I’m back to report on Wine Trip #3! Ann Marie and I set a pretty lofty goal for ourselves: a planned list of six winery visits in one day, (mostly in a quest for dessert wines) plus breakfast! And I am happy to report that we pretty much succeeded. There were some great finds on this trip, so without further ado…
Our morning began at French Blue. This is one of the newer spots on St. Helena’s Main Street, and since it had just been reviewed in the paper, we figured our best bet was to go there early (at 8:10, to be exact.) And even on a weekend, most sleepy folks probably hit French Blue for brunch rather than breakfast. There were only two other people in the restaurant when we entered, and the place didn’t really get busy until around 9:15 or so when we left. We loved French Blue. The interior is homey and cute, with a fireplace, and the food on our visit was delicious. Even the fresh fruit, which we ordered as a side, was outstanding. (It was doused in honey, so go figure.) And the Cinnamon Roll…yeah, you gotta try it.
Our plan for tackling six wineries began with a drive up to Calistoga, so we could work our way back down from there. We began the morning at Chateau Montelena (because they open at 9:30). This is the winery made famous in the movie Bottle Shock, because their Chardonnay was the first Napa wine to beat the French’s in a 1976 tasting. As we entered the tasting room, a greeter informed us that a tasting of five wines cost $20, and sharing was allowed. So yes, we shared. The wines here are nice, and I did like the famous Chardonnay. It was the bottle I would have purchased if I’d bought anything. But almost everything was $50 and up, and we didn’t quite love anything enough to start spending. Nice experience, but Chateau Montelena has no dessert wines. We decided to try our luck elsewhere. This is a really lovely spot, though. I absolutely loved the look of the castle building, and there is a pond with bridges to wander out in front. There are two pagodas where it looks like they serve lunches, but they seem to be for members only. Sad. Anyway – gorgeous, gorgeous place. I think this winery is pretty much a Must if you want to do the Napa thing.
Next up… Envy!! It’s on the same road as the Chateau, so easy trip. And here at Envy, we had a valuable lesson re-drilled into our heads. We pulled up to the almost-empty parking lot, and next to the main tasting building, a brand new building is being constructed. We were a little put off by the construction (coming from the Chateau, it’s just not anywhere near as picturesque.) We were about to judge this winery unfairly but luckily, we went in and gave it a chance. Our server at Envy, Chris, was extremely helpful. He gave us a handy-dandy guide to the area’s wineries, highlighted where we might go next to find our favorite varietals, and in the meantime, served us six excellent wines. From the start, Ann Marie and I were tempted to purchase the Sauvignon Blanc and the Rosé, respectively, but then Chris brought out the Big Gun. The late harvest dessert wine is MIRACULOUS! It tastes like honey. At $45 a bottle, we did have to stand and debate our purchase for a few minutes, but in the end, we followed our hearts and each came away with a bottle. But really, we liked even the reds at Envy. It’s a newer winery, started in 2006, but the winemakers know what they’re doing. (They have plenty of previous experience, we learned.) This place is not to be missed, and hey – they’re expanding! That can only mean good things!!
Clos Pegase – also on the way back down from Calistoga. We popped in to check out the modern architecture and sculptures, but did not stay for any tasting. A couple sips are either $20 or $30 depending on what you want to taste, and we weren’t grabbed by the options. There was nobody in the tasting room, but there was a group on a tour of the grounds. Maybe that’s the way to go. We looked around on our own, took a picture next to a giant thumb sticking out of the ground next to the grape vines, and left.
As we drove back toward St. Helena, we saw that Chris from Envy had circled Beringer in our Napa guide. It did sound promising, and as we wondered just where Beringer could be found, we noticed we were coming up on that very sign! I made a bit of a sharp turn and got us there. This was the same winery I’d been admiring on our drive up to Calistoga. Beringer’s nice because it’s a bustling place; there are a couple tasting rooms plus the mansion with a gift shop, and live music outside on the weekends. By your fourth winery stop, you get a little uninspired as far as paying another $20 for every tasting. But Beringer has so many reasonable options, we just tried our luck and each bought a bottle. There is a wall of sweet wines containing White Zinfandel, Moscato, Pink Moscato, Red Moscato, and Sparkling White Zin. So we each selected a bottle from there ($8 for Pink Moscato and $15 for Sparkling White Zinfandel.) We haven’t opened the bottles yet, but we felt pretty confident in our purchasing decisions.
V. Sattui was next on our list, and…O.M.G. This is some kind of Napa Valley Mecca. You pull up to the wonderful smells of barbecue, and walk around to the front of the building to find dozens of picnickers out in the gardens. Inside, the place is packed. They have mouther-watering deli sandwiches, an extensive cheese selection, jams, olive oils, salami, cupcakes and baked goods…whatever you need. And then there is the wine. We had to circle a couple times before finding an opening at the bar. From there, Ann Marie and our server Luis reminisced of St. Helena in the old days, and we enjoyed a lovely range of tasting options that Luis provided for us since Ann Marie is a local. Luis noticed what we liked and made recommendations based on that. Ah, a place that caters to our interests…It meant that we got to sample a couple whites, a rosé, bubbly Moscato and regular Muscat, Madeira (a mixture with brandy), and even a very old port. Everything we tried was tasty, right up our alley, and relatively affordable. We each took home a bottle of Muscat. I would love to return for a panini and some arancini balls. Next time, we’ll grab a lunch here and maybe visit Old Faithful. Apparently this place opens at 9, and I’d definitely try to come back early.
Hall was the next planned winery on our list, and this was another extremely brief visit. It’s small and we popped into the tasting room almost unnoticed. There were other people at the bar, but tasting menus at a number of scattered tables, so we sneaked a peek and gleaned that there was nothing here we wanted to taste. (In other words, no dessert wines. Sorry but at this point, and after already seeing five places, we had to be discerning!) It just felt like there was not much to see here, and we drove away almost as quickly as we arrived.
Luis from Sattui, being a St. Helena native, reminded us that if we’d never tried Giugni’s for sandwiches, we needed to go. So after the first six wineries, we motored back to Main Street and tried it for ourselves. They ARE delicious sandwiches, and I approve of the Giugni Juice. Even the gal who made my sandwich acknowledged that it’s the perfect thing to soak up all that wine.
After a late lunch, we figured we might as well make one more stop since the last place on our list was on the way back to the city. We swung by Silverado about a half an hour before closing. It’s a pretty drive up the hill, and this winery has the BEST view of any we visited on this trip. Love, love, love that valley vista. This being our seventh stop, we weren’t really in the mood to taste anymore, but when the lady at the bar saw that we would be leaving empty-handed she poured us a taste of Chardonnay to enjoy on the balcony. That was really nice – it allowed us to linger outside and enjoy the view. I don’t know if we would have been interested in the Silverado wines otherwise (yeah, no Dessert), but this was one of the loveliest atmospheres. This would be a great place to stop with friends and just enjoy. A great way to end the day.
Wine Trip #3 Wrapup: Our favorite stop of this trip was Envy, with the wine quality overall the greatest, and a nice, friendly host. V. Sattui was also a completely positive experience, and a good place if you want to stop and hang out for a while. Nice for family picnics. Beringer = looks, 10, wine, TBA. Chateau Montelena, I guess you need to see. The grounds really are beautiful. No on Hall and Clos Pegase. Silverado, maybe. We were curious about their Fantasia. Seven wineries in one trip is kind of a lot, and even the guy at Envy recommended 4 as the ideal. But we were proud of our progress, happy to have seen what we saw, and neither of us can wait to open up that Late Reserve 2008!