Sunday, March 3, 2013

Wayfaring Wine Country: Along the Wine Trail

A weekend in Napa Valley and Sonoma Part II 

There are two main routes that run through the heart of Napa wine country: Highway 29 and Silverado trail. We chose highway 29 because it is closer to the wineries we wanted to visit and the small towns along the way like Yountville and St. Helena. It was also apparently the more popular route with most visitors of Napa as there was actually quite a bit of traffic along the way. Imagine our disappointment given that we were trying to escape from the endless LA traffic back home. There's nothing like being stuck in traffic while on vacation...

But for some reason I didn't mind too much. Maybe it was because I wasn't the one driving (My super-husband drove nearly 1000 miles altogether on this trip), but probably more-so because of the beautiful scenery along the road. I mean, how upset can you be when you are staring at this outside your window?
First, we stopped in Yountville  to grab macarons (my favorite!) from Bouchon Bakery. Yountville is so pretty, clean, and well manicured-- yet retains a quaint rustic charm. Setup like a little resort town for foodies, we spotted a number of Michelin star restaurants all within a couple blocks of each other. Since it was so crowded outside the bakery, we decided to take our little treats over to enjoy out on the lawn of V Marketplace across the street. One unexpected highlight of V Markeyplace, other than the pretty plaza and fountain, were the public restrooms (sadly?). There was one around almost every corner and they were all very nice and clean.

Our first winery stop was at V. Sattui, a family winery with roots in Italian winemaking dating back to San Francisco in the late 1880s. The grounds were lovely but boy, was it crowded. We wanted to picnic on the grounds since they served barbecue out on the lawn every Saturday but the line was crazy! They have two tasting rooms, but we found that the "overflow" tasting room on the upper level of the estate was less crowded and had better ambiance than the busy main tasting room near the marketplace. We chose to split a tasting since the  pours were actually quite generous. In fact, we ended up splitting tastings at every winery we visited on the trip-- it's a great way to save money and taste more wines for "light weight" drinkers like us.  We tasted some of my favorite wines of the trip here (it's no wonder they have been voted Winery of the Year three years in a row!) and I discovered I absolutely adore rosé. We took home a bottle of my favorite rosé that tasted fruity, delicious, with a hint of strawberries! Aside from the wonderful wine, our sommelier was very friendly and knowledgeable with his wine recommendations and offered his tips on food pairing with each wine we sampled. 

Then we headed north to the wine castle, Castillo di Amorosa. We missed the turn-off to the winery on our first pass since you can't actually see the castle from the main road-- you have to enter through a gate and up a steep driveway.The picturesque Italian castle is perched at the top of the hill and surrounded by vineyards. They even had a handful of random livestock roaming the grounds (I counted two roosters, a sheep, and a goat). Of course there were some elements that felt a little cheesy-- like were visiting Napa's Disneyland, but what does one expect from a 13th century Tuscan-style castle built right in the heart of California? The entrance fee, which included wine tasting was $18 a person...a bit steep but we considered it a form of crowd control (it was busy here too but not nearly as crazy as V. Sattui) and made for gorgeous pictures! As we explored the castle's winding towers, hidden chambers, and courtyard there were times when I looked out over the castle's stone walls and felt like I was really in Europe (of course I can only imagine....hopefully later this year I will be able to compare it to the real thing).

With over 400 wineries in Napa Valley, I know we've only barely scratched the surface of Napa's vinicultural scene. A great resource for touring wineries on a budget that I found while researching for this trip is the Napa Tourist Guide Coupons. You can find discounts here for most popular wineries as well as many off-the-beaten-path destinations. I wish we had time to explore them all!

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