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Notes from the Road – SF Visit & Napa Valley

Recently, I was able to head up to San Francisco, then continuing onto the Napa Valley for some wine exploration and fun. San Francisco started with a visit to XXX wine bar on Chestnut St. for a primer on the area. Dinner was at Panta Rei (, a rustic Italian cantina with fresh pastas, reasonable wine prices (great values) located in the heart of North Beach/Telegraph Hill neighborhood. We then continued on for a ‘cultural’ experience, attending Beach Blanket Babylon (, an absolute must see show for a visitor to the Bay area. The evening’s last stop was at a classic San Francisco spot, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel’s Harry Denton’s Starlight Room ( There was a 10-piece band, cocktail servers in ankle-length evening gowns and a sense of the 1970’s – fantastic!

Saturday brought me up to the Napa Valley, beginning with a true wine-country meal at Cindy Pawlcyn’s Mustard’s Grill (, which was bustling with diners, and wine makers, a definitive buzz happening. I had an outstanding Kampachi fillet with Asian seasonal vegetables, a true taste of spring. There was also a quick stop into Bouchon for a glass of rose to welcome me into the valley and enjoy some of Thomas Keller’s French experience.

Next stop was a tasting at Elyse Winery (, which ran us through about 8-10 of their 21 different bottlings! Special thanks to John for sharing their limited bottling Port (a winery accident) and some 2004 Syrah, which was drinking out of this world! Next was an outstanding stop in Rutherford to visit the tasting room at Elizabeth Spencer (, which can only accommodate 8 people at a time! They are known for their Cabernet Sauvignons, however that day the Syrah and Pinot Noir’s were drinking extremely well.

We continued down to Bennett Lane ( for some late afternoon tasting. It was a quick experience, as we had one more winery to stop at, however we were able to enjoy their Maximus line, made in both White and Red.

Last winery of the day was a surprisingly rewarding experience at Summers (, which was a gorgeous Estate that was teaming with wine tourists. The big winner here was their Charbono, which they actually have the most acreage planted to in the world of this varietal. Also, I picked up a rarity, a 1994 Estate Merlot for less than $30! Well worth the price paid.

Dinner that night was at a Napa Valley classic, Tra Vigne (, with a small group including one of the daughter’s Peju (, a long-standing successful Napa winery. My Alaskan Halibut Plicate was great, but the Pea Shoot salad stole the dish!

Sunday was a whirlwind day, starting with a private tasting at Nickel & Nickel Winery ( The winery has been put together in true Farmstead style, with the latest construction being a new fermentation barn, scheduled to be completed prior to the 2008 harvest with 16 new Stainless steel tanks!

The day continued with winery visits to Regusci (, Darioush ( and Reynolds Family Winery ( Lunch was a late one, but outstanding, over at Bistro Don Giovanni ( with a great group including the Viader’s of Viader Winery (

After being stuffed with culinary creations at Don G’s, we needed to restore our strength and headed over to Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc for some wine at the bar. They feature a family 4-course supper everyday of the week, a very cool concept in today’s dining scene.

Dinner that evening was a group affair, with myself doing the cooking for a gathering of wine professionals from St. Supery (, Hess Collection (, Viader and wine professionals from the Montage.

Last stop on the tour was on Monday with a visit up to the top of Spring Mountain to see Pride Mountain Vineyards (, which straddles the Napa/Sonoma border. Our guide Scott shared their award winning Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignon’s, as well as a unique experience, tasting their 2006 Cabernet Franc, which was in tank ready to bottle that week.

Stay tuned for my next adventures from the road; a NRA Show Chicago update and restaurant crawl through New York City…

Keep eating and drinking!

blogCraig Nyman