I can’t say that I am a true connoisseur (and obviously I’ve not been drinking any today because I can still spell connoisseur). I like wine. I like trying it. I can say that my “pallet” has gotten better. But what I really do like about wine is that it really is individual. No matter how many people I ask what wine do you like? What would you recommend? Most of them don’t really answer – but rather start asking questions. People after my own heart! So while I’m not a true oenophile (do I get points for spelling in this post?) I am getting better about discerning what I like (and unfortunately yes, that does include more expensive wines).
When the opportunity presented itself for me to make a quick trip to Napa. I immediately said yes. I flew into the Oakland airport. The airfare was inexpensive and Oakland airport is easier to navigate than SFO (San Francisco). Also car rental from Oakland is not assessed the special “airport fee” that they charge at SFO. And it’s only about a 40 minute drive from Oakland Airport vs. one hour from San Francisco. I opted for Alamo (I booked it through Southwest Airlines – which was actually LESS expensive than as a member of Enterprise). The car rental was just over $100 for the full three days that I would have the car. Although, once I arrived at the Westin Versa Napa, I parked the car – and didn’t really see it again until I was ready to leave two days later.
The Westin Versa Napa. It is one of the only national chain hotels that I could see in the area. It is fairly new build (being open just over 4 years). The lobby is small but welcoming and has a really cool design made with wine bottles as the backdrop for the front desk. The rooms are amazing. It felt bigger than my apartment. There was a full kitchen, living room, the bathroom was amazing (bathrooms are of the one ways I judge how good a hotel is), the beds were beyond comfortable – it’s no wonder they call it a heavenly bed, and I had a great balcony that overlooked a courtyard and into the hills. Although, I didn’t spend much time on the deck as it was early December which meant is was cold and rainy. The decor was beautiful if understated. It literally looks like it had been there for a long time. The hotel only goes three stories – so as to not overwhelm the great rolling hills views.
The first night we were there we ate at LaToque the Michelin Starred restaurant. The food was nothing short of AMAZING! I realized when I sat down that some people may not know what do when there are several forks set out (work our way from the outside in was what I was always taught) – but in wine country, it is less about forks than it is about the wine glasses. There were four glasses set out. I learned that you use your glasses from right to left (or just follow the pours). The first wine was a champagne (bubbles!), then white, then red, then deeper red. The meal was paired with B Cellars wine. And each course was specifically thought out that the wine would pair (but not overpower) with the food. I also learned that to get a Michelin Star there is not a specific set of things that make a restaurant a one star or a four star – but rather the overall experience from the atmosphere, to the service to the food. The creativity of the food was awesome. I can’t say that I’ve had vanilla curd with fish before or thought much about tapioca with beef. But, wow! I now understand why there are so many food shows on the Travel Channel. Chef Ken Frank came out of the kitchen to meet us and talk with us briefly about the food. (I also noted there is a six person table in the kitchen – that would be fun to watch some time).
Downtown Napa is a lovely little town – with a true small town feel. Despite the rain – and the earthquake from earlier this year, the merchants were friendly, helpful and welcoming. Each store was unique boutiques and no chains (so that I could tell). Walking the town was easy with wide sidewalks that go across the river and make it an easy walk from the Westin.
The next day we had a tour of B Cellars. (Last night we learned that the “b” stands for Brix – the sugar content in wine). The winery was comfortable and relaxed. In the tasting room we were greeted with a comfortable seating area (the hospitality room), food from the chef (who is apparently on staff – and does nibbles all day long. You MUST try the flatbread. It is AWESOME). They moved to the estate just this last August. They spared no expense with making it feel comfortable but certainly a top level experience. They have small and large meeting rooms there – so you can have a lovely dinner or a giant party. As far as the wine goes, I loved the blend #23 and #24 but they were a little out of my price range. I will have to wait for another reason to come back and get them again!
I have realized with over 500 wine makers in the valley (despite it being small) not everyone has heard of every winery. There are individuals and tastes that mean that no matter what, you can find a wine that you will fall in love with. And the Napa Valley? It is part of the reason I see myself moving to the Bay area one day – so I can go to Napa more often!