Follow these links for Part I and Part II of our adventures, read on for Part III:
The last few days of our trip to wine country were spent in Sonoma, specifically in the town of Healdsburg and at wineries up in the beautiful Dry Creek Valley. Included in this review are: Hotel Healdsburg, Spoonbar, Scopa Restaurant, Preston Vineyards, Quivira Vineyards, and Cyrus Restaurant.
One of the first noticeable differences between Napa and Sonoma is that the latter is substantially quieter, less built-up, and (if possible) even more relaxing and laid-back.
The town of Healdsburg is really lovely; centered around a pretty central square are shops, restaurants, and tasting rooms. Nothing is much more than a few blocks from the square. There's even a convenient UPS store for shipping all your liquid treasures home (depending on what state you live in, and provided you've built up the requisite immunity to sticker-shock after a week in wine country).
We stayed at Hotel Healdsburg, a slick, modern property situated on the edge of the town square. It was very similar to the Bardessono in aesthetic, with lots of wood, stone, and glass. The bed was divinely comfy, the little patio a welcome source of sunshine, and the hotel quiet (again, only because it was wintertime). The lobby was a standout part of the property, scattered with sink-into-their-depths sofas situated around a huge, gas fireplace. Breakfast was served here each morning, which was a pretty damn nice way to start the day.
Our first evening in Healdsburg we went to Spoonbar for cocktails. This spot had been recommended to us and did not disappoint. The bartenders were more knowledgeable about their craft than their counterparts in Brooklyn and New York, and they poured a mean drink.
Next stop: Scopa.
We'd actually planned to eat at Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen, but so many locals pointed us towards Scopa that we changed our plans. Unsurprisingly, the locals were right. Scopa was pure awesome. A tiny little alley of a space (which reminded me a lot of restaurants here at home in NYC), Scopa serves up fabulous, rustic Italian fare paired with (of course) local wines.
In fact, they even had one of the local winemakers in house that night to talk to each table about the wines. We started with one of the best salads I've ever eaten (toothsome spinach, salty diced pancetta, pickled red onions, and creamy blue cheese) and followed it up with a really hearty and delicious spagettini with beef and pork rib ragu. We had not a spare millimeter for dessert.
They next day we headed out of town and up the Dry Creek Valley to check out a few family-owned wineries.
Though pretty much everywhere in Napa and Sonoma is beautiful, the Dry Creek Valley struck me as the prettiest - rustic, lonely (in a good way), and unspoiled.
It's also got some really great wineries along its narrow, winding roads. First up for us was Preston Vineyards.
Preston is located at the end of the end of the end of the road. It's not just a winery, but a biodynamic farm as well. They make their own bread and olive oil, raise chickens, play host to a veritable herd of friendly barn cats, and also make some really delicious and unusual (for Napa) wines.
Specializing in Rhone varietals, Preston poured us some wines I'd tasted often in blends but rarely on their own: Mourvedre, Carignane, and Rousanne. All were complex and compelling. They also make a great Viognier. We left here with more wine bottles in our trunk than any other winery we visited (RSV being a close second).
Our second stop was Quivira Vineyard. Similar to Preston (family-owned, biodynamic, down-to-earth), Quivia also makes some Rhone varietals, as well as Zinfandel, Sauvingon Blanc, and other more typical Napa wines.
One thing they do here that I'd not heard of before is co-fermentation (in which different varietals are blended before being fermented, rather than after). Their Savingnon Blanc-Viognier co-fermented blend was yummy and their Mourvedre and Zinfandel were both dark, jammy, and delicious.
After tasting, we had to spend a little time wandering around in the garden before we were fit to get back in the car and navigate the winding roads home to Healdsburg.
Following a well-deserved afternoon nap, we geared up for our last (and biggest) dinner out: Cyrus Restaurant.
Recently touted as a challenger to Keller's French Laundry, Cryus lived up to our high expectations. The dining room is right out of France, yet somehow not stuffy. Choices are between a 5-course and 8-course tasting menu. Being at least 4 pounds heavier than when we began our trip, we opted for the 5 course, beginning with a glass of Champagne.
Before bringing the amuse bouche, our server set a tower of little tastes on our table. Each represented one of the five flavors (sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umani) and was meant to stimulate the palate. Rather than being a gimmick, this was executed wonderfully and really set a great tone for the meal.
Standout dishes included a silky foie gras torchon with quince paste, a wonderful yuzu-infused John Dory, and a irresistible butterscotch sundae with chocolate "soil" (microplane-grated, salty chocolate merengue). The mignardises are were also really outstanding - we ate them until (unfortunately) painfully full.
We went to bed that night dreaming of Rhone varietals, Champagne, crisp sunny days, friendly cats, foie gras, and the detox we'd undoubtedly have to do upon arriving home.
So, to sum up a week spent indulging in wonderful food and wine, meeting all sorts of interesting people, soaring on the winds in a hot air balloon, and driving through some of the prettiest country out there...in short, wine country in winter: go, now.