Taste the West: Napa Valley
Here are the best restaurants, wineries, and tasting rooms in California's famed wine region
The tour at Schramsberg Vineyards—the pioneer in sparkling winemaking—gives you a look at a mind-boggling 2 million bottles of bubbles in 2 miles of underground caves that were dug out in 1862. Festooned with lichen and dug deep into the mountain, they evoke the ancient caves of Champagne, France—but are more gothic and mysterious. Stacks of bottles gleam in the dimness as you pass, green lanterns glow overhead, and you may even get to taste by the light of giant candelabra in a moss-perfumed cavern.
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More than 25 local purveyors of all things organic, artisanal, and delicious have gathered in the 40,000-square-foot Oxbow Public Market, a cathedral of sustainable yumminess. Need to pick up organic, handcrafted charcuterie? Look no further. In the mood for a piping-hot Venezuelan arepa? It’s here. Seasonal produce? Local wine? Freshly baked bread? Check, check, and check.
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The rambling, chocolate brown home of The French Laundry did indeed house a laundry in a past life. Now the elegant yet unfussy setting pairs perfectly with dishes like oysters and pearls (sabayon of pearl tapioca with Beau Soleil oysters and white sturgeon caviar). The nine-course tasting menu is worth every penny.
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Thomas Keller had other plans for Ad Hoc when he started serving a $45 four-course menu in the simple dining room, but now the "temporary" restaurant is here to stay, and that's a good thing. The four-course tasting menu raises family-style dining to a new level with superbly done comfort foods.
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Under the exuberant ownership of Jean-Charles Boisset, Raymond Vineyards is rocking the Napa Valley stereotype. How many places have a mirrored Crystal Cellar tasting room with a masked cat lady hanging from a trapeze? Or an outdoor room with acrylic Louis XVI chairs? On top of it all, there’s a blending lab (you blend), and a demonstration biodynamic garden with a self-guided iPhone app.
On the Napa Valley Wine Train, roasted Angus tenderloin or spinach salad with candied walnuts, smoked goat cheese, and honey-cider vinaigrette pair nicely with the wineries that roll past your beautifully-restored Pullman dining lounge. Wander down to the customized kitchen car, and you can peer in through the observation windows at chefs while they work.
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You’d need a personal invite from the winemakers to try most of the bottles uncorked daily at the Vintner’s Collective. With past lives as a saloon, a brothel, and a grocery, the Pfeiffer Building on Main Street now houses this shared tasting room, which is stocked with small producers who have large followings.
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If you can only have one taco at C Casa (located in Oxbow market), make it the spiced lamb with goat cheese, micro greens, and mint. The taqueria isn’t exactly traditional Mexican, but it’s not American either. When you pair ground buffalo tacos pair with a flute of Schramsberg blanc de blancs, you’ll realize it’s, well, Napa.
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Michelin-starred Bistro Jeanty is jolly, Gallic, charming, and wholly authentic. We defy you to have a bad time here. You might just have the best coq au vin of your life, and the crème de tomate en croute (tomato soup with puff pastry) is not to be missed.
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