Prepare for sensory overload on a Wine Country visit.
Wine is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tickling your palate in Napa and Sonoma. From sorbet brunch mimosas and doughy breakfast muffins to steak and a Cab for dinner or day boat scallops in a puff pastry—not to mention red wine truffles for dessert, all-day sipping (a cult Cab and iconic craft brews), and late-night snacking (a famous chef’s lobster corn dog)—we’ve got you covered.
Top Picks for You
Screaming Eagle by the Glass
For some wine lovers, Screaming Eagle is the holy grail of cult Cabernet Sauvignon, with a waiting list a mile long for the right to pay thousands for a bottle. Jump the line at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa‘s plush 38° North Lounge, where you can savor the latest vintage for a mere $500 by the half glass or $900 for a standard pour. An outrageous splurge? Maybe so, but at least you can say you tried it.
INSIDER TIP38° North, two and a half miles from Sonoma Plaza, serves several other sought-after Cabs and Cab blends by the glass, among them Insignia from Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Priced a 90 percent discount to Screaming Eagle’s Cab, this celebrated Bordeaux-style blend almost seems like a bargain. If lighter wines are more your thing, try the California Dreamin’ Chardonnay flight or a glass of French Champagne.
Charlie Palmer's Lobster Corn Dog
Chef Charlie Palmer’s trademark lobster corn dog is simple in conception—a lump of lobster surrounded by deep-fried cornbread, served on a stick with pickled-ramp remoulade—yet somehow much more than the sum of its parts. Sure, you can taste this signature morsel at other Palmer restaurants around the country, but only at the Archer Hotel Napa‘s Sky & Vine rooftop bar can you enjoy them with Napa Valley views.
INSIDER TIPAlways a light golden brown and bursting with flavor, Palmer’s dreamy corn dog is many a local’s late-night guilty pleasure. Napans in the know head up to Sky & Vine between 9 and closing for “reverse happy hour,” when the chefs whip up the famous dogs at 40% off, with beer, wine, and a few signature cocktails like the house mule with ginger and lime, similarly discounted.
Mad Fritz Ale
WHERE: St. Helena
Per an oft-quoted Wine Country adage, it takes a lot of beer to make good wine, a reference to winemakers’ beverage of choice after a hard day in the cellar. To establish Mad Fritz, founder and master brewer Nile Zacherle and his wife, Whitney Fisher, both winemakers, describe turning the phrase on its head, making a lot of wine for boutique wineries before embarking on their now wildly successful craft-brew startup. Mad Fritz specializes in “origin-specific beers,” with the source of each ingredient acknowledged on the back label. Tales from a Renaissance-era Aesop’s Fables edition provide most of the beers’ names and all the front-label illustrations.
INSIDER TIPMad Fritz’s St. Helena tasting room is open from 12:30 to 6 pm daily. No appointment is necessary, though reserving a table is wise on weekends when the place tends to crowd up.
Thomas Keller Cuisine
Chef Thomas Keller stands tallest among the high-profile artists who elevated the Napa Valley’s status in the culinary world. The intricate Oysters and Pearls (oysters, caviar, pearl tapioca) has been a staple of The French Laundry‘s prix-fixe menu for years, and while the dish is highly recommended you needn’t break the bank to experience Keller’s cuisine.
A few blocks south of TFL at four locations near each other you can sample mussels and frites at Bouchon Bistro, a perfectly golden, buttery croissant at Bouchon Bakery, Oaxacan-influenced plates at Keller’s latest eatery, La Calenda, and (at Finesse, the Store) K+M Extra Virgin Chocolate bars made with olive oil instead of cocoa butter. Still farther south, Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant and its seasonal Addendum takeout window serve American classics like buttermilk fried chicken.
INSIDER TIPThe Keller restaurants, the bakery, and the shop are all on Washington Street in downtown Yountville.
WHERE: Yountville, Forestville, St. Helena
Speaking of fried chicken, Keller and other chefs of note have raised this guilty pleasure to an art form. At Ad Hoc and Addendum, Keller’s secret involves brining his well-sourced chicken for half a day before frying, also the method of choice in Forestville (Sonoma County) at Backyard, one of whose owner-chefs was on the team that opened Ad Hoc in 2006. Brining helps the chicken stay juicy during the frying process.
INSIDER TIPFor a more traditional (i.e., Southern) interpretation, toddle over to St. Helena’s Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch for Tuesday fried-chicken night. The cheddar biscuits with honey butter have almost as big a following as the crispy chicken they accompany.