----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: Wine Tasting in the Valley

The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire

Meet Astera (aka: me), a star in her own mind. Our plucky little heroine has embarked on not one but two difficult, low-paying career paths: writing and acting. Witness the menial jobs! The unreasonable demands! The quirky friends and family! And the glimmer of success just ahead! Through it all, Astera maintains her core beliefs: 1) She is destined to be fabulous 2) Everything is more fun with a cocktail.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Wine Tasting in the Valley

The in-laws are in town this weekend. That's so strange--it's the first time we've seen them since the wedding, so it's the first time I've called them that! They're actually really great. I know I'm lucky, because I've read a lot of horror stories in the chat rooms at The Knot. So, anyway, it was a beautiful sunny day and the in-laws were fleeing the miserable cold that is a Minnesota winter, so we decided to go wine tasting. We've taken them out to the Napa Valley before, but they definitely enjoy their cocktails, so they were up for another outing.

I tell you what, I think that wine-tasting around Christmastime is going to become our new holiday tradition! Normally, the valley is packed with tourists in the spring and summer months. Today, we had the wineries to ourselves. People were appreciative of our business, and everyone was in a festive mood. Then we drove up and explored all the cute shops in Calistoga, and on the way back, we drove down Highway 29 and saw all the pretty twinkly lights on all the wineries.

So, in honor of today, here are a few of my favorite wineries for wine-tasting. They are all on the Silverado Trail, the lesser-known side of the valley. Many of the big name wineries are on Highway 29--Beringer, Cakebread, Coppola. We call that side the Disneyland of wine-tasting. Seriously, trying to get up to the bar at Coppola is like being a pig pushing for position at the trough. Good wine, bad experience. And if you go to these wineries, you'll seem more in the know. Perfect for impressing all your pretentious friends with wine snob tendencies! Bonus points if you can pass for a local-- they'll ask you to fill out a comment card, and if you put down a Napa address, you just might get your tasting fee waived. (Hint: The ZIP code is 94558.) In the busy months, you need a reservation at many wineries, so be sure to plan ahead!

Astera's Favorites:
1. Duckhorn
This place isn't on a lot of the tourist maps, but they make excellent (though pricey) wine. And their tastings are nice, because you get a little bottle of water labeled "Duckhorn" and they give you little crackers to eat. Their red wine blend, called Paraduxx, is nearly $50 a bottle, but it's worth every penny. My mom doesn't even like wine very much, but she won't refuse a glass of this. They're up in St. Helena, hidden just off the Silverado Trail on Lodi Lane. Drive slowly or you'll miss it.

2. Steltzner
Good wine, friendly staff. If you show an interest in their wines and their methods, they might open up some of the "special" bottles for you. The pinotage, a varietal from South Africa, I believe, is really delicious. The claret makes an excellent table wine, and the merlot port is like dessert in a glass. Alas, no food at this place.

3. Rutherford Hill
I like this winery for several reasons, but mainly for their tolerant attitude toward drunkeness. Let me explain: I attended their Halloween party in the caves this year with my brother and my husband, and I perhaps overindulged in their delicious Cab and the new port release. I was dressed as a "sexy nurse," and I apparently lived up to my costume that night. My husband claimed that I practically gave him a lap dance, but I maintain that I was just in an exuberant mood. However, I did fall down in the parking lot, but I think that's just because I was wearing really high heels. Anyway, everyone at the party was great, and they all seemed to think I was just adorable, so that earns them points in my book.

But in all seriousness, they have excellent wine, especially their Sangiovese. And if Bob is pouring, make sure he pours for you. He is funny and knowlegeable and will sometimes break out the secret stash. Definitely sample the zinfandel port, and make sure they give you some chocolate-covered blueberries to go along with it. In fact, buy some and take them home. They are sinfully delicious!

4. Reynolds Family Winery
I like their cabernet quite a bit, and their location is lovely. Also, one of the guys who worked there was wearing one of those Lance Armstrong "Live Strong" bracelets--you know, the stretchy yellow ones that are so popular--and we got to talking about who we knew who had cancer and when I told him that I wanted one of those bracelets since I was a cancer survivor, he gave me his, right off his wrist. I thought that was super-cool.

5. Quintessa
Everything about this place is overpriced, but if you can afford it, it's a fun thing to do once. Their tasting costs $25, compared with $5 at most of the other places ($10 at Duckhorn, but they're worth it). That's pretty steep, although you do get a tour of their vineyards and the caves included with your tasting. And it's interesting to hear them talk about their biodynamic principals of farming, even though some of it might sound like witchcraft. The tasting is really nice, though, because they give you different cheeses and crackers and even some quince jelly, which was lovely. A bottle of their wine is nearly $100, though...for that price, I'd much rather have two bottles of Paraduxx! But go on a nice day and enjoy the beautiful views from their vineyard. Definitely make a reservation. I think tastings are only offered twice a day, and you have to sign up in advance. Oh, and if you can arrange to get engaged while you're on the tour, they'll refund your fee and give you a free bottle of wine. We saw it happen.

So there you have it. Five lovely wineries on the Silverado Trail. Now you can pretend like you're a wine big shot and impress all the out-of-towners. Works for me! (Well, that, and the fact that my family is planting a vineyard. That adds to the cachet somehow. Look for us just past Soda Canyon Road, next to the little Soda Canyon Store. We'll have fine cabernet in about five years!)

Oh, and in case you're wondering why I'm home blogging on a Saturday night instead of out having a fabulous adventure, it is because I sampled too much wine and overindulged in a very fine dinner at Bistro Don Giovanni. Now I have a bubbly stomach and I must lie by the fire, reading magazines and having my husband cater to me and stroke my hair. Oh, the agony!


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