I learned there is such thing called “palate capacity.” It is the number of good restaurants or wines to over-whelmed one’s ability to appreciate them. Napa country is where one discover his palate capacity and train to expand it. Of course, suspension of all weight-losing attempts is a pre-requisite. I brought back probably 5 pounds on my belly.
Going to Napa requires planning. Every worthwhile restaurants and wineries requires reservations and some very long-time in advanced. A driving arrangement will be nice, if everyone in the party likes to drink; either a designated driver or a car service will work well. Since this is a place about drinking and eating, probably the most important thing is to come with company who like to eat and drink with you. Expect to double whatever you usually spend on foods and wines here. Trying to find “value” here is not at the best way to enjoy the trip.
Wine tasting is not about judgment or showing-off. Foods and wine appreciation is personal. The lack of sophisticated vocabulary is not an indication of lack of sophistication. My wine vocabulary can rival probably only King Kong. Talking about the “hint of espresso and Ethiopian dark chocolate” and that it reminded you the $1,500 bottle you drank 10 years ago during a trip to the Bordeaux region will find you all by yourself the next stop.
There is really no “the list,” Internet will give many. For boasting value, Opus One winery and any establishments by Tom Keller are musts. I stayed away from large iconic producers and mixed wineries that I enjoyed their products before and some that I have never heard of. This meant boutique wineries that are, mostly, a farm-house like building with small staff.
Dead winter is really the perfect time to visit Napa. This region suffers crowd onslaught in all other seasons. We got into restaurants and wineries with only light attempt to reserve a slot (yes, still needed). We stayed a night at the Marriott.
Where I went? Bouchon Bakery, Black Stallion Winery, Whetstone Winery, Luna Winery, Celadon restaurant, Model Bakery, Opus One Winery, Farmstead Long Meadow Ranch, and ZD Winery.
Opus One is really an obligatory visit. I always thought Opus One more as brilliant marketing: two demigods in wine industry, both beyond any need to prove themselves, setup to make the perfect wine. The wine is a blend, immediately drinkable, and not intimidating as those Bordeaux first-growth. We arrived at the reserved time, were led to the partner room, where three choices were offered: Opus One 2011 at $60 per 4-oz glass, 2013 at $45, and “Overture” at $20. We opted for the $60 and $20 and were blown-away! They were excellent wines: complex, tasty, balanced, and inviting you to keep on sipping. We discussed, debated, and compared the two and tried to savor every drops.
Just when we thought we have reached the peak of expensive wines, ZD topped the list with their Abacus XVIII at $625 a bottle. It is a uniqued Solera style blended wine that combined a series vintages. I did not even taste it. Their “reserved cab” is already $210 a bottle. These are way above my casual drinking range and I don’t really collect wines.