Napa Valley Wine & Food Recommendations

Originally published at my personal MySpace Blog

My wife, Beth, and I have made many different wine trips around NorCal and we’ve built up a string of places that we really enjoy. As various friends and co-workers learned this over the past few years, I’ve started writing some rather extensive emails of recommendations for places we like in different regions.

So far, I’ve made a Napa Valley, Carmel-by-the-Sea/Carmel Valley (my favorite AVA), Sonoma Valley, Russian River/Alexander/Dry Creek Valleys and a small one for Amador County (where I actually haven’t spent much time). I thought that these would be great to post here and keep kinda updated.

In honor of the home team, I’m going to post about Napa first. I have included links to each individual website, as well as the accompanying information we have on WineLog [WL]. Enjoy!

Favorite Napa Valley [WL] Apellations & Sub-Appellations:
Mount Veeder AVA [WL] (SW side of Valley, in the backroads up the mountain, borders Brown’s Valley where I grew up)
Stag’s Leap AVA [WL] (Mid-Valley, on the W side, along Silverado Trail)
Oak Knoll District AVA [WL] (Lower Valley, along both 29 and the Trail)

Hess CollectionHess Collection [WL], Mt. Veeder
Definitely on the larger side of things, but truly an amazing winery and a spot to taste. In one half of the historic Christian Brothers Monastary, it houses a wonderful collection of wines and an incredible, free art gallery of modern art collected by owner Donald Hess and his family. I grew up in Brown’s Valley, down the road, and what you’ll drive through to get to Mt. Veeder Rd, along the way to the winery. We’ve been members here for some time. I love all of their wines, particularly their Cab’s, especially the flagship “The Lion,” and their various Bordeaux and Rhone-style blends and meritages (try the Mountain Cuvee!).

Chateau PotelleChateau Potelle Winery [WL], Mt. Veeder
Known for their high-end VGS label of wines, these Very Good Sh*t wines are pretty good. But what we like the best is the drive up there (you can just continue on Mt. Veeder after Hess if you like) and the stunning view from up top. As far as I know, they are the highest winery in the Valley and it shows.

Nichelini WineryNichelini Winery [WL], Chiles Valley
You wanted a tiny, family-operated winery and here it is! They are the oldest continuously operated winery in Napa, in fact, surviving the two Phyloxera epidemics in the 1890’s and 1960’s and Prohibition, in-between. My family has been members for many years and I grew up going here for picnics. Beth and I became members last year. They are old-school Italian, to boot! They have a large variety of great wines including very well-priced back-vintage Cab’s and a wonderful and rare white, Sauvignon Vert. It’s kind of a much more greener (in a good, refreshing way) Sauvignon Blanc, but more, I guess, Limey-flavored with lots of crisp acidity. The Patriarch of the family just passed away, however, so make sure they’re open for tasting before calling. Then picnic under the olive trees just a walk down the hill and play some bocce ball after you’re done eating, and finish that bottle of Vert you bought for the picnic!

Trefethen Family VineyardsTrefethen Family Vineyards [WL], Oak Knoll
This is right near my high school and is also where my good friend Jeffro, had his first wine internship. It’s been family owned for as long as it’s been around. This is also where Jeffro, myself and some family and friends made some wine in 2005, that we’re just starting to drink right now. They try and bridge the gap between new world, big fruity, earthy, ML and oaky wines and more understated, structured feminine French-style wines. I really like their Cab’s (of course) but I *love* their Cabernet Franc and their dry Reisling. Though it’s a bit pricey, it’s worth it to try the reserve tasting in back especially if you can handle doing both the Estate in front and the Reserve in back for that style comparison.

Black Stallion WineryBlack Stallion Winery [WL], Oak Knoll
OK. This winery just opened a little over 6 months ago and it’s built for tour buses from Phoenix. On the other hand…it did *just* open, so go there now and see what’s it’s like at a winery that’s about to explode. They truly have one of the best Rose’s (Merlot) and Cab values in the Valley right now. Their 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a beautiful example of an understated, yet fruity Napa Cab, and it’s only 30ish bucks!

Regusci WineryRegusci Winery [WL], Stag’s Leap
This is one of the original families in Napa. They say they’ve been operating for 80-some odd years, but really, the winery was restarted in the mid 90’s after, I don’t know, 80-100 years of disuse. They have been growing grapes in the Valley, however, for many decades. This is right up there with Hess for my favorite wineries in Napa. They’re pricey, but damn it’s worth it. Their Cab’s are superb, some of the best in California, and their Zinfandel is still the best that I’ve ever tasted, year over year….but it’s usually sold out! They are one of the best-known “Ghost Wineries” in California. Check the website for details.

DarioushDarioush [WL], Stag’s Leap, Oak Knoll, Mt. Veeder
This place definitely looks completely ostentatious, even more than Black Stallion. But once you read their history, it turns out to be really cool. It’s one of the few million places in Napa that calls itself an “experience” that truly is one. They make fantastic Cabernet’s and Cab Franc’s and their winery is gorgrous. Everything is imported from Lebanon and is based on Persian architecture.

Stag's Leap Wine CellarsStag’s Leap Wine Cellars [WL], Stag’s Leap
I like Stag’s better than the nearby Stags’ Leap Winery (careful where you put that apostrophe!) except for Stags’ Petite Syrah, they make some of the best wines in the Valley. They’ve been doing it ever since the famous 1976 Paris tasting that they won, along with Chateau Montelena. Their Cab’s are unreal and the property hasn’t changed much since winemaker/owner Warren Winiarski lived his dream and almost bankrupted his young family to start his own winery in the early ’70’s. Interestingly, and perhaps with sadness, the winery was sold this year in a shocker deal due to a what seems to be a lack of familial successorship.

Mumm NapaMumm Napa [WL]
Everyone needs some bubbly! This is my favorite place to go for a Napa sparkling wine house (don’t call it Champagne!!!). There are no small sparklers in Napa, but this one is the most mellow and beautiful, I think, even if it isn’t the original in Napa (Chandon). Check out the Ansel Adams exhibit while you’re there.

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Food & Drinks

  • The Bounty Hunter
    I wouldn’t really eat a full meal here, more just cool off after a day’s tasting…drink more great wine (it’s mainly a wine bar and store) and have some great hors d’oeuvres.
  • Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company (The RoCo)
    The best coffee in the Valley and where I used to work in high school and early college with my sis. Actually, they are my favorite coffee roasters, followed by Caffe Cardinale in Carmel, Pacific Coffee Roasting Company in the Creek and Illy Espresso. They have two shops, one in the same building as Bounty Hunter and the other (and my fav) in St. Helena, just off Main.
  • Tuscany
    An outstanding Italian restaurant with a nice wine bar, to boot. Across the street from the RoCo and Bounty Hunter. It’s got some authentic flair, too. The prices aren’t bad at all (for Napa) and my family has been going here for as long as it’s been open.
  • Bistro Jeanty
    A gorgeous little country French restaurant in Yountville that is owned by Phillipe Jeanty, the original chef for Domaine Chandon Restaurant. Their wine list is amazing, particularly by the glass, even for Napa. They have a neat little outdoor area and a nice, small wine bar (of course). When I planned my group’s outing while still working at Chiron, we ate lunch here and loved it.

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Good Deli’s

  • Genova
  • Sunshine Foods
    You might think that Oakville Grocery is the best place to get sandwiches in the Valley, but you’d be mistaken (and so is everyone else who says so (though they are good!). Instead, try Genova in Napa. Or if you’re Upvalley already, try Sunshine market in St. Helena, right near the other RoCo.

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Other fun things

  • Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company
    This place is incredibly cool. Stuffed inside some old barn or something, it’s a full-on Italian market and, well, olive oil maker. The guy has owned this for longer than I’ve been alive and he still doesn’t even use a cash register…he just writes out the prices on butcher paper and adds them up! Only takes cash, and it’s truly got some of the remaining original charm of Napa.
  • St. Helena Oil Company
    Really, really good gourmet oil and cooking foodstuffs store. You can taste everything in the store and it has (duhduhduhDUHHH) a wine bar, too! Sometimes can be pricey though, so watch for that.

A new wine "Tool?"

Vino CaduceusIn one of the most surprising developments in the wine world since Ravenswood Winery infiltrated NASCAR, I recently found out that Maynard James Keenan of the hard alternative, industrial-tinged rock bands Tool and A Perfect Circle (and the new band, Puscifer) has started his own winery and vineyard [info courtesy of Rasputin Music’s Infamous, Incredible Newsletter].

The endeavor has actually been going on for 6 years, meaning that Keenan is already producing wine from his own vineyards in the Phoenix, AZ area.

Keenan has named his winery Caduceus Cellars, after the ancient Greek symbol of commerce (and somewhat inaccurately for medicine in North America). His estate vineyards are named Merkin Vineyards (no comment on that name, look it up for yourselves!).

He has given out a lot of information on their outstanding website, which is one of the most beautiful and one of the creepiest wine websites I’ve ever come across. Visiting the store, here and here, proves that he isn’t planning on messing around with this new artistic front…the flagship named Nagual del SENSEI, an interesting blend of Cab Sauv and Syrah, is priced in the $90’s. Nicely, they also require that you agree to delayed shipment during the hottest months of the year in Arizona, just to enter the wine store.

While building up his vineyard sourcing contacts as well as his own fledgling estate vineyards, Keenan sourced fruit from Pope Valley in Napa Valley. I have an interesting story about some vampires that allegedly reside in that little valley that might fit quite nicely here, but I’ll resist for now.

Speaking of mythic beasts, the names that Keenan has chosen for his wines are just plain fantastic. The Nagual, mentioned earlier, refers to a Mesoamerican shapeshifter or a person that can transform into a particular animal. Continuing that trend is the Merkin Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, entitled Chupacabra. Anyone who names their wine after a Mexican mythical beast who tends to attack and feast on goats is pretty cool in my book.

Check out the website for his on-going journal about growing and making these interesting wines!

WineLog Notes on the current Caduceus lineup:

2006 Caduceus Cellars Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra

2005 Caduceus Cellars Perimer Paso

2005 Caduceus Cellars Nagual del SENSEI

2005 Caduceus Cellars Nagual de la NAGA

Two interesting wine articles

Media interest in the wine industry has continued to gain momentum over the last couple decades. In modern times there has always been a multitude of speciality magazines and websites that have tracked the wine world, but as the general public has become more interested in a healthy lifestyle and how food can affect one’s biology, the mass media has run a larger number of stories concerning all aspects of the wine industry. Two interesting articles have come out in the last week that demonstrate the wide range of information currently being published about wine.

The first, while actually a press release from a consumer research organization, has also been run in numerous investment feeds and discussed in other articles. Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) is a company that specializes in researching and collecting retail purchasing information for various sectors in the consumer market. They recently published some highlights from their latest Wine Analysis. They cover some of the latest trends that they’ve found in consumer wine purchases and also point out how those trends are evolving since their last analysis (E&J Gallo is really succeeding at reinvention!). Check out the press release here.

The second article addresses something about which many wine lovers might have a significant concern…headaches and hangovers! I’m just as guilty as the next wine fanatic of, say, over-imbibing at times (though I almost never have any problems the next day, thank goodness). The resulting, sometimes VERY, early morning effects can range from insomnia, a headache, a speedily beating heart and just a general feeling of crappiness. But…there now appears to be hope, well, hope of at least avoiding most of these problems by running a little test of the wine that is about to cheer your soul, as my good friend Steve found while continuing his exhaustive quest to read everything ever published. UC Berkeley professor (from a university in NorCal? You don’t say!), Richard A. Mathies, Ph.D. and his collaborators have used his NASA funding to design a device that detects a family of compounds that are thought to be the cause of most hangovers and are found in red wine and other gourmet aged foods.

Biogenic amines are compounds that are found in many uncooked foodstuffs, but they are found at particularly high levels in processed foods that are created during fermentation or pickling. Marcus Wohlsen of the AP picked up the story, but it appears that there is a lot more to the research of Professor Mathies, et al and their little device than could be squeezed into the article. One interesting tidbit from the article actually gives a point to beer over wine: beer has some of the lowest levels of reactive amines!

If you’d like the full enchilada of info about this new device, the corresponding journal article was published in Thursday’s edition (11/01/07) of Analytical Chemistry. The abstract is here and pending your access, the full article is here.