Island Oyster (Napa city).

The top rated restaurants for food in the Napa Valley according to Zagat are The French Laundry (29 points), Terra (27), Redd (27), Etoile (26), and La Toque (26)

"The San Francisco Chronicle's" top rating is four stars, which were awarded to one Napa Valley restaurant: The French Laundry. The following Napa Valley restaurants received 3.5 stars: Bistro Don Giovanni (Napa city), Redd, The Restaurant at Meadowood, and Terra. Twelve restaurants are the recipients of three stars.

My favorite lunch spot in the Napa Valley remains Auberge du Soleil. The combination of food, service, and view can't be beat. I've taken many happy guests to this restaurant. If you would like to take a private tour of the Napa Valley that includes a meal at one of these great restaurants, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wine Clubs

When visiting wineries, many of my guests are invited to join the winery's wine club. Few tasters have heard of such clubs prior to their first time winetasting. Most winery's have wine clubs as they provide the winery with a steady source of customers. Small wineries, in particular, are dependent on successful wine clubs in order to stay in business.

The clubs vary slightly but usually do not require a fee to join. Most clubs send their members one case (12 bottles) of wine per year. Some wineries ship two bottles six times per year, others three bottles four times per year, still others four bottle three times a year, and many send six bottles twice a year. Some clubs let you pick the wines you want; others send you a mix of wines selected by the winery. Most wineries include wines in their club shipments that are not available to the general public. Most clubs give you a discount on the wine. The savings on the wine may cover the cost of shipping. If you join the club, most wineries will give you an immediate discount on purchases while you are visiting the winery and will waive your tasting fees. In return you agree to receive a minimum of one or two shipments. After receiving the minimum, you can usually cancel at any time. Most clubs offer discounts on all wine purchases. Many wine clubs have special parties and events for members.

I am a member of three wine clubs and think they are good deal in certain circumstances. The first issue to consider is whether you like the winemaker's style and the variety of wines produced by the winery. If the winery produces six different types of wine and you only like the Cab, the wine club is probably not for you.

Another issue is whether your drinking will keep up with the wine you receive. Be careful about joining too many clubs. If you end up with too much wine that cannot be stored properly, you could end up with a lot of spoiled wine.

Be sure you have your wine sent to an address where someone 21 or over will be physically present to sign for the wine. FedEx and UPS will not just leave the wine on your porch or give you a note to sign. The shippers are required to hand the wine to someone who is of legal age. The best bet is to ship the wine to your business, provided you trust your receptionist not to drink the wine.

I think receiving six bottles twice a year is far better than receiving two bottles six time per year. The fewer shipments, the more you save on shipping. Also, make sure the club does not ship during your hot weather months. You don't want your wine cooking in the shipper's truck as it travels through Arizona in the summer. Most wineries do not ship to club members in the summer but a few do. If you are scheduled to receive a shipment when it's still hot, ask the winery to hold the wine until cooler weather arrives. Most are glad to do so.

A few wineries push their clubs pretty hard. Most use a soft sell. Some don't mention their club unless asked. When you visit a winery, you are under no obligation to join the club or to buy any wine. Only join the club if you will enjoy getting the regular shipments of wine. If you do join the club, have fun. It's fun to get good wine that you won't find in your local wine shop.

If you would like to take a private wine country tour, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours at (866) 326-4237 or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.