Napa Valley, fifty miles north of San Francisco, in USA, attracts oenophiles (wine lovers) from all over to its lush, rolling valleys planted with endless rows of vines. People come here to taste a wide selection of red and white wines, to discover new favourites and stock up on them. The bucolic setting of the farms and wineries and a host of epicurean delights make for a wonderful weekend getaway or even a day trip.
Although many wineries are open daily for tasting, it's wise to make a reservation and explore no more than three to four wineries a day. A visit to a dark, oak-scented, barrel room or cave is a great way to understand the wine making, maturing and storing process. The tasting usually takes place at a bar or terrace with a beautiful setting and the tasting fees are waived when you make a purchase. The wisdom is to abstain from wearing perfume so that the subtle aromas of the wines are not overwhelmed.
Ancient oak trees flanked the uphill drive to Bond, at the venerable Mondavi estate, whose owner was the first to sell wine industrially in the region. A large, glass enclosed terrace, with deep leather sofas and antique rugs overlooked miles of vineyards around us. At a table, in the adjoining open kitchen, we sat across a line-up of several glasses while the knowledgeable sommelier led the tasting as he swirled each glass of red wine, holding it by the stem, releasing the aroma, and inhaling deeply before he sipped. We tried to distinguish the aromas and flavours of the wines which went from light to full-bodied ones. Sizing them up, we decided our favourites were Robert Mondovi Fume Blanc (Kalon Vineyard 2007) and Dalla Valle (Cabernet Sauvignon Maya 2007).
Some of the other noteworthy vineyards in the thirty-mile long Napa stretch are Del Dotto, Clos Pegase Winery, Quintessa and Green Truck Cellars in Stag's Leap region. Although it is the best known wine growing region in America, less than 10% of the country's wine comes from here.
The French Laundry
Chef Thomas Kellar, owner of seven renowned Michelin rated restaurants is based in Napa Valley and he speaks of "the abundance of amazing produce grown by the farmers, ranchers, cheese makers and foragers" in the area. We lingered at lunch at Kellar's legendary restaurant, The French Laundry. (It used to be a French laundry in an earlier avatar) The exquisite nine course menu, served with specially selected wines has a vegetarian version too. The pearl tapioca with Greek oysters, sautÃ©ed red snapper, pine nut tofu and Panna Cotta with Marcona almonds hovered long on our taste buds. St. Helena's main street with charming red brick facades is the place for an afternoon stroll where you'll discover casual restaurants, chocolatiers, artisanal food shops and unique boutiques.