Touring At The Top

Spectacular views, Grand Award dining and a castle
Tim Fish
Posted: June 15, 2009

Sipping a glass of wine on the terrace of the luxuriant Auberge du Soleil while watching the sun fade across the vineyards, you know that life in Napa is good. It is one of America's favorite upscale travel destinations for a reason.

This fertile wine region is a taste of Europe in our own backyard, and yet it is uniquely Californian. Certainly the landscape is lovely and the weather serene, but Napa offers well-heeled wine and food lovers much more. In the land of $250 cult Cabernets, that vineyard you visit may be worth $500,000 an acre, and wineries, some of them, such as Darioush, resembling palaces, offer not just tours and tastings but also adventures in wine and food. Dinner out is the foremost event of the day, and there are enough posh restaurants to keep you busy for weeks, but the sumptuous extravagance of the French Laundry is without peer. And at the end of the day, weary but satisfied, where better to rest than in the pampering comfort of lodgings such as Auberge and Solage Calistoga.

Yes, conspicuous consumption is alive and well in Napa Valley, but if you're looking for an excuse to indulge in this era of less-is-more, think of it this way: It's cheaper than jetting off to Bordeaux or Tuscany.

In the pages that follow, we distill the very best of high-end Napa, suggesting a short list of the many wineries, restaurants, hotels and activities worth considering in the valley. And whether you're a regular visitor or a first-timer, we have you covered, revisiting classic destinations as well as the hot new places you won't want to miss.

WHERE TO STAY

AUBERGE DU SOLEIL
180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford
Telephone (800) 348-5406; (707) 963-1211
Web Site www.aubergedusoleil.com
Rooms 32
Suites 18
Cottages 2
Rates $525-$3,750
Set in an olive grove in the hills overlooking Rutherford, Auberge du Soleil evokes the style and charm of a village in southern France. The hotel provides exquisite lodgings and dining and offers guests sweeping views of the valley and the Mayacamas Mountains. Sculptures adorn the 33-acre property, and lavender, sage and olive trees grow along the walking paths. Accommodations, renovated in 2005, are situated in 14 elegant cottages. The guest rooms are rustic but modern, with warm colors, limestone fireplaces, and hardwood floors and accents. French doors open onto private terraces and the bathrooms feature twin sinks, large soaking tubs and separate showers. The resort has a spa, a fitness center and a newly redesigned pool.

BARDESSONO NAPA VALLEY
6526 Yount St., Yountville
Telephone (877) 932-5333; (707) 363-7295
Web Site www.bardessono.com
Rooms 54 rooms
Suites 8 suites
Rates $450-$1,000
With the recent opening of Bardessono, eco-conscious wine travelers now have a new destination for green dining and accommodations. The sleek hotel resembles a stylish Tuscan villa, done in a modernist approach that feels both natural and open. Olive trees line the property, and stone sculptures and man-made streams and ponds punctuate the grounds. The spacious, 540-square-foot rooms are inviting, with walnut flooring, fireplaces and private outdoor patios or balconies. The luxurious bathrooms are equipped for in-room spa treatments and feature an array of amenities that can include a steam bath, sunken tub and outdoor shower. There is also a separate spa facility and a rooftop swimming pool with a view of the surrounding valley.

MEADOWOOD NAPA VALLEY
900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena
Telephone (800) 458-8080; (707) 963-3646
Web Site www.meadowood.com
Rooms 48
Suites 37
Rates $450-$8,750
Nestled in a secluded valley in the hills above St. Helena, this serene 250-acre resort delivers top-notch accommodations and world-class dining. Built in 1964 as a private club, Meadowood has wooden lodges and cottages framed by pine and maple trees. Decor is smartly done in a simple yet elegant country style, with exposed beam ceilings, large stone fireplaces and spacious patios. Many of the rooms have recently been refurbished. Amenities include tennis courts, a spa with fitness center and pool, a croquet court, a nine-hole golf course and hiking trails. An extensive wine education program is offered, with activities that include food-and-wine pairing and winery excursions.

Meadowood's signature restaurant is one of the valley's top destinations. The handsome dining room, with its white-beamed ceiling and dark wood highlights, is timelessly elegant, while the prix fixe menu follows the seasons, relying on the resort's large garden. The
Best of Award of Excellence-winning wine list, an outstanding collection of 950 bottles, emphasizes Bordeaux, Burgundy and California.

SOLAGE CALISTOGA
755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga
Telephone (866) 942-7442
Web Site www.solagecalistoga.com
Rooms 83
Suites 6
Rates $350-$875
Solage Calistoga, which opened its doors in July 2007, is one of the newest additions to Napa's lodging and fine-dining scene. Located just off the Silverado Trail, a short distance from downtown Calistoga, the 22-acre resort mixes urban-chic style with rustic appeal. Two sunken bocce courts flank the main entrance, and water- and fire-themed fountains dot the grounds. Guest rooms are situated in refined studios with private entrances, vaulted ceilings, semiprivate patios and pebble-stone showers; soaking tubs are available in some rooms. Suites take the urban-cabin feel to a new level with private patios and outdoor Jacuzzis. Solage's 20,000-square-foot spa is best-in-class and includes a geothermally heated pool, mud baths and a fitness center. There are two guest pools as well.

WHERE TO EAT

AUBERGE DU SOLEIL RESTAURANT
180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford
Telephone (800) 348-5406
Web Site www.aubergedusoleil.com/html/restaurant.shtml
Open Breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Prix fixe $105
Corkage $30
Credit cards All major
Best of Award of Excellence
No restaurant in Napa offers a better lookout over the valley and its patchwork of vineyards and mountains. The terrace off the bar is a prime spot for watching sunsets. Then there's the wine cellar, which has an impressive collection of more than 1,700 bottlings from around the world, including verticals of collectibles such as Mouton-Rothschild and Screaming Eagle. Prices are premium, but who can squabble with choices such as Beringer Merlot Bancroft Ranch 1997 ($210)? The menu covers much territory, and the results are generally first-rate. Dishes like prime New York beef with smoky wild mushrooms, or crab salad with Asian pears, coconut and lime marry intense flavors with delicate textures. The dining room, done in soft pastels and accented with rough-hewn wood and a large hearth, suggests a villa in southern France. For a more casual venue, but with access to the full wine list, drop into the new Bistro & Bar for a California take on French country cuisine.

BARDESSONO RESTAURANT
6526 Yount St., Yountville, CA 94599
Telephone (707) 204-6030
Web Site www.bardessono.com
Open Breakfast and dinner, daily; Lunch, Monday to Friday
Cost Entrées $26-$35
Corkage $25
Credit cards All major
Executive chef Sean O'Toole, former group operations chef for Michael Mina's many restaurants, presents an eclectic mix of entrées drawn from California's plentiful produce. The menus for lunch and dinner overlap and feature an array of fresh, local and seasonal dishes presented in an airy dining room with an understated modern decor. A delicate, melt-in-your-mouth Petrale sole with a blanquette of winter vegetables, white mushrooms and crawfish tails was perfectly presented . Bodega Bay halibut with rose Finn potatoes, watercress and Iberico ham worked well, too, and was more appealing than a pork chop and pork belly dish. Potato gnocchi with local chanterelles was creamy-textured, a foil to the meatier shellfish à la grecque, a calamari, octopus, prawn and winter vegetable salad. The wine list of more than 100 selections has been carefully chosen to provide a taste of the locals and a cross-section of French wines. Pricing is roughly double retail. Good buys include the Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet 2006 at $40.

BOTTEGA
6525 Washington St., Yountville
Telephone (707) 945-1050
Web Site www.botteganapavalley.com
Open Lunch, Thursday to Saturday; dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $23-$36
Corkage $20
Credit cards All major
Michael Chiarello is back where he loves to be—behind the stove—at his new restaurant, Bottega. The cookbook author, vintner and Food Network celebrity, who describes the restaurant as his new studio, is picking up where he left off 10 years ago at Tra Vigne, exploring regional Italian themes with a California twist. You'll find a few carryovers from Tra Vigne, such as whole oven-roasted fish, wood-grilled octopus, polenta with caramelized wild mushrooms, garganelli with balsamic rabbit sugo and chanterelles, and a daily mix of other pastas and gnocchi. The warm interior (reflecting Chiarello's taste as founder of NapaStyle, a California kitchen accessory and home furnishings retail chain) provides a comfortable setting in which to muse over the solid wine list whose 150 choices are designed to appeal to the pocketbook. A price markup of about twice wholesale means that a bottle that would cost $20 at retail goes for around $25 at Bottega.

FARM
Carneros Inn, 4048 Sonoma Highway, Napa
Telephone (707) 299-4880
Web Site www.thecarnerosinn.com/thecarnerosinn/restaurant_farm.aspx
Open Dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $22-$44
Corkage $25
Credit cards All major
Here's a restaurant that wears its name seriously. Situtated in a barnlike structure with exposed rafters, Farm sets a casual but elegant contemporary tone. The menu relies on local, seasonal ingredients, some of which are grown on-site at Carneros Inn. The wine list emphasizes artisanal producers in Napa and Carneros. There are about 325 wines in the collection, and the markup is modest: Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico 2006 is a steal at $34. If you're in the mood to splurge, however, there's Marcassin Pinot Noir Estate 2006 for $325. The kitchen employs a light touch, producing delicate yet flavorful dishes such as pan-roasted veal sweetbreads with white asparagus.

THE FRENCH LAUNDRY
6640 Washington St., Yountville
Telephone (707) 944-2380
Web Site www.frenchlaundry.com
Open Lunch, Friday to Sunday; dinner, daily
Cost Prix fixe $240
Corkage $50
Credit cards All major
Grand Award
"Resting on your laurels" is not an idea that chef Thomas Keller appears to support. After 17 years at French Laundry, and after opening additional restaurants in Yountville, New York and Las Vegas, Keller continues to raise the bar. The Grand Award-winning wine list of more than 1,800 selections takes in Bordeaux first-growth verticals, top Burgundies from the likes of Henri Jayer and Romanée-Conti, and verticals of leading California Cabernets such as Bryant Family and Colgin. The list is now on par with the restaurant's exceptional service and refined atmosphere, not to mention Keller's exquisite cuisine. His menu is as extensive as it is theatrical, with a series of elaborate courses. A savory white truffle custard comes in an egg-shell cup, and a plume of applewood smoke rises from it after a tiny covered dish is opened to reveal a delicate filet of Pacific kahala. While the menu and wine list are expensive, service is included, and for those who can manage the check, it is a meal to remember.

SOLBAR
Solage Calistoga, 755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga
Telephone (707) 226-0850
Web Site www.solagecalistoga.com/dining/index.shtml
Open Breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $19-$33
Corkage $20
Credit cards All major
Who says the food at a spa resort has to be plain and boring? The menu at Solbar is lusty and full-flavored, with hearty pizzas, short ribs and other substantial fare, and emphasizes organic ingredients. Menu items not to be missed include mini-burgers stacked with bacon, cheddar and onions, and "lucky pig," a small build-it-yourself buffet of slow-roasted pork, lettuce cups and sesame crepes with pickled pineapple and Mongolian peanuts. The cavernous dining room has a chic country feel and can get a bit noisy at times. The wine list has a modest 200 offerings of mostly California wines, but they're wisely selected. Markups are variable; Lewis Merlot 2005 is a reasonable $123, but Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 is a luxury at $550.

TERRA
1345 Railroad Ave., St. Helena
Telephone (707) 963-8931
Web Site www.terrarestaurant.com
Open Dinner, Wednesday to Monday
Cost Entrées $30-$36
Corkage $20
Credit cards All major
Restaurants come and go, but after 20 years Terra continues to maintain a high standard in the valley. The setting is the historic Hatchery Building, with its high ceilings, arched windows and fieldstone walls. Service is precise and attentive. The wine list of 300 selections cherry-picks some great choices from California, France and Italy. Markups are reasonable, and there are many older vintages and verticals. Splurges range from Phelps Insignia 2002 for $275 to Château Latour 1988 for $495. Behind the scenes are owners Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani. Chef Sone is a superb talent who adds a little daring to each dish. Specialties include broiled seasonal fish marinated in sake, and an appetizer of panko-fried Miyagi oysters. Doumani, among her many duties, creates the restaurant's memorable desserts, including huckleberry pie.

WINERIES TO VISIT

Note: Hours and fees for winery visits and tastings are current as of press time in April. Calling ahead to confirm is highly recommended, especially at harvesttime. Certain tour options require an advance reservation.

CASTELLO DI AMOROSA
4045 St. Helena Highway, Calistoga
Telephone (707) 967-6272
Web Site www.castellodiamorosa.com
Open Daily, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by appointment
Cost $10-$500
If nothing else, it's worth steering up the steep driveway to get a look at this spectacle of a castle in the hills. Proprietor Daryl Sattui, who also owns the busy V. Sattui winery in St. Helena, took his inspiration from medieval castles in Umbria and Tuscany when designing this 121,000- square-foot labyrinth of more than 100 rooms on eight levels. It is heavy on period details, including a moat, drawbridge, great hall, torture chamber and chapel, as well as a maze of caves extending 900 feet. For the ultimate in castle fantasy, VIP tours include a private tasting in the "royal apartment."

CHAPPELLET
1581 Sage Canyon Road, St. Helena
Telephone (707) 963-7136
Web Site www.chappellet.com
Open By appointment
Cost $25-$75
Perched high atop Pritchard Hill, Chappellet, founded in 1969, affords visitors the stunning vista of Lake Hennessy and parts of the valley. Chappellet's version of hospitality is friendly and down-to-earth; for example, guests are lent a jacket to keep them warm during private tastings in the cave. If the weather is nice, tours include a short hike through the vineyards and, en route, an explanation of the winery's commitment to sustainable agriculture and solar power. The tasting includes about five wines, including the iconic Pritchard Hill Cabernet blend and Signature Cabernet. Indulge in the extended tour and lunch, because once you take in the view and the vibe, you won't want to leave.

DARIOUSH
4240 Silverado Trail, Napa
Telephone (707) 257-2345
Web Site www.darioush.com
Open Daily, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost $25-$350
Modeled after the ancient city of Persepolis, Darioush is a temple to wine, hospitality and founder Darioush Khaledi's Persian roots. The tasting bar, open to the public, has a swank nightclub aura. But in the glamorous caves, two special tastings are offered. The first is a sit-down, private pairing of five Darioush wines with five cheeses from Northern California's artisanal Cowgirl Creamery. The second is probably the most astounding example of hospitality in Napa, the Quintessential experience, in which guests are invited to relax in Khaledi's private cellar and select a bottle from his collection of great wines, including first-growth Bordeaux such as Mouton or Haut-Brion, to be served alongside Darioush wines and some small plates.

MA(I)SONRY
6711 Washington St., Yountville
Telephone (707) 944-0889
Web Site www.maisonry.com
Open Sunday to Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; tastings by appointment
Cost $20-$35
Private tastings can be arranged in this renovated residence turned tasting room and gallery space near downtown Yountville. The design mixes a private club atmosphere with the feel of an art exhibit. The combination of Italian masonry; a collection of large, for-purchase paintings; sustainable-wood furnishings; bold modern art pieces; and antique furniture (with some pieces dating to the 16th century) give an air of archeological chic. The tasting room, gallery and private garden were conceived by Blackbird Vineyards proprietor Michael Polenske; in addition to Blackbird wines, there's a rotating list of flights available from other boutique labels, such as Brown Estate, Lail, Pedras and Tor.

ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY
7801 St. Helena Highway, Oakville
Telephone (888) 766-6328
Web Site www.robertmondaviwinery.com
Open Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m
Cost $15-$350
This is one of the most visited wineries in Napa, and no wonder: Founder Robert Mondavi created the concept of modern winery hospitality, making his namesake estate a mecca of sorts for wine tasters. The breadth of options and a focus on wine, food and the arts (check out the summer concert series) makes Mondavi a foolproof stop to recommend, especially to Napa first-timers. The attitude is comfortable and educational, and the winery offers 10 different tours and tasting packages. For the ultimate in Mondavi hospitality, check out the $350 per person Four Decades tasting and dinner, which centers on library wines going back 40 years.

SCHRAMSBERG
1400 Schramsberg Road, Calistoga
Telephone (707) 942-4558
Web Site www.schramsberg.com
Open By appointment
Cost $35-$60
Schramsberg offers one of the more unique and historic experiences in Napa. An informative tour leads small groups through the romantic, mysterious yet beautiful moss-covered caves, covers the history of this family-run winery, and offers a comprehensive explanation of their hands-on sparkling wine process. Afterward there is a relaxing, sit-down tasting in a handsome room, with an assortment of Schramsberg bubblies served. The Sparkling Affair option pairs the wines with tasty bites such as a puff pastry brimming with salmon, crème fraiche, caviar and dill.

DIVERSIONS

A DAY AT THE SPA

CALISTOGA SPA HOT SPRINGS
1006 Washington St., Calistoga
Telephone (866) 822-577; (707) 942-6269
Web Site www.calistogaspa.com

INDIAN SPRINGS SPA AND RESORT
1712 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga
Telephone (707) 942-4913
Web Site www.indianspringscalistoga.com

A pampered body is a happy body, and Napa is the place to indulge. There are more than a dozen health spas in the valley providing everything from pedicures and facials to mud baths and massages. While most resorts in the area have spas, the natural mineral springs in Calistoga have made it a popular destination since the 1860s. Calistoga Spa Hot Springs has four naturally heated swimming pools, and treatments include a one-hour massage with mud bath for $139. For something even more luxurious, Indian Springs offers a three-hour treatment that includes a facial, a body scrub or polish and a massage for $380.

FOOD AND WINE EDUCATION

CAMP NAPA CULINARY
3960 Hagen Road, Napa
Telephone (888) 999-4844; (707) 252-9773
Web Site www.hughcarpenter.com

CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA AT GREYSTONE
2555 Main St., St. Helena
Telephone (800) 888-7850
Web Site www.ciachef.edu/california

Eating and drinking well is a given when in Napa, but you can also educate yourself about wine, food and cooking while you're there. The Culinary Institute of America offers courses that range from one-day sessions such as Bold Flavors from Tuscany and Pinot Noir Around the World to weeklong Mastering Wine courses. Then there is Hugh Carpenter's Camp Napa Culinary, a weeklong adventure that includes hands-on cooking classes, dinners and winery tours. Carpenter. a Napa-based author and chef who offers several sessions a year, keeps things fun and lively. Fees for both programs range from $75 to $2,100.

California-based Wine Spectator editors James Laube, Augustus Weed and MaryAnn Worobiec collaborated on this report.

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