Wine Tastings, Picnics and More…Our Trip to Napa

June 1, 2012 | By | COMMENTS

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If we hadn’t gone to The French Laundry and we’d just gone to Napa we still would’ve had a most memorable trip.

The place is just obnoxiously beautiful. If you could bottle beauty and sell it, you could do a lot worse than to bottle Napa: with its lush hills and crisp, clear blue skies and perfectly temperate weather. To experience it more fully, we all agreed, at the car rental, that it’d make sense to pay a little more for a convertible.

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That’s Mark driving us out of the lot (we were driving a black Mustang, for the record). Our first destination, as you may recall from that French Laundry post, was the Oxbow Market. This is an absolute must-visit destination for any food-lover who visits these parts.

When we got there, the farmer’s market was still happening. Get a load of these favas:

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I told you that we started at Hog Island Oyster Co.:

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That we ate these oysters as an appetizer:

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Before heading to Gott’s (which is right next door):

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And getting cheeseburgers:

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Fries–both sweet potato and garlic–were also consumed:

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We caffeinated ourselves with Ritual coffee (back in Oxbow):

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And prepared ourselves for our first wine tasting. I took a back seat–both literally and figuratively–when it came to deciding where to go. Mark had done his research (though he told me much of what he knew was based on an article I sent him; I don’t remember sending it!). We started at Robert Sinskey Vineyards on the Silverado Trail.

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This was my first wine tasting in Napa (or anywhere, really) so I was excited. Part of what makes these experiences so great is the scenery. I mean: come on.

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Here’s the menu of wines we’d be tasting:

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They even gave us little nibbles:

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Here Craig samples a Pinot Noir:

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When I tried it, I said “it evokes beef jerky” and everyone laughed, but I wasn’t trying to be funny.

This picture, which is also in my French Laundry post, gives you a good sense of the scene:

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The woman in the striped shirt was incredibly helpful explaining the wines, explaining the vineyard. The blonde in the white t-shirt was French and he’s my new boyfriend. Don’t tell Craig.

After sampling these wines, we navigated our way to the Bed & Breakfast where we’d be staying…The Old World Inn.

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After checking in, we did a little Napa napping and eventually dressed and prepared ourselves for dinner.

Dinner was had in an adorable town called St. Helena at a place called Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen that was recommended to me by blog fan (and Raoul in Broadway’s “Phantom of the Opera”) Kyle Barisich.

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This was a perfect recommendation. The place was totally charming. I mean, look:

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See?

Here we are at our table (normally I don’t pose for pictures in my own posts but for this one I made an exception):

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Take note of those water glasses. I loved them. Here they are up close:

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Where can I buy them? I want them.

Here’s the charming wine list at Cindy’s:

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And you may find this hard to believe considering that we ate at The French Laundry, but our favorite wine of the trip–including the wines we sampled at wineries–was a bottle of wine we had at Cindy’s. We started with this bottle of Heitz Chardonnay which was very good but not our favorite bottle:

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Our favorite bottle came later… it was this bottle of Zinfandel from Howell Mountain:

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The depth of flavor here was astonishing. We all swooned over this bottle (which wasn’t cheap: $85, way more than we’d ever normally spend on wine, but we were in Napa). If you ever see a bottle of Zinfandel from Howell Mountain, buy it.

As for the food, I enjoyed my “Brutus” Caesar…which came dusted with Cayenne pepper for a kick:

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And the rabbit tostada–which the waiter (who was super helpful, having steered us to the Zinfandel) called his favorite thing on the menu–was really something special:

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The key to its greatness was all the green stuff piled on top.

As for the desserts, they were outrageous. Skinny Craig drank a whole chocolate malt:

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And shield your children’s eyes from this S’mores pie:

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It’s positively perverse!

My favorite was the pineapple upside-down cake:

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Can you believe we ate all this before eating at The French Laundry? We’re positive gluttons this bunch.

Not so the next day. We were austere in the morning, drinking our Bed & Breakfast French press coffee:

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The B&B proprietor surprised Diana with birthday cupcakes:

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(That’s a Macaroni & Cheese souffle for breakfast in front of Diana; don’t worry, I only ate a little of it.)

Back in the convertible, we steered towards Calistoga:

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This was another charming town:

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With a very charming bank:

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And a very funny coffee shop:

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After milling around the book store and an art gallery, we got to work choosing our next winery:

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We wound up at Joseph Phelps:

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Another gorgeous view:

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Another glass of wine:

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“What a lovely bouquet!”

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At this point, I told myself I wouldn’t drink any more wine because we were going to French Laundry that night and I wanted to be sober and clear-headed before getting smashed on Thomas Keller food and wine. My group didn’t share my concern so I was driven, against my will, to Domaine Chandon Vineyards:

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This was the most theme-parky of our wine destinations. This picture captures that, I think:

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Still, the wine was bubbly and the scenery was pretty. I may have stolen a sip or two.

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It’s at this point in our story when FRENCH LAUNDRY happened. We went back to the hotel, showered, put on our suits, called a cab (we wouldn’t be able to drive after such an ordeal) and ate a once-in-a-lifetime meal.

The next day we woke up and told our B&B proprietor all about it. Then we set about having a picnic.

We returned to Oxbow Market and bought some cheese from the Oxbow Cheese Merchant. Then we visited The Fatted Calf:

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This place is really incredible.

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The selection of meats and pates and gourmet food products was almost overwhelming, but in a good way.

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Next door is the Model Bakery:

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This place was equally impressive:

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Just look at these baked goods:

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We bought a sourdough baguette:

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From there we drove to Rutherford Hill vineyards where we were told it was ideal to have a picnic (though we kind of broke their rule):

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Just look at this view:

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Here come the picnickers:

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There’s our baguette in the bag:

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Olives ready to open:

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The most INCREDIBLE pate:

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In fact that pate was so good, I’ll even put in the right characters: Pâté.

We cracked open a bottle of Sinskey wine that Mark and Diana had purchased on our first day:

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Got the cheese ready to go:

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And this, ladies and gentleman, was a picnic for the ages:

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I wish you could’ve been there:

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We even had our French Laundry take-home dessert gifts…

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Buttery cookies and chocolate-covered Macadamia nuts.

At this point, we loaded up into our convertible one last time:

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And took a scenic drive.

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Look! A vulture:

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With a little time to kill, we visited one last winery:

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Frank Family Vineyards:

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This place felt very exclusive, very off-the-beaten path. There was a picture of Oprah at a party there on the wall, so you get the idea.

The wine there has won many awards:

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Here’s a glass about to be sipped:

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And here’s Craig taking one last swig to celebrate the end of our trip:

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Because after that, we had to pack it all up, rush to the airport and head home.

What a fun trip, though! Marinated in wine, toasted by the sun, and stuffed like Thanksgiving turkeys, we returned home transformed–made wonderfully gross–by a truly beautiful place.

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Categories: Travel