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Napa Valley Weekend: French Food and Napa Wines


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By Barbara Schmidt (2)

Every once and a while, my partner Michael and I head out to California Wine Country for a respite. This time, we decided to hit some of favorite spots and try a few new restaurants and wineries for a change. It’s fun to see what’s new and how old establishments are changing.

French Style Cooking

We have a habit of stopping at Chez Panisse on our way up to wine country. It’s the perfect place to stop in Oakland, California, about a 45-minute drive or so from the San Francisco airport. In the spirit of new harvest, we had a Beaujolais French lunch with Duck Confit and lentils with early onions and frisee. Michael had Buttermilk fried sole with yellow fin potatoes and cabbage salad. There was superb food and service, although we had to wait past our reservation time to be seated.

There are many recognized world-class restaurants in Napa Valley. French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood to name a few. These are amazing places that have changed the forefront of dining forever. If you can grab a reservation and afford the experience, it will establish the bar for dining excellence.

We decided to compare the two French bistros in Yountville over Thanksgiving weekend. The first, Bistro Jeanty has a laid backed atmosphere, however, the French service was very attentive.

French Lamb Chops Jeanty’s Bistro

Traditional prepared French Lamb Chops and Harcot Vert, Jeanty’s Bistro, Yountville, Napa Valley, considered by some as the best restaurant in the area. 

Michael had salmon mousse and I had a creamy risotto with shaved white truffle paired with a crisp Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc. For our main courses, Michael had lamb chops and I had classically prepared steak au poivre paired with an Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon. The meal was outstanding and the wine was something we hadn’t tried before. We liked it a lot and wanted to know more about the vintner.

Napa Wine Tastings

The next day, we decided to drive to where the Altamura is produced. Rumor has it that the wine tasting room on the property was shut down by the city for some licensing dispute. We wanted to see the vineyards anyway, so we drove around the property in a part of Napa we’d never visited.

The Altamura vineyard is between the Vaca Range and Napa Mountain positioned on 400 acres in the Wooden Valley. The road to the valley was originally carved into the Napa Mountain by Chinese laborers in the 1800’s. It’s a very beautiful drive that runs next the man-made Lake Berryessa. The lake is 26 miles long and 3 miles wide.

There are lots of beaches and excellent fishing as well as bird watching.

We wound around Altamura and back to Yountville for our lunch at Bouchon. I’ve eaten three times at the Las Vegas Bouchon and it has always been excellent. This time, we sat at the bar and chatted with the bartender about up and coming vineyards. He suggested that we stop by Elyse Vineyards for a tasting.

Ray and Nancy Coursen started the winery Elyse in 1987, after Ray had spent years working as a winemaker with various other vineyards. The tiny tasting room is located on the original piece of property where they started winemaking almost 30 years ago. Ray is known for his small lots of vineyard reds and was listed in 1996 as one of the hot new wines in Wine Spectator magazine. We bought a mixed case of reds and will taste them again as they mature over the next couple of years.

One of our favorite stops is the Pride tasting room at the top of Spring Mountain where half of the vineyard is in Sonoma and half is in Napa. That means that by law, Pride has to have separate bottling facilities for each county on the same property. We drink a lot of Pride reds back in Minnesota. They are consistent great food wines. The wine tasting is fun too—they have an enormous wine cave as a part of the tour.

For the family, I’d suggest touring Frank Family Vineyards and Beringer because they are set up for picnics, food parings, and tours. We did like a few of the Beringer wines and had a case shipped back for our cellar. We tried a number of the Frank Family wines and actually saw Rich Frank, the owner, while we were there. He was nice and said hi to us in the lobby. Don’t know Rich Frank? Read about Rich's family history.

Barbara Schmidt, is principal and lead designer of bstyle inc , a nationally recognized design firm creating and building spaces for homeowners, retailers and manufacturers for over twenty years.

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