Recent travels to Napa Valley for a marathon allowed me to experience and enjoy this charming area for the first time. I have traveled previously in Sonoma County but hadn’t visited Sonoma’s ritzier cousin to the east. The town of Napa is nestled in a beautiful valley, adjacent to the river. Downtown is small but filled with restaurants, coffee shops, wine tasting rooms and small boutique shops. It is a quiet bedroom community that caters to the tourists and oenophiles passing through.
I had the good fortune to be traveling with my good friend and running partner as well as my sister who resides in San Francisco. We stayed at a small cottage rented on VRBO. It was less than a mile from our cottage to downtown which is so convenient when you want to enjoy wine with your dinner. As an aside, Uber and Lyft do exist in Napa and we availed ourselves of this on a few occasions.
We arrived our first night around the dinner hour. We hadn’t made reservations because we didn’t want to be tied down. It quickly became apparent that many of the small, cozy, recommended restaurants were full and couldn’t accommodate us. We ended up at Basalt, mostly because it was large and had some available tables. Generally a good experience and they have wine on tap which is always fun. The lobster risotto was simply amazing and would cause me to return if I were in the area again. The service was so-so, however, and our waiter wasn’t as knowledgeable with the menu or the wines as I would have hoped.
The next day we indulged in a wine tasting at Domaine Carneros, just north of Napa. Known for it’s sparkling wines, it did not disappoint. It is perched high on a hilltop overlooking the valley. The building and grounds are reminiscent of a European chateau. The wide veranda would be gorgeous on a warm, sunny day. Our weather, however, was rainy and cool and caused us to take refuge by the fireplace inside. The service was impeccable, the wines delicious and crisp and the cheese plate a perfect accompaniment. We left with several bottles of wine to take back home. Reservations strongly recommended.
Earlier that day we visited the Oxbow Public Market in Napa. An eclectic collection of food, coffee, spices, kitchenware, bitters and shrubs, this is a fun stop for explorers, shoppers and families alike. A must visit in the Napa area.
The next day was marathon day and we indulged afterwards with an amazing dinner at Angele. Words fail to describe this perfect fine dining experience. The restaurant is cozy, the staff is knowledgeable and friendly. The food is truly exceptional and will be remembered as one of the best dinners I have ever eaten. We started with the fried deviled eggs—trust me, it’s amazing. Dinner was mussels with saffron broth. I won’t ever eat mussels again unless it’s at Angele because it would only diminish my memory of the mussels at Angele. They were perfection. The cheese plate for dessert was generously portioned and a true pleasure. If you love food and wine, this is a must visit. Reservations recommended.
Our final day in the Napa area saw us traveling north to sample wines at Robert Sinskey and Saddleback Cellars. Two truly exceptional wineries, although vastly different. Robert Sinskey offered a lovely tasting along with nibbles and we left again with several bottles of wine. My favorite is the POV made with grapes from the Carneros district. The Pinot Gris is also quite lovely and I expect that a case of these well balanced wines will make its way to my doorstep soon. If you have time, make a reservation for the wine and food experience. The food here is cooked on site and is an experience in and of itself. If you want to remain more flexible, tastings at the bar are on a first come, first served basis.
Saddleback Cellars is a rustic, Western themed winery with gorgeous Chardonnay and Cabs as well as red blends. Go on a sunny day when you can sit outside at the picnic tables adjacent to the growing vines. Bring your own food and make an afternoon of it. You won’t regret it. Reservations required.
Napa is a relaxing escape in many ways. It is pricier than Sonoma, however, mostly because, well, it’s Napa. Exceptional foods and wines can be found in both valleys, though, so choose the style that feels best for you. Or visit both and immerse yourself in amazing food and wine.