Napa Anniversary Trip

Napa Valley, California  | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Napa Valley, California | Image: Laura Messersmith

Today Mike and I are celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary – five years ago at this moment I was sitting down to a beautiful breakfast in the dining room of the Fontainebleu Inn giddy with excitement and nerves for the day to come. I can’t actually remember what I ate but I think crispy potatoes were involved, maybe waffles? Let’s hope it was waffles.

After a day filled with joy and lots of dancing we re-packed our bags and flew to San Francisco for a honeymoon trip in Napa. It worked out beautifully that we were in Northern California earlier this month and had a chance to revisit one of my favorite places in the world for an anniversary trip.

There were a handful of spots that stood out five years ago and we found some new places on this trip that have become new favorites. If you have a chance to go I highly recommend putting at least a few of these on your itinerary.

Napa Valley, California  | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Napa Valley, California | Image: Laura Messersmith

Frog's Leap   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Frog's Leap | Image: Laura Messersmith

Frog’s Leap – We had fond memories of sipping wine on the back porch here and had to come back. FL takes a lot of pride in growing grapes and making wine with great respect for the environment, and that feeling of communing with the valley carries through to the tasting experience. A perfect spot to relax, watch the bees buzz, and let the magic of Napa fall over you.

Paraduxx – A new find on this trip and we absolutely fell in love with the wines as evidenced by how difficult it was to choose which ones to bring home. A laid back vibe with really warm, friendly guidance from the tasting room hosts. Who doesn’t want to try a glass (or six) while surrounded by rustling vineyards?

Tamber Bey – The excellent wine and location on Sundance Ranch make Tamber Bey unique, as do the pairings: specially prepared miniature cookies. The combinations are developed by local pastry chef Michelle Romaine and it’s amazing to see in action the way a chardonnay is transformed by lemony shortbread spiked with pink peppercorn. But, I bet I had you at cookies, right?

Tamber Bey   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Tamber Bey | Image: Laura Messersmith

Gott's Roadside (aka Taylor's Refresher)   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Gott's Roadside (aka Taylor's Refresher) | Image: Laura Messersmith

Ad Hoc – This was the first place we had dinner on our honeymoon and the memory of that fried chicken has lived on in our dreams. Definitely an auspicious beginning. The atmosphere is casual, but don’t be fooled – this is a Thomas Keller restaurant and the cooking is top-notch. Ice cream sandwiches for dessert don’t hurt anything either!

Gott’s Roadside (neé Taylor’s Refresher) – Classic roadside food of the type popularized by In N Out and Shake Shack on their respective coasts. We kept it old-school with a cheeseburgers and diet coke. The grassy backyard dotted with red picnic tables and shaded by umbrellas combined with the mid-century vibe make it easy to pretend you’ve been transported into a Beach Boys song.

Oakville Grocery – Another re-visit, but when the food is this good it’s hard to blame us. We made this our lunch stop on the biking day and I was grateful for the miles covered when it came time to choose a sandwich. So many great combinations and delicious treats it’s hard to decide where to start, so here’s a hint: roast turkey with apple jam and pickled red onions.

The Restaurant at Meadowood – Probably the most elegant, beautifully prepared and presented meal I’ve ever eaten. The entire tasting menu is full of whimsical touches and the experience feels like an adventure – who knows what delicious and inventive bite will arrive next? I really can’t overstate the attention to detail in every dish and in the service. Definitely a place for a very special occasion.

Oakville Grocery   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Oakville Grocery | Image: Laura Messersmith

Solage Calistoga   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Solage Calistoga | Image: Laura Messersmith

Stay & Do:
Solage – Is it possible for Napa (a little oasis in and of itself) to be more tranquil? Somehow this boutique hotel in Calistoga manages to distill that peace and amplify it with carefully appointed rooms in a gorgeous setting. Case in point: real milk in the fridge to go with a freshly brewed pot of coffee, from actual grounds. In a world where shelf stable creamers and pods seem standard this alone wins my devotion. I wish we had more time to sample the spa and make better use of the pool, but all the more reason to go back!

Napa Valley Bike Tours – There's an almost 0% chance that I'm going to hit the gym while I'm on vacation. A little ambient exercise is more my speed - a long walk, or in this case a bike ride fit the bill. The valley is easy to navigate, so we did a self-guided tour and NVBT makes it simple and stress-free with helpful maps, wine pick-ups, and great recommendations. It's also a cool way to stop and smell the roses along the way, see the valley from a different perspective.

Solage Calistoga  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Solage Calistoga | Image: Laura Messersmith

Rosé Colored Glasses

Design:  Laura Messersmith \  Image:   Martha Stewart Living

Design: Laura Messersmith \ Image: Martha Stewart Living

Is it just me, or is rosé having kind of a moment right now? I swear every magazine, Pinterest board, and Instagram account is full of glasses tinted pink. I know it’s a classic ‘summer wine,’ but it seems particularly in fashion this year.

I’ve been fully on board the rosé bandwagon for a while now, so you won’t catch me complaining about its presence on more wine lists and any restaurant that stocks Fritz-Hasselbach Fritz's Rosé 2013 will get double points in my book. Our latest Plonk shipment included a bottle and my love for rosé was never more rewarded than after my first taste.

Pale blush to deep cherry it all looks delicious to me, but Fritz’s version is particularly bright and tangy with raspberry notes. I’m sort of embarrassed, but mostly feeling a pleasant sense of anticipation that I’ve already called ‘dibs’ on the last glass. I’m biding my time, waiting for the right moment to enjoy it and planning to pick-up a few more bottles to enjoy over the next few months…. Fritz would be a great addition to any barbeque or late afternoon on the porch.

While some rosés, like my friend Fritz, can stand on their own while others need a little help. Enter a welcome rescuer: sangria. I came across this recipe for a Rosé Cucumber Cooler, which involves even more of my favorite flavors – St. Germaine, lemon, and cucumber – I immediately added it to my list of warm weather mixed drinks. Big plans for this coming weekend…hope you have some fun things on the rosy pink horizon too!

Scouting: Plonk

Plonk Wine Club | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Plonk Wine Club | Image: Laura Messersmith

Does this scenario sound familiar? It’s Friday night you’re cooking a great meal to kick off the weekend and some friends are on the way over. You’ve already picked up the ingredients for dinner, but you don’t have any wine in the house. You have two choices – grab something off the grocery store shelf (assuming you live in a state where this is legal) or make a second stop at the wine shop and try to make sense of the labels hoping you’ll pick something that pairs well with your menu. Neither option seems especially appealing, and here in New York carrying one more thing is never something I'm interested in, but that’s what I have to do nine times out of ten.

So, you can imagine how psyched I was when Mike told me he signed us up for Plonk Wine Club. It's similar to other subscription-based businesses: you choose a level, package, and length of commitment. In our case we like both red and white wine, so we’re in the Mixed Wine Club and each month Plonk sends us four bottles selected from wineries around the world.

The term “plonk” (slang for cheap wine) strikes me as ironic given the quality of the wine we've received. So far we’ve tried two bottles from March’s shipment and have been really impressed with founder and resident wine expert Etty Lewensztain’s choices.

Plonk’s specialty is introducing members to wines made from lesser-known grapes and sourced from a variety of regions. Our first shipment had bottles from Sicily (Italy), Regnie (France), Santa Ynez Valley (California), and Macedonia (Greece). I need all the help I can get and since these are all 100% new to me I love that the shipment also includes detailed tasting notes, recipes from Food52, and suggested food parings to help put together successful combinations.

If you’re in the same boat and want to expand your wine knowledge and discover some great new grapes I’d definitely check out Plonk. Our plan is to build up a reserve of bottles that are great quality, but not so expensive that we feel like we have to save them for red letter day (ie. $25 or less). We’d like to keep a few in reserve for those spontaneous Friday night dinners, but at the rate we’re going that may not happen! Could be worse, right? Happy Friday!

Plonk Wine Club | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Plonk Wine Club | Image: Laura Messersmith