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

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

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  Benessere Vineyards is located at 1010 Big Tree Road, just off CA 29.