Crystal McCahill's wine-tasting tour will have you booking a trip to Napa now.
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If you have yet to experience your first vineyard trip and are even remotely into wine (Franzia doesn't count), my advice: Book it. Last weekend, my boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Napa (major brownie points), and I can honestly say it was one of the best trips I’ve taken.
Whether you’re a true wine snob--booking your Sonoma tours months in advance--or prefer to make a last-minute pit stop at the more casual vineyards of Santa Barbara, there’s nothing like learning about, sipping and savoring wine at the source—even if you can’t tell the difference between cheap red table wine and an aged Chianti Classico.
Our trip began in San Fran. We stayed at The Palace (gorgeous hotel) and ate at Betelnut for our one and only meal in the city. My foodie brother recommended the place, well-known for their contemporary Asian cuisine, and every dish was so fresh it was worth emailing home about. Literally. We drove up to Napa the next morning and stayed at the Golden Haven Hotel in Calistoga. Two things to note: hot springs mineral pools and mud baths. Need I say more?
After checking in, our driver navigated his way through our very detailed, very packed wine tasting itinerary. (We hit 10 places in one day!) Word to the wise: If you're planning on visiting more than three vineyards in the course of a day, arrange for car service so you can enjoy your wine without worrying about getting from here to there.
My three favorites:
THE TASTING ROOM, NAPA WINE CO.: Taste five wines (red or white) for $20. We had a li-ttle too much fun here; be sure to pace yourself, wherever your first stop may be.
CASTELLO DI AMOROSA: Wine tasting in a castle, their motto being "the romance of Italy; the wines of Napa." Indeed.
BEAU VIGNE: "Cult" Cabernet Sauvignon reserve wine. Meaning Cabs like you’ve never tasted.
After a full day of tasting, I could hardly wait for our dinner reservations at Bottega, the amazing Italian restaurant of Chef Michael Chiarello (Top Chef, Iron Chef) located in the quaint town of Yountville. No words can adequately describe the pan roasted potato gnocchi (a must for pesto lovers), and the chocolate soufflé was to die for.
The next day we tried out the hot springs mud bath. I’ll admit it took a little getting used to, and it was definitely an effort to get squeaky clean after. But all in all, you come out with baby-soft skin...not a bad trade-off. After indulging in some other fun spa treatments, we explored more of Yountville, grabbed breakfast, picked up souvenirs and had time for one more small wine tasting before heading back to San Fran. Hey, it’s 4 o'clock somewhere!
On our way back to the city, we took a detour to check out the giant redwoods of the Petrified Forest. It's amazing how small you feel out there, especially when you look up! We then drove through the famous winding road on Lombard St. (not recommended for the easily car-sick) before stopping in Fisherman's Wharf to see the adorable sea lions.
Our last day was spent hiking the six-hour trek through the lush Muir Woods (also known for their enormous redwoods), followed by a relaxing evening in a remote forest cabin so we could enjoy all the wine we bought in Napa.
So eat, drink and be merry! Your nightlife will follow.