My Trip to Napa Valley: Part II

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I'm pretty sure I fell in love with Napa. It's like an alcoholic's wine lover's Disneyland; a land with a picturesque landscape and fantastic crisp breeze, with some of the world's best wine at your fingertips, just ripe for the taking. And the food scene: TDF.

I was lucky enough to enjoy two incredible vino-filled days there last week. If you ever get a chance to get out there, I have a feeling you may want to check out some of these spots.

Continued from Day 1.

Since the night prior's dinner at Bottega was still heavy on our minds (and our stomachs), we had a light breakfast at the hotel before our wine tour guide picked us up at 10:30.

We decided to do a six-hour group tour with Beau Wine Tours because 1) we're lazy - so now we could visit a bunch of different wineries without having to pick them ourselves and, more importantly, 2) we like to party - so now we could drink a crap ton of wine without having to drive.

I knew this was a good idea the instant that an older Croatian gentleman named Stan, one of the six others sharing our limo tour, told us he was "from Old Country" and that he's "sexy and he knows it" upon introductions. His wife, from Ohio, laughed it off.

Over the next six or so hours, we visited four different wineries.

The first was Trefethen Family Vineyards, a charming 19th-century redwood winery whose tucked-away lands are a National Landmark. More importantly, though, is the red wine that I fell in love with there; the 2009 Dragon's Tooth, a blend of Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cab Sauv and Merlot with aromas of black currant, blackberry and cinnamon and hints of plum, cherry and chocolate was well-balanced and smooth.

With a nice buzz going from the first tasting, we moved on to the family-owned Sullivan Estate, where we were greeted by the Sullivan family's yellow lab, Apollo, and a tasting of their Pink Ink, a refreshing, full-bodied Rosé. We enjoyed a quick tour of the fields and more tastings before lunch, where we sat out back, right next to the gorgeous fields in the heart of the valley.

Trays of sandwiches, salads and desserts (included in the tour) were catered by the girl and the fig, a Sonoma restaurant featuring the valley's best seasonal, sustainable and locally sourced ingredients.

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The orzo pasta salad, with sundried tomatoes, fresh feta and chopped olives, was light and lemony. The salami sandwich, on a crusty, freshly baked baguette with pears, red onion confit and creamy brie, was savory and chewy, with a touch of sweetness. A sugary apricot fig chutney topped house roasted turkey and slices of sharp, tangy cheddar. And the dessert, rich chocolate brownies, lavender lemon bars, fig and walnut crisps, and mini blueberry pies, looked too good not to try a piece of each (the wine may have factored into this decision).

Drunk and full, we moved on to our third winery of the day, the eclectic Raymond Vineyards. I say eclectic because this was in their tasting room:

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Stan loved it there.

In the dimly lit swinger's club back room, we sampled a number of Napa Cabernets, each grown in a different part of the valley with unique soil qualities. My favorite was the St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, a soft and velvety cab with flavors of black cherry and dark chocolate.

Our last stop of the day (at which point Stan had solidified himself as one of my favorite persons on Earth), was to Hopper Creek Winery, which I can only describe as the dive bar of Napa Valley wineries, but in a good way. It was still beautiful, and the staff was very knowledgeable, but it had by far the most laid back vibe of the bunch (i.e. the wine was flowing, Stone Temple Pilots was playing in the background and the guy pouring our wine was wearing Adidas sweatpants and a T-shirt with a cartoon cigarette and can of beer on it). After a long day, this was the perfect place to relax and recharge.

After the wine tour, we headed back to rest up before dinner. And by rest up, I mean we sat outside by the pool in our hotel and drank another bottle of wine that we had purchased the day before. When in Napa, amiright?

Later that night, we headed back to Downtown Napa to meet our friends for dinner. She had suggested Zuzu, a cozy, modern restaurant right smack in the heart of the historic Old Town District. The restaurant, offering a contemporary, Californian twist on traditional tapas, uses fresh, local produce and emphasizes organic and sustainable cooking (see a pattern here?).

The restaurant was warm, hip and free-spirited, relaxing me further while a smooth Latin beat pumped softly through the room. We ordered more wine (okay, at this point I may be willing to admit I have a problem) and a few small plates to share.

Boquerones, fresh marinated white anchovies atop grilled bread with boiled egg and a garlicky remoulade, were a standout among the dishes; salty, crisp, and creamy all at once.

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A plate of shaved, salted Jamon Iberico, which we devoured along with warm, crusty bead in a matter of minutes, came out next, followed shortly by Gambas al Ajillo, smokey pimenton, piquin chili, and garlic-topped shrimp, which required another loaf of bread to sop up its juices.

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A Niman Ranch Flat-Iron Steak w/ roasted jalapeno chimichurri melted at the mouth's touch, and the Sonoma Coast Lamb Chops brought the meal home with the flavors of Morocco, fresh mint and a finish of curry oil. Everything was delicious in its own right, but together the meal showcased the sheer magnificence of fresh, locally produced California cuisine.

Without a doubt, this was a trip that I'll never forget...and most likely salivate over for the years to come.

And now, I detox...



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