Napa Valley Treasures

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Napa Valley is the perfect place to spend an Anniversary…it’s the perfect place to spend any leisurely day really. I had just a few days to spend in a place I’ve looked forward to visiting for years. I mapped out an itinerary of wine tastings, restaurant stops, spa services, and a bit of downtime to celebrate 25 years of marriage with my husband.

From Missoula, we flew into San Francisco, rented a car and drove about an hour to Napa. A luxurious room awaited us at The Meritage Resort & Spa. Now, our first approach into the resort wasn’t quite what we expected. As we turned into a Corporate Park, I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake. Not quite the vineyard setting I’d anticipated; however, my apprehensions were soon put to rest. The Meritage is a beautifully appointed property with spacious accommodations, attentive staff, and plenty to do on-site including Spa Terra, Trinitas Cellars for wine tasting, an adults-only pool and jacuzzi with bar service, outdoor fireplaces and seating, and an indoor bowling alley adjacent to their Crush Ultra Lounge.

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Napa has no shortage of fabulous world-class restaurants and we visited several during our stay. The Boon Fly Cafe is a must-visit. Try their number one seller: Jalapeno Eggs Benedict, with just enough spice to keep things interesting without overpowering the light hollandaise bath. And, try a mini-pail of their homemade, warm mini-donuts while you’re waiting for breakfast; if you’re really feeling adventurous, ask for a Bacon Bloody Mary. You’re on vacation, right?

We visited mid-week, so our wait was short. If you visit on the weekend, be prepared to wait outside a bit for a table. You’ll be glad you waited.

After breakfast, we worked our way up to Yountville for a quick stroll around the town’s abundant shopping district. Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega restaurant, bestowed with some impressive honors including Best Newcomer by Zagat, Top 10 by Forbes, Top 20 by Esquire, and Top 100 Bay Area by Michael Bauer, and his Napa Style shop are side-by-side in a fantastic setting.

We continued up Highway 29 to Rutherford, California (just 10 miles or so up the road) to visit Cakebread Cellars for a Reserve tasting that included four of its reserve level wines in one tasting. Our engaging guide, Summer, poured Chardonnay Reserve from Carneros; a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley; a Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville, Napa Valley and shared the origin of the name for the Dancing Bear Ranch at Howell Mountain.

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Curious to locate a wine we’d sampled on a recent trip to Santa Fe, we wound our way deeper into Rutherford to visit Round Pond Estate, owned and managed by the MacDonnell family, for a Barrel Tour & Tasting. We were not disappointed. Round Pond’s long drive is framed by palm trees and grapevines – an impressive entry to an equally impressive property. With a unique mix of microclimates and soil composition near the Napa River, this land has proven to be an ideal valley for  Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Italian and Spanish olives. Our visit started with a sample of Round Pond’s crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a tour of the property, including a lush garden behind the winery, and the barrel room itself. Following our tour, we were led upstairs to a welcoming terrace for a tasting of Round Pond’s 2009 and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and some small bites including Chef Eric’s Garlic Confit-stuffed Castelvetrano Italian Olives. We later returned to Round Pond to pick up an additional bottle of Cabernet and were treated to an impromptu demonstration of the Chef’s technique for making his stuffed olives (and a secret or two for preparing tender, braised game and pork). Round Pond also harvests olives and produces a variety of olive oils, including herb and citrus-infused oils. If that weren’t enough, they’ve created four robust red wine vinegars and two citrus syrups – Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon. My salads may never be the same!

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From there, we made our way back to Spa Terra at the Meritage Resort for an afternoon of relaxation with a couples Seduction Package, complete with champagne and chocolate. Is there a better way to spend an afternoon?

Refreshed and relaxed, we ventured back out for dinner at Restaurant Cuvee in Napa. It’s an unassuming building from the outside, but the inside is a mashup of comfort food and specialty cocktails, soft and kitschy lighting. We sat in the outside courtyard near a glowing fire pit and soaked up the day’s experiences. Cuvee left us completely satisfied after a meal of Slow Braised Short Ribs and Pan Roasted Diver Scallops. Our waiter delivered the “Sugar Menu” and we couldn’t pass up a taste of their Hazelnut Pot du Creme and Chocolate and Pinot – a molton cake with roasted strawberries and a pinot noir syrup.

On the third day of our visit, we had reservations for the Napa Valley Wine Train. It was Memorial Day weekend, and packed with visitors, but the entire experience was orchestrated without a hiccup from boarding to the lunch service to the dessert car and our disembarkment to a coach that would take us to Calistoga for a tour of Castello di Amorosa. The Wine Train is a bit pricey, but it is an experience like no other. There were patrons dressed up in 1940’s style, complete with gloves and hats, and everything in between. Each couple is seated with another and we enjoyed the conversation with our Denver-based tablemates, while taking in the scenery and working our way through lunch.

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Once we arrived at the Castello di Amorosa, our group of 16 was escorted to a guide who led us through the castle with a delightful narrative of its history – it was purchased and built by Dario Sattui who also owns the V.Sattui Winery in St. Helena – and a tour of its long hallways, torture chamber, barrel room, and various tasting areas. Our tour was about an hour long followed by a 45 minute tasting of several current releases. We couldn’t help but order a few bottles to ship home – their wine is not currently distributed to restaurants or retailers; it’s available for purchase on premise or online.

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Our final stop that evening was dinner at the 2013 Michelin Guide-recommended Celadon in Napa, located in the Historic Napa Mill. I tried the Prickly Pear Margarita, which probably wasn’t an obvious pairing with macadamia nut crusted goat cheese, port-poached figs, apples and crostini, but no matter – it was all good!  Our dinner was exceptional and the service equally so. It was the perfect ending to an amazing visit to Napa and the perfect opportunity to begin planning our return.

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