Showing posts with label Napa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Napa. Show all posts

Friday, December 6, 2013

Welcome to View from the Vines Travel!

I want to personally welcome View from the Vines Travel, a new sponsor to Wine And Spirits Travel. I think they are a perfect fit for the site and I hope you will explore their site as their banner has a permanent home on the left side of this page for the next year.

Owner/Operator Christopher Allison is a wine lover experienced in the wine regions of Western Europe and the Napa Valley. He personally creates each itinerary to best fit his guests. They include nearly everything -- from airfare to hotels and local excursions.

Be sure to check out View from the Vines Travel.

Also, while I have your attention, I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season. Thank you for visiting Wine And Spirits Travel in 2013. I had a few potholes in my travel road that should be smoothed out for more coverage in the coming year.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Kayaks in Sonoma and Tasting Time in Marin

I usually make a few trips a year to Northern California to visit family and wine country. This year has been more hectic than usual and I haven’t made it at all, so as soon as I had the chance, I was ready to visit some two of my favorite Marin eateries before heading off to Napa and Sonoma.

The weekend actually started with a wine country preview, but not my usual kind. I had my first taste of kayaking on the Russian River in Healdsburg thanks to my friend Tracy. I had lots of fun and wish I could have stayed out there as long as my niece and nephew, both of whom are quite the adventurous athletes.

I realized just how beautiful this area of Sonoma was and I had just driven by it all for years on my way to wineries. I vowed to do some more exploration in the future of more than just the grapes along the Russian River.

While I did discover something new in Sonoma, I was perfectly happy returning to the old while spending the weekend in Marin.

I first visited the Panama Hotel in San Rafael back in 2010, when Christine Bohlke of the MarinCounty Convention and Visitors Bureau took me there for dinner. I loved the quaint restaurant with the piano player crooning on the weekends.

While this “hotel” only has a handful of rooms, the restaurant offers an array of surprises. This is especially true when it comes to brunch. I’ve never been disappointed and this time was no different.

We started passing around the Trio of Housemade Scones, accompanied with mascarpone, strawberry jam and orange jam. I started with a little piece dipped in mascarpone and didn’t want to stop. They were much lighter than most scones and flavorful even without the jam.

Most of the family went for the seafood dishes they were always happy with. The Panama Restaurant offers three eggs benedict varieties that are very popular, the standard with Canadian bacon, Eggs Florentine with smoked salmon and spinach and Eggs San Francisco, with the poached eggs on top of Dungeness crab cakes.

I enjoyed the Mediterranean Scramble, three eggs with garlic, sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese and basil, served with tasty Panama Potatoes.

To make sure everything goes down, I recommend ordering “Make Your Own Mimosas” for the table. You’ll get a bottle of sparkling wine with a half-liter of fresh squeezed orange juice ($40).

The other spot I don’t want to miss on a trip to Marin is Iron Springs Pub &Brewery in Fairfax. Owner Mike Altman went to school with my brother back in New York and he and his wife built a place that’s popular for its food, brew and involvement in the community. Since 2008, the pub has had a “Give Back Tuesday Program,” donating 10% of the day’s sales every Tuesday to a local nonprofit.

Those sales have continued to increase over the years thanks to interesting beers on tap (have you ever tried Oyster or Oatmeal Stout?), which can be delivered by the Ambrewlance.  You can also pick up bottles at local stores and Whole Foods throughout Northern California.

Of course, the Iron Springs beers are available at the pub and we had a couple of samplers on the table, including the Golden Blonde Ale, winner of a bronze medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. It went well with a table favorite, the Fish Tacos.

I went for the Dark Ale Braised Pulled Pork Sandwich this time, a tough choice over another pork favorite here, Miguel’s Famous Poc Chuc (grilled marinated boneless pork loin with red onions, tomato salsa, Mexican rice, guacamole and black beans, served with corn tortillas).

I wished I had a few more days to explore Marin, but I was off to Napa and Sonoma with my first stay at Vintner’s Inn.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Calistoga Girls’ Getaway, Part Two

It always amazes me how much can be squeezed into a day and my Calistoga visit was no exception. After a good night sleep at Solage Resort, it was back on the trail for some more wining, dining and spaing.

We met Eden Umble, Public Relations & Marketing Manager for the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce, downtown at CafĂ© Sarafornia.  It is known in the area as a great place for breakfast and I can’t disagree. The menu was filled with the usual and the unusual and I decided to go for the latter. The Cheese Blintz and Apple Crepe combo was just what I needed to ease my morning sweet tooth and keep me fueled for the day ahead.

After we enjoyed some time learning more about the many varied accommodations, restaurants and wineries in Calistoga, we walked down the block to the tasting room for Kenefick Ranch.  Dr. Thomas Kenefick went from mastering Neurosurgery in San Francisco to operating on vines in Napa and he made the transition well.  His 2009 Pickett Road White (50% viognier, 25% Grenache and 25% marsanne) is wonderful, full of tropical flavors and florals like honeysuckle.  It was aged just a bit, but isn’t at all oaky.  On the other end of the spectrum, the 2007 Merlot (served at Solbar as well as French Laundry) is a complex fruit-forward blend of cranberry and raspberry, finishing with lots of cinnamon and allspice.

Our next stop was Vermeil Wines. For those of you who don’t know (and I freely admit football ignorance), Dick Vermeil coached football powerhouses from Stanford to the Philadelphia Eagles – one of the two teams he captured the Super Bowl with.  His team’s history can be watched in the movie “Invincible” and is captured in this tasting room/museum in downtown Calistoga along with the wine history. You can learn about it all from the vivacious Mary Sue, who goes back generations in Napa and specifically with Vermeil Wines.

The selection here is wide and varied. At the top of my recommendation list is the 2008 Vermeil XXXIV (named for the winning Super bowl) Proprietary Red which, despite being 82% cabernet sauvignon, is one of the fruit-filled reds I’ve had, almost to the point of being semi-sweet. And speaking of sweet, do not leave before sipping the Sweet Semillon. The 2009 is full of honey, apples and peach.

Lunch was at the Calistoga Inn & Brewery, where Rosie Dunsford took us on a tour of the hotel and restaurant she’s been part owner of since 1989. It’s an adorable place inside and out, but you won’t be lacking any gourmet food… or fine wine… or complex cocktails… or great beer here. Sam was my beer taster and picked the American Wheat Ale, a light beer served with a lemon wedge, as very good and the Calistoga Pilsner, with Saaz Hops, as a delicious stronger selection.  I stuck with the cocktail menu and choose the Tall Blonde (Bacardi Apple Rum, soda and a splash of pineapple), which was refreshing on a warm and sunny day.

The food at Calistoga Inn is also worth a trip.  The appetizers were Garlicky Oysters and Butternut Squash Soup (with a touch of yam and a bit of cream), a Turkey Brie sandwich on Grilled Foccacia, and a Risotto filled with fresh vegetables and cheese. Everything was delicious and we hardly had room for dessert, but had to take a few bites when the waiter brought over a Cheesecake made with the Lindy’s recipe and a Peanut Butter Pie with Fudge Sauce!

After lunch there was another spa on our schedule and I think this one may turn out to be one of my all time favorites. Lavender Hill Spa does Zen like no other. The cottage we were brought to was filled with soft lighting and relaxing scents. Jessica prepared our baths – Lavender for me; Magical Mustard for Sam – filled with salts in warm water.  We each had a little table with cucumber water, a soft scrub for our face and a moisturizer to apply after. Jessica came to check on us every 10 minutes, turning on the tub’s jets, bringing cool compresses and generally attending to our every need.

When our baths were finished, we walked up a few steps to the massage table where our feet were gently massaged before we each had our own masseuse for the full body massage with the fragrant oils. It was a hard place to leave, but after two hours we needed to get back in the car and head on the scenic road to Marin.

You can read more about my Napa trip next month on Girls’ Getaway.  In the meantime, I’m off for the beginning of what will be nearly two months across the Pacific Northwest.  The next week will be all Washington, beginning with some time in Seattle at the Hotel1000.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Calistoga Girls’ Getaway, Part One

I usually love my job, but sometimes I really love my job, like the last two days when I got to take off with my daughter Sam in Napa to check out a great hotel, two spas, four restaurants – and lots of wine.

I was in Napa last summer, but it’s been a few years since I spent any time in Calistoga.  This quaint area is the perfect place to plan a girls' getaway as it appears to be the land of spas.  That’s exactly where we started, at Solage Resort & Spa, a luxury retreat in the center of Calistoga.

Our cottage at Solage was just beautiful, complete with a cozy living room and a patio in the back that included a Jacuzzi.  We also had two bicycles on our front porch and though we didn’t have a chance to use them, they are a popular mode of transportation around Northern California, where gas is over $4 a gallon.

The Spa at Solage has received many accolades (including a vote as the No. 1 Spa in the Americas in Conde Nast Traveller) and it was easy to see why. It’s a relaxing set of buildings with gentle music, light gardens and both co-ed and separated areas.  We were at the
Spa first for their Mudslide treatment, a three-part experience that was like no other I have had.  After choosing our “mud” (I picked “muscle relaxing” and Sam chose “stress relief”), we were brought into a 103 degree room where we laid down and applied the mixture all over our bodies.  We baked in there until the mud had dried and I have to say my mind and muscles definitely felt relaxed.  After showering, we were off to step two, the Geo Thermal bath.

I found the bath nice, but it was not as warm as I’m used to in the tub.  Still, I never turn down a bath in a quiet room and enjoyed the time there before heading to step three.  This one was strange.  We were wrapped cocoon like in chairs.  Light music was put on headphones and the chairs reclined while gentle vibrations were to put us asleep.  I didn’t find it very restful, but Sam – who has had trouble sleeping lately – said it was wonderful and she had a great rest.

After the Spa, we walked over a few yards to have lunch at Solage’s restaurant, Solbar.  We started with two of their signature cocktails, Sex in the Valley (Chabay Green Tea Vodka, Thyme, Mint, Cucumber, Lemonade) for Sam and a Persia by Jalisco (Don Julio Anejo, Pomegrante Juice, Spiced Agave Syrup, house-made Grenadine, peppermint) for me.  Both were tasty, as were the Asparagus Salad and Mushroom Soup (with a broccoli floret garnish).  For a main course I enjoyed the Spiced Chickpea and Tzatziki Wrap with a delicious hummus and Sam had the Seared Yellowfin Tuna Burger, which she said was worthy of being a house specialty.  Dessert was a very unusual (but very good) Cheesecake Mouse with an apple sorbet.

We walked off some of the lunch on the way next door to August Briggs Winery, where they are known mostly for their single vineyard production. Some of their grapes actually come from the neighboring Sonoma Valley.  Matthew took us through the wines both in the glass and at the barrel.  It was my first experience with Chabono, a dark grape that’s a bit smoother than Syrah, but similar in taste. I was also surprised to see Petite Meunier (a champagne grape) on its own and found it delicious, with a fruity nose and a light fruit and floral taste. Their 2005 Carneros Pinot Noir is also a must try, as it’s buttery and mild, not as dry as most.

Just across the street from August Briggs is a brand new winery, B Cellars, which started in 2003 in a co-op and now has its first vintage and first tasting room.  It’s wonderfully designed and even has a pond to look out on from the deck, making it a cozy place to taste and relax. We were the first to enjoy a private tasting experience as Gretchen welcomed up to a lovely set up in the back.  I was impressed with the wines, all blends. 

B Cellars Blend 23 is a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier combination that’s citrusy, but has a bit of ginger spice from the chardonnay’s oaking. I actually liked all of the blends here, but would like to give special mention to the 2007 Blend 25 Cabernet (66% cab, 34% syrah), which is very fruit forward with a great spice finish, and the 2007 Blend 26, which blends three different cabernet vineyards for a mix that’s filled with butter, vanilla and caramel.

After the wineries, we enjoyed the walk downtown on a perfect, warm night.  There we met Robin Richardson, owner of Attitudes Boutique.  It’s one of those true finds where anyone of any age can find there soon to be favorite outfit. Though actual shopping wasn’t on our schedule, we did get a taste of the sparkling wine, strawberries, chocolates and fun, personalized service that Robin gives all the groups coming in for a girls’ getaway.

Dinner was at a fairly new place in town, Barolo at the Mount View Hotel & Spa.  Their handcrafted cocktails are as good as the food and I loved the Pear Cosmo (Absolute Pear, Pama Liqueur, Triple Sec and Cranberry Liqueur), while Sam enjoyed the “Best Darned Mojito.”  She thought the Cast Iron Skillet Mussels were delicious and I declared the Minestrone Soup the best I have ever had anywhere.  Dinner was a creamy Four Cheese Ziti and incredible Mushroom Gnocchi, accompanied by a Rudy Sauvignon Blanc from Von Strasser which I will have to get more of.

We finished off the evening down the block at Brannan’s, a cozy, but classic restaurant that’s also known for its live music.  We had the Chocolate Lava Torte and the Butterscotch Pudding, both of which were decadent.  Unfortunately, we were too stuffed to eat a lot and needed to get some rest before day two of our Calistoga girls’ getaway.