Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dining, drinking in downtown Napa

Just got back from a fab trip to Napa--the town at the south end of the Napa Valley. One day, I tasted wines at six or seven stops (I kinda forget the exact number)! No worries-they were within walking distance from each other, clustered in downtown Napa. So no designated driver was needed (but I did need a nap after all that vino)!

And P.S.--the wine was very good, even though most of the wineries were tiny ones I'd never heard of. But isn't that the fun of wine tasting--discovering new labels before your friends? Like Gustavo Thrace, at 1021 McKinstry St., has an absolutely yummy Cab and a unique Bordeaux blend that I couldn't put down. At the same location on McKinstry is the Toolbox Wine Company, making fun drinkable, everyday wines from a company run by three young gals (see above). And their mission is to 'build houses and good will, one bottle at a time', so a portion of the profits goes to Habitat for Humanity (hence the Toolbox logo and the wine holding toolbelt).

Around the corner, at 714 First St. is the bright and cheery tasting room of Mason Cellars, where Megan Mason poured the best Savignon Blanc I ever put in my mouth (its their specialty); try the Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc for a really aromatic experience. Mason's Three Pears Pinot Grigio is super tasty, too, with a fresh, peachy/pear and apple nose.

We wandered down to Trahan Winery at 974 Franklin St. where their lively chocolate lab greeted us with a wag or ten, before settling back into his unique doggy bed (made of wine barrel staves). Young Chuck Custodio (winemaker/owner) left the corporate world to study winemaking, commuting from San Francisco to the Napa Valley, driving four hours per day to learn the trade--he did that for four years. It’s in his blood--the Trahans, on his mother’s side, were grape growers and winemakers way back when in France. I really liked his 2007 Trahan Chardonnay – Carneros.

Perhaps the most sophisticated of the bunch is John Anthony Vineyard, also a boutique winery with a tasting room at 1440 First St. (adjacent to the AVIA Hotel). Their wines are pricier than most of the other, but they are elegantly made. I fell in love with the rich mouth feel and complex flavors of their 2006 Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon. This upscale tasting lounge is the only one open late (until 2 AM) and you can relax here after dinner with a full glass of wine if you like, rather than just a taste.

Details: All these and a few other wineries--including Ceja Vineyards, and several at the Oxbow Market, are small independents, part of the 13-member Buzz Downtown Napa Tasting Room Association. For information on how to devise your own walking tour, go to the Napa Downtown Association site to napadowntown.com/wine.html. For a lovely place to stay, handy to all the wineries and fine dining, check out AVIA Hotel, ,1450 First St. I found it both luxurious and surprisingly affordable (but more on that in a later post).

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