Note: This is the first of a four-part travelogue J.T. will be bringing on Fridays. It's a lovely remembrance of the time she turned the big 4-0 a few years ago and went wine-crazy in California—AKA living the dream.
Ahhh, vino. Anyone who knows me is well aware I am a complete and utter wine junkie. An amateur oenophile. A lover of the dark juice, a disciple of Dionysus, a proponent for good wines and vineyards. When we first started Murderati, and I had nothing to say (odd that we’ve come full circle) I thought I’d give a wine tip every week, just as a sort of value-added incentive to read the columns. I’ve given hundreds of wine tips over those three years, so many that I’m considering hiring someone to go through and list them all out for me so I have a record. Because I don’t have a list of all the wines I’ve recommended.
Does that surprise you? I know you know I’m a complete control freak, borderline OCD about so many things, but keeping track of my wine consumption? I’m terrible at it. I’ve started too many notebooks to count—separating them into varietals, countries, years. I put them into lists and then forget to add to it. I’m a bit hopeless, and that’s not the way a real wine connoisseur acts.
Well, I’m not a real connoisseur. I’m just a thrillerchick who likes her grape juice.
So when hubby told me he was taking me to the Napa Valley for my birthday, you can imagine how excited I was. We’ve been to Italy a couple of times, strolled through pour favorite vineyard, Tenute Silvio Nardi, learned about tastings and fermentations and the benefits of French oak from our friend Jeorge, the estate manager. We know Francis Ford Coppola has been there, his wine team spent a few weeks learning from the Nardis. (More on that later) And my family name, for those who are interested, is Nardi. Winemaking, apparently, is in my blood.
We touched base with friends we know have travelled in the area for recommendations. We quickly discovered that this can be a pricey trip, because most of the vineyards charge for the tastings, anywhere from $10 a person to $25. That can add up quickly. It was recommended to us that we stay in Sonoma, the less trafficked and less commercial part of the wine country. But Sonoma’s expensive, so we decided to go the economical route of a bed and breakfast in Napa proper, taking advantage of the great travel deals (many, many hotels are doing specials now, three nights for the price of two, that kind of thing.) Turns out that was our smartest move. Napa proper? Not so commercial after all. And the B&B was perfectly located at the mouth of Highway 29 and Highway 128, two of the most beautiful stretches of road in the world. Breakfast in bed daily, a spacious, clean and quiet room with a fireplace and DVD player, a comfy bed and oodles of hot water—it was heaven.
The first day we’d arrived at about 3:00 pm local time after a full day of traveling. We were tired and hungry, and poor hubby had a cold (we were hoping it wasn’t hamthrax, we’d stopped at a local store for a jug of hand sanitizer and there were people in masks.) The B&B manager pulled out a map and a slew of tasting coupons (despite the prices, the coupons were along the lines of two for one tastings, etc.) We decided to forego the tastings in favor of a cheeseburger, which we found at the Napa Valley Grille in Yountville. Napa and Sonoma are made up of a multitude of small contiguous charming towns, with vast tracts of vineyards stretched between them. Most picturesque.
Food served, along with buttery focaccia dipped in rosemary, pepper, garlic and sea salt infused olive oil, we ventured into our first wines. Hubby had a Tangley Oaks Merlot, and I tried the Napa Cellars Merlot. Both were excellent, and we had a first moment of fortune—they’d emptied the very last bottle of Tangley Oaks and didn’t have enough for a full glass, so that one was on the house. Just the right way to get the trip started.
As we left, we noticed a tasting room for Verismo Wines. We stopped in for the heck of it and discovered three excellent wines: Stretta (aged in American Oak), Stella (aged in French Oak), and a surprisingly good Malbec, also aged in French Oak. I’ve never been much for the Malbecs, but this was rich and deep, just great.
Back at the B&B, 5-7 is cocktail hour, with lovely crudités, several wines to taste and some elevator Muzak. We retired early with a bottle of Stretta in our room, lit the fire, doped up the hubster and got a great night’s sleep.
Tune in next Friday for more Napa travel tips, the inside scoop on California vineyards and labels, and more!