Three months before, the idea of a journey to the ultimate wine country — some Sonoma and mostly Napa Valley — came into the planning stage.
It was going to be harvest time, a difficult time at best to get the attentions of wine makers and managers of wineries, but critical to what I wanted: Access to the truth about this year’s harvest and what we could expect from 2015.
The millions of bottles from the more than 500 wineries will start coming to market next year.
In mid-September I flew to the lovely little “Snoopy” airport, the Charles Schulz, just above Santa Rosa, an hour and 20 minute flight from San Diego. A rental without wait quickly got me to the pristine village of Sonoma.
After a Pinot Noir tasting at the cottage of Walt Wines in the Plaza — that I’ll bring up in another issue — my destination in Sonoma was the critically acclaimed wine/food center of excellence, Carneros Bistro.
This beautifully designed restaurant is centrally located in the Lodge at Sonoma, with hotel, restaurant, wine bar, spa and shops. It offers many wine choices with reasonable pricing, collected by Sommelier Joshua Betts who enjoys finding little-known but excellent wines like the Riesling from S.A.Prumm, in the Mosel area of Germany.
Equally lovely was the presentation of a bottle of Almus, a single vineyard cabernet from the Napa Valley Pritchard Hill district. It was a 2008 that had significant seasoning to soften tannins and add complexity.
Carneros Bistro is a gem of a dining room. It has a vast open kitchen and it was a delight to watch Executive Chef Joshua Murray mastermind the many meals being created with his team to present to an upbeat room.
I ordered from the menu, but Murray kept bringing us his personal specialty samplers, some of which I had not been familiar with. After some reservation on my part, he explained the personal ingredients he had infused with such dishes as: Wood Grilled Octopus, Sonoma Foie Gras and BBQ Pork Belly.
All were firsts for me and after sampling, I felt good making the great leap forward to exotic dining. Menu items favored were: Farmers Market Salad with luscious figs, Wood grilled Ora King Salmon from Australia and Grilled Niman Ramch Steak with roasted fingerling potatoes, broccolini, cauliflower puree and cabernet syrup.
Murray came from another favorite resort of mine, the Marriott Desert Springs in Palm Desert and insists on a farm to table style of menu.
The Renaissance Lodge at Sonoma Resort & Spa is a member of the Marriott Group. To discover more, go to Marriott.com/sfols.
On to Napa Valley
On day two, all I could hear about was the wildfire in a town in Lake County just north of the Napa Valley line and was taking out everything in front of it. Traffic was stopped at Calistoga, Napa Valley’s northernmost town.
I arrived after a 45-minute drive from Sonoma, across the Carneros district and up to Yountville, arriving at Hill Family Estate where I met the expressive Bill Miller, who guided me through the family garden that services fresh ingredients to most of the restaurants in the area. Earlier in Hill’s history the family provided similar service for many wineries in Napa Valley. They grew grapes from over a thousand acres, and sold them to some of the most prestigious wineries. Now, only the best are reserved for Hill Family Estate. Look them up at hillfamilyestate.com.
On Wednesday, day three, the rains came and subdued the renegade fire — another miracle from the place of miracles, Napa Valley.
Part two of the Best Wine & Food Tour Ever will be seen in next week’s column.
A.R. Valentien, at the Lodge Torrey Pines in La Jolla, presents a special artisan table wine dinner with ZD Wines Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m. Chef Jeff Jackson and Chef Kelli Crosson will team up with ZD members Brandon deLeuze and Scott Billeci. $140 per person. Call (858) 777-6635 for reservations.
La Costa Wine Co. has an Open House Tasting of 30-plus wines Oct. 24 from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Cost is $20. More at (760) 431-8455.
Vittorio’s in Carmel Valley has a Tuscany Tour of wine and food Oct. 29 starting at 6 p.m. $49.50 RSVP at (858) 538-5884.
Il Fornaio Coronado presents a Mondavi Wine Dinner Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. $65. Reservations at (619) 437-4911.
Justine Vineyards and Winery from Paso Robles will host a four-course dinner with their wine Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. in the underground wine cave at Pala Casino Spa & Resort. $68. Call (877) 946-7252. Ask to “book the wine dinner on Oct. 30.”
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web. View his columns at tasteofwinetv.com, and reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook.