Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Best Sonoma County Restaurants - 2012/2013

The new Zagat Bay Area Restaurants 2013 and The Michelin Guide San Francisco, Bay Area, and Wine Country Restaurants 2013 were recently released. Here's an update on the critics' favorite restaurants in the Sonoma County.

No Sonoma County Restaurants received two or three stars from Michelin.  Cyrus, which had received two stars, closed this year.  The Sonoma County recipients of one Michelin star are Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant in Forestville, Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, and Terrapin Creek in Bodega Bay.

None of the 40 most popular Bay Area restaurants, according to Zagat. are in Sonoma County. Zagat's top rated restaurants for food in Sonoma County are Cucina Paradiso (Petaluma), Sea Thai Bistro (Petaluma), Madrona Manor (Healdsburg), Farmhouse Inn (Forestville), and Bistro des Copains (Occidental); all with 27 points.

"The San Francisco Chronicle's" top rating is four stars. Two Sonoma County restaurants received 3.5 stars: Madrona Manor (Healdsburg) and Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant (Forestville).  Fourteen 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, El Dorado Kitchen for American cuisine and Della Santina's for Italian food. 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.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Napa Valley Restaurants - 2012/13

The new Zagat Bay Area Restaurants 2013 and The Michelin Guide San Francisco, Bay Area, and Wine Country Restaurants 2013 were recently released. Here's an update on the critics' favorite restaurants in the Napa Valley.

The French Laundry in Yountville and The Restaurant at Meadowood near St. Helena remain Michelin's only three-star restaurants in the Bay Area. Thirty-nine restaurants received one star from Michelin. The Napa recipients are Bouchon and Redd in Yountville; La Toque in Napa city, Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, Terra in St. Helena, and Solbar in the Solage resort in Calistoga.

Five of the 40 most popular Bay Area restaurants, according to Zagat, are in the Napa Valley: The French Laundry (Yountville), Bouchon (Yountville), Bottega (Yountville), Ad Hoc (Yountville), and Bistro Jeanty (Yountville).

The top rated restaurants for food in the Napa Valley, according to Zagat, are The French Laundry (29 points) (Yountville), Redd (28 points) (Yountville), Cole's Chop House (27) (Napa city), Terra (27) (St. Helena), Etoile (27) (Yountville), and Auberge du Soleil (27) (Rutherford).

"The San Francisco Chronicle's" top rating is four stars, which were awarded to two Napa Valley restaurants:  French Laundry (Yountville) and The Restaurant at Meadowood (near St. Helena). The following Napa Valley restaurants received 3.5 stars: Bar Terra (St. Helena), Bistro Don Giovanni (Napa city), Etoile (Yountville), Redd (Yountville), and Terra (St. Helena). 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.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Winetasting on Sonoma Plaza

The number of tasting rooms on Sonoma's historic plaza keeps growing.  There are now 22 tasting rooms located on the plaza or within a short walk of the plaza.  Yesterday, I had a chance to check out some of them, both new and old.

For some good Syrah and a taste of New Orleans, visit Eric K. James Vineyards' tasting room.  You'll have to look hard to find this friendly tasting room.  While the address is 452 First Street East, Suite G, look for a walkaway off the east side of the plaza that is home to La Salette restaurant.  Walk down the alley and turn right before you get to La Salette.  You'll then see the sign for Eric K James.  We were first struck by the large number of olive oils and vinegars sitting outside of the tasting room and available for free tasting.  When we walked in, we were immediately greeted by Andrew Jaeger, one of the owners.  Andrew, a native of New Orleans, walked us through four delicious Syrahs.  Other wines were available to taste - both whites and reds - but we needed to save ourselves for other tasting rooms.  On Fridays and Saturdays, the tasting room stays open into the evenings.  If you are staying the night in Sonoma, stop on by and you'll get to taste some good wine and hear some New Orleans music.

We then headed to the south side of the plaza, to "Vine Alley," home to five tasting rooms. There's something here for just about everybody.  Being Zinfandel (red, not pink) fans, we were immediately attracted to Haywood Winery.  Here we tasted four Zinfandels, a Primitivo (Zinfandel's Italian cousin), and a Cabernet Franc.  Nancy, our friendly hostess, walked us through the wines and told us the history of this small vineyard, founded by Peter Haywood in 1976 and located in the Sonoma hills.

I told Nancy how hard it is to find wineries that have enough wines to satisfy guests who only enjoy white wines.  She suggested that I stop by the tasting room for Two Amigos Wines and GlenLyon Vineyards and Winery.  When we entered the tasting room we were warmly greeted by Guido Vino, one of the partners in the winery, who was wearing a brightly colored bow tie.  We immediately noticed photos of various people wearing Groucho Marx glasses as well as a video playing of folks similarly attired.  Guido told us that Two Amigos' tasting room is all about having fun. Given that Guido's partner, Vito Vino, once played Ronald McDonald, we should not have been surprised.  To get a sense of the Vino Brothers' sense of humor, visit Two Amigos' website.  The tasting room offers a variety of whites and reds offered by both labels.

We then visited Sigh, a tasting room for Champagne and sparkling wine.  The owner, Jayme Powers - "Bubble Boss" - explained to us that Sigh is not a traditional tasting room.  Rather it offers tastes of sparkling wine from California, Champagne, and other wine regions from around the world.  If you like bubbles, Sigh is a must stop.

Both Andrew and Nancy highly recommended that we visit Bryter Estates but the tasting room was closed for a private event.  I'll have to stop by on my next visit.

Two tasting rooms that sit beside each other on East Napa Street were also recommended to us.  Kamen Estate Wines specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon.  Not being Cab fans we didn't taste, but I  recommend a stop if you like this type of wine.  Next door is Spann Vineyards.  The tasting, which is housed in Saret Gallery, was not open when we stopped by.  However, we enjoyed the beautiful photographs in the gallery.

The last stop for the day was Walt, just north of the plaza on West First Street.  This Pinot Noir specialist is owned by Kathryn and Craig Hall, who also own Hall Wines in the Napa Valley.  If you love Pinot, this could be the stop for you as the winery makes Pinot from grapes grown in Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, Anderson Valley, Santa Rita Hills, and Willamette Valley.  If you want to taste the impact of terroir (geology, topography, and climate) on wine, Walt is the place for you.

There's no way to visit all of Sonoma Plaza's tasting rooms in one day and remain sober.  So I'll have to return to taste wine from other wineries.  If you would like to take a private, wine country tour that includes a stop on Sonoma Plaza, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Winetasting During the Holidays

The latest edition of "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's free newsletter is available.  This edition provides tip for having fun during a holiday visit to San Francisco as well as winetasting during the holidays.  Click here to see the November edition.  If you would like to receive future editions, send a request to Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Good Articles on Central California Wine, Food, and Travel

The New York Times recently posted some articles on winetasting, dining, and traveling in San Luis Obispo County, along California's Central Coast.  The articles covered both Paso Robles as well as the city of San Luis Obispo.  Here are the links to the four articles:

Located about half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo is a good place to stop for a day or two when traveling along the scenic coast.  Not mentioned in any of the articles is the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, which is well worth a visit.

If you want to do a private tour from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo or from San Francisco to Los Angeles with a stop along the Central Coast, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel for more information at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Monte Rio and Guerneville

Monte Rio and Guerneville are two small, rustic towns located at the western end of the Russian River Valley wine region, about eight miles inland from the coast.  I recently had the opportunity to visit these two towns with a group of journalists who were looking at hotels, restaurants, and wineries.

In Monte Rio, we saw the Village Inn, a country inn where the Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire movie, Holiday Inn, was filmed in 1942.  The old inn is full of charm and the rooms are comfortable.  Mark, the owner, and Kathy, the innkeeper, will make sure that you have an enjoyable stay.

In Guerneville, the larger of the two towns, we looked at Boon Hotel and Spa and West Sonoma Inn.  Boon Hotel offers simple rooms with a modern look.  You can relax by the pool, enjoy a spa treatment, or play Frisbee with Boon.  Krista, the owner, will make sure that you have an enjoyable stay.  West Sonoma Inn is a very upgraded 1950s (technically 1948) motel that now offers comfortable rooms and an array of spa treatments.  Here too you can just enjoy the sunshine and the redwoods while relaxing by the pool.

We also had the opportunity to taste delicious paninis from Boon Eat and Drink in Guerneville, which has the same ownership as Boon Hotel and Spa.  The dinner menu looked terrific, but we didn't have the chance to dine there.  Krista, the owner, didn't feel like she was busy enough so last year she entered into a partnership to open Big Bottom Market.  If you are passing through, be sure to taste the yummy biscuits; usually made by Krista's mother.

Monte Rio and Guerneville are two very laid back towns.  They don't aspire to be another Healdsburg, which is much more up market.  If you enjoy hiking among the redwoods, relaxing by the pool or along the river, excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and understated accommodation than one of these towns might be the perfect place to base your next Russian River vacation.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Office Park Wineries

Most visitors to wine country picture pastoral settings with rows of grape vines and beautiful buildings housing wineries.  What they don't think of is asphalt, concrete, and steel framed warehouses.  However, one does not need a beautiful building in which to make wine, and the winery need not be located adjacent to the vineyards.  For many wineries, they can save a lot of money by making their wines in an office park.  This means the consumer can get quality wines at better prices.

There are many such wineries in both Napa and Sonoma Counties.  Siduri, a maker of excellent Pinot Noir, is located in an office park in Santa Rosa.  Patz and Hall, a well regarded producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, is housed an office park just outside of the city of Napa.  Both of these wineries welcome visitors by prior appointment. 

Recently, I had a chance to revisit Manzanita Creek, which makes tasty Zinfandel (red, not pink), Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, and Pinot Noir.  I wanted to return to Manzanita Creek because many years ago I took guests there who loved the Zin.  Being a big fan of Zinfandel, I wanted to try the wines.  I was not disappointed.  The staff were friendly and offered us a good sampling of Manzanita Creek's Zinfandels, as well as some Chardonnay and Petite Sirah.  If you like Zin, put Manzanita Creek on your list to visit.  If you are in the Healdsburg area between Wednesday and Saturday, no appointment is needed.  Just drop in between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.  The winery is located at 1441B Grove Street, just off Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg.

If you would like to take a private tour of wine country that includes some warehouse wineries, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Beautiful Carneros Winery

When you head to the Sonoma or Napa Valley via the Golden Gate Bridge, the first winery you come to is Ram's Gate Winery.  Over the past couple of years, I watched the old winery being torn down, new vines being planted, and finally the construction of the new winery and tasting room.  I had long wanted to check out Ram's Gate's tasting room and wines and finally had an opportunity earlier this week.

Ram's Gate has one of the prettiest tasting rooms in wine country.  As you head up the driveway, you will circle behind the winery and tasting room.  When you walk into the building, you enter a large open air space filled with tables and chairs.  We were greeted by one of Ram's Gates' concierges who directed us to the tasting bar.  Being a warm, sunny day, the wall separating the tasting room from the central veranda was open.  Visitors have the option of tasting at the bar, at one of the tables on the veranda, or on a patio.

Ram's Gate offers a flight of six wines, including one sparkling wine and a late-harvest Zinfandel, for $20.  Food pairings are offered with each wine that can be purchased separately.  Ram's Gate offers additional tasting experiences that are described on the winery's website.  If you want to sit down, relax, and enjoy some wine and food, you won't find a better spot than Ram's Gate.

Ram's Gate's tasting room is open daily from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.  The kitchen is open between 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.  Reservations, especially if you would like a seated tasting, are highly recommended for weekends.  We were at Ram's Gate on a quiet Monday morning.  I suspect, during the weekend, the tasting room is much more crowded.

If you would like to take a private, wine country tour that includes a visit to Ram's Gate, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at 1 (866) 326-4237 or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.  Full and half-day options are available.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Must I Buy Some Wine?

Guests frequently ask me whether they are obligated to buy wine when visiting a winery.  The short answer is, "No."  The long answers is, "It depends."

Wineries want to sell wine through their tasting rooms, but you should never feel compelled to buy wine.  However, there are some instances where you might want to thank the tasting room staff and the winery for taking the time to pour wines for you by buying a bottle or two.

If you visit a tasting room that is open for visitors to drop in, you should not feel obligated to buy any wine.  You have probably paid a tasting fee, and these wineries are very accustomed to having visitors not buy wine.  If you feel you have received exceptional service from the tasting room staff, give him/her a tip.  He/she will be pleasantly surprised.

The same applies to many of the wineries that require appointments to taste.  These wineries see a good number of people every day and know that not everyone will want to buy wine.

Where it gets murky is when you make an appointment to visit a small winery where the owner or staff takes time out of her/his schedule to spend some time with you.  Many of these wineries do not charge for tastings or have a minimum tasting fee.  Some see very few visitors and are opening wines just for you.  Here, you might want to buy some wine as a way to thank the winery for the time and effort to see you.  I have been in many wineries where I wasn't crazy about the wine but felt like I needed to buy a bottle or two.  If you don't really like the wine, give it as a gift!

I hope this is helpful.  If any readers have views on this subject, please comment.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mendocino Restaurants

Since there is little lodging in the Anderson Valley and the Mendocino coast is so beautiful, I stay along the coast whenever I go winetasting in this area.  There are some good restaurants in the town of Mendocino and nearby villages.  Recently, I had the opportunity to retry a couple of favorites and to try a restaurant for the first time that's been around for 25 years.

955 Ukiah Street has been welcoming guests in the town of Mendocino since 1987.  It had long been on my list of restaurants to visit.  About three weeks ago, I finally had the opportunity to eat there.  Like most fine restaurants in the area, the meal is not cheap with entrees in the $25 - $35 range.  The setting is casual and the service friendly.  The food was good and both of us enjoyed our dinners but I cannot put 955 Ukiah at the top of my recommendation list for first time visitors.

We returned to two old favorites and were not disappointed.  For the past six years, I think Cafe Beaujolais has had the best food on the Mendocino County coast.  (See my caveat below.)  Ever since David LaMonica bought the restaurant in 2006 and started cooking at Cafe Beaujolais, I believe the food has been a touch above the other good restaurants along the coast.  The prices are similar to 955 Ukiah but the preparation and service are slightly more sophisticated.  If food is your top priority, then this is the place to go when you visit Mendocino.

If you prefer to combine good food with a beautiful ocean view, the Albion River Inn is a terrific choice.  The restaurant (and inn) sit on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the Albion River, about 15 minutes south of the town of Mendocino.  For years, the restaurant has been turning out very good food in a casual setting.  When Mother Nature cooperates, the sunset over the Pacific is beautiful.

My caveat to all of the above is that I only get to the Mendocino County coast about once a year and only get to eat at each restaurant once when I do get there.  Last year I ate at another favorite, Ledford House; another restaurant that combines good food with a stunning view.  For years, I thought it was the equal of Albion River Inn, but last year I thought Albion River Inn had slightly better food and much better service.  The Moosse Cafe is another good restaurant in the town of Mendocino but it would not be my first choice for an excellent meal.  The Restaurant at Stevenswood, south of the town of Mendocino, consistently gets good reviews, but we were disappointed when we dined there about five years ago.  We'll need to try it again.  McCallum House Restaurant also is well reviewed, We dined there long before the current chef took over the kitchen so we'll have to give this restaurant a try next time we visit.

As you can see, there are a number of good dining options when you visit Mendocino.  You won't go wrong at any of the above.

If you would like to take a two-day, one night tour of the Anderson Valley, the town of Mendocino, and the Northern California coast, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Yet Another Good Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Producer

At the western end of the small town of Philo in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County is a complex, called The Madrones, that houses four tasting rooms.  On a previous visit, we stopped in at couple of the tasting rooms.  On this trip, we tasted excellent Pinot Noir at Lula Cellars.  We were served by the owner, Jeff Hansen, who told us about his experience making wine in the Napa Valley, the history of his current winery - Lula Cellars, and how much he enjoyed living on the Mendocino coast.  Being a small producer, Jeff has a good problem - he sells out of one year's vintage before the next year's wine is ready to be released.  Fortunately, we were able to taste his Pinot Noir before it sells out for the year.  Jeff expects to have some wine to pour through sometime in June.  Then the tasting room will be closed for a few months until the next year's wines are released.  But don't fear, if you stop by and Lula Cellars is closed, at least one of the tastings rooms is sure to be open. 

Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel offers a two-day, one night tour from San Francisco to the Anderson Valley, the charming town of Mendocino, and the stunning Mendocino and Sonoma coast.  For more information, visit the Blue Heron website, phone (866) 326-4237 (toll free), or e-mail Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Yucatan Food in Healdsburg

One of my frequent complaints about Bay Area dining is the lack of quality Mexican restaurants.  Yes, there are scores of taquerias where you can get tasty tacos, tamales, and burritos, but Mexican food is much more complex.  Recently, I had the chance to dine at Mateo's Cocina Latina, just off of Healdsburg's town square.  

I had been hearing about Mateo's tasty Yucatan-inspired food ever since it opened about six months ago.  To start you can choose from the drinks list, which includes a long list of tequilas and margaritas as well as micro-brews on draft and, of course, wines.

The menu uses mostly locally sourced ingredients to produce some of the tastiest Mexican food around.  We started with a black bean puree tacone.  Mateo's offers a variety of these small, ice-cream cone shaped appetizers but one was enough for us.  We also enjoyed a delicious seafood cocktail, a huge duck tamale, and a jicama salad.  There were many other dishes we wanted to try but one can only eat so much at one seating.  I'll just have to return to continue my way through Mateo's appealing menu.

If you would like to take a private wine country tour that includes a stop at Mateo's for lunch, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tasting Fees Rise at Inglenook

Tasting at Inglenook, formerly known as Rubicon Estate and Neibaum-Coppola, is now more expensive and by appointment.  While advance reservations are not required, they are recommended by the winery.  The new tasting includes a tour and a sit-down tasting with food pairings.  The experience lasts about 90 minutes and costs $50/person.  Stand-up tastings at the bar are no longer available.  Visitors can get a glass of wine at the small cafe.  Visitors may access the museum and the historic building without tasting.  (When I stopped at Inglenook yesterday, the concierge said that, for the same price, visitors cold get the tasting and food pairing without waiting until the next tour started.)

I do not know why Francis Ford Coppola decided to limit visitors to his historic property.  I would have thought he would want people to celebrate his recent reuniting of the historic property with its original name, but that does not appear to be the case.  Many upscale wineries charge around $50 for a tour and food and wine pairing, so the pricing is consistent with the upward trend in tasting prices in Napa.  It's just a shame that a tasting option does not exist for the visitor who does not want to take yet another wine tour or invest $50 at one winery.

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

Monday, March 05, 2012

Un-Wine Country Cuisine

When one visits wine country, one thinks of refined dining using the freshest of local ingredients.  Fremont Diner, on the Sonoma side of Carneros, uses fresh, local ingredients, but dining is anything but refined.  When you have a hankering for diner food prepared with care, this is the place to go.  On a recent visit my guests and I enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches, a fried chicken sandwich, unbelievable buttermilk biscuits, and Dr. Brown root beer and cream sodas.  While Fremont diner has a couple of salads on the menu, don't go here if you are concerned about your weight, cholesterol, or blood pressure.  Go here for some of the best down-home food you'll find in Northern California.  You can dine inside, in the kitchen, or at outdoor picnic tables.  Fremont Diner is open daily for breakfast and lunch.

If you would like to take a private wine country tour or a tour of Muir Woods and wine country that includes lunch at Fremont Diner, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Beautiful Spot for Picnicking by Dry Creek

I am always on the lookout for wineries with beautiful picnic spots.  Recently, I visited Truett Hurst Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley, which quickly rose to one of the top spots on my best picnic area list.  This small winery has a beautiful picnic ground in the gardens outside of the tasting room.  However, the spot to enjoy your food with Truett Hurst wines is the tables along the bank of Dry Creek.  Life doesn't get much better than listening to the babbling brook while enjoying good food and wine.  (While Dry Creek's name comes from the lack of water in the creek bed in the old days, today the creek is dam controlled and is seldom dry.)

Being in Dry Creek, Truett Hurst makes a variety of Zinfandels, including a dry rosé, plus a few Pinot Noirs, a Petite Sirah, and a dessert wine.

While visitors can just drop in to taste, picnicking space is limited.  Therefore, you are encouraged to book a picnic table before you visit the winery.  The creek-side tables are especially popular and fill up well in advance on weekends.  If you do stop by on a weekend you may also find music in the tasting room.

Truett Hurst is a terrific winery to visit when you are in the Dry Creek Valley.  The tasting room is open daily between 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.  If you would like to take a private wine country tour that includes a visit to Truett Hurst, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lunch at Charming Dry Creek Valley Winery

Dining at a winery is not easy to do.  Only a handful of wineries have restaurants.  Many wineries allow catered meals but this gets pricey.  Yesterday, I visited Kachina Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley and enjoyed their Tuscan Lunch.  While we dined in the barrel room on a rainy day, you can enjoy your lunch on the patio when the sun shines over the valley.

Upon your arrival, you will be greeted by Nancy or Gregg Chambers, the owners and winemakers.  Gregg makes the red wines: Charbono, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Port-style Zinfandel dessert wine. Nancy makes the Chardonnay.   Nancy, who usually does the shopping, picks locally produced and seasonal cured meats, cheeses, fruits, breads, crackers, spreads, olives, chocolate, and other foods that pair well with their wines.  The Tuscan Lunch and winetasting costs $45/person and must be booked at least 24 hours in advance to give Nancy enough time to find what's fresh in the market.  Plan on spending between 1.5 and 2 hours lunching.  

If you want a relaxing and special wine country experience, check out Kachina Vineyards.  You can also make an appointment for a complimentary winetasting or a wine and food pairing that costs $15/person.  If you'd like to include Kachina Vineyards on a private tour of the Dry Creek Valley, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours at (866) 326-4237 or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wines by the Glass to Last a Lifetime

For over 25 years, Cindy Pawlcyn has been serving up terrific American food in the Napa Valley.  When Mustard's Grill opened in 1983, it was among the first of the really good restaurants in wine country.  Mustard's and Cindy's second restaurant, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, have been among my recommended wine country restaurants since Blue Heron opened in 2003.

Recently, I had the opportunity to lunch at Cindy's newest restaurant:  Brassica.  This restaurant is different from the other two in that it features Mediterranean cuisine.  On our visit, we decided to share a variety of small plates; however, full entrees are also available.  Among our favorites were the grilled Monterey Bay sardine; eggplant fries; Monterey squid, red bell pepper, and black olive pizza; and pizzichi di farro with pancetta, porcini, and cremini.

What really made the restaurant special for me was the wine list. Over 50 different wines are available by the glass.  I love to try new wines and having both 2 and 5 ounce pours available enabled me to enjoy four small tastes without worrying about drinking too much.

I'll be including Brassica on the list of lunch options I give to guests touring with me in the Napa Valley.  If you would like to take a private tour of the Napa Valley that includes lunch (or dinner) at Brassica, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Italian Varietals in the Napa Valley

Cabernet is king in Napa.  As I tell my guests, good $100 Napa Cabs are a dime a dozen.  Therefore, I am always on the lookout for Napa producers who make other types of wine.  Recently I was introduced to Benessere Vineyards, a small producer of Italian varietals, located between St. Helena and Calistoga.

If you like Italian wine and/or Zinfandel (red, not pink), you'll want to stop by this small, friendly tasting room.  You won't find crowds here as the winery is on a side road and requires an appointment to visit.  However, you will find good wine. 

Benessere makes a couple of Zinfandels, including one from vines planted in the 1920s, which are usually included in your tasting.  You are also likely to taste Pinot Grigio, Rosato (Rosé), Sangiovese, and a Super Tuscan-style wine called Phenomenon, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Syrah.  Benessere also makes small lots from Anglianico, Muscat di Canelli, and Sagrantino.  However, these wines are for wine club members and seldom available for tasting due to the limited production.

If you want to have a picnic while you are tasting, the Benessere staff are happy to have you taste outside while you lunch.  Tastings cost $15/person.  The tasting room is open daily from 10:00 - 5:00.  To make an appointment, phone 707-963-5853 ext. 105.  You are always welcome to call at the last minute to see if space is available.  Staff will do their best to accommodate you.  Better yet, take a private tour with Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel and let us make your appointment for you.  For more information, phone (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.  Benessere Vineyards is located at 1010 Big Tree Road, just off CA 29.