I recently fell in love with Napa all over again … its beauty, the people, the food and of course the wine! The drive from LA to the downtown area of Napa Valley is between 5 to 6 hours; not bad for a complete change of scenery. The downtown area has changed in a very positive light. Stores and restaurants abound near the river.
We stayed at the lovely Andaz Napa, a luxury boutique hotel that is warm and inviting. The Andaz Napa staff believes that you may arrive as a visitor, but with their help, you will leave as a local. We were immediately charmed by their hospitality. We drank their signature Minted Mule which was a delicious refreshment after our drive.
I toured the hotel with the Manager Aaron Feeney who has been with the Hyatt for nine years. There is no front desk, they greet you and are completely tech driven. The mini bars are free and from 5-6pm daily they have wine tasting and snacks in the lobby. Andaz Napa has a cool vibe along with comfortable warmth that made me forget that it is a Hyatt property. Andaz Napa’s space has removed barriers leaving it open with enhanced features. The complete renovation includes a beautiful terrace with two fire pits. Andaz Napa is a luxury boutique hotel and the perfect place to stay.
The terrace was so lovely, we decided to eat there and Executive Chef Sarah Linkenheil and Assistant Food and Beverage manager Dan Gaver made it a night to remember. They created a wine and food pairing that was beautiful and tasty! We started with the Farmer Crostini and Organic Spring Greens. Both were refreshing and had their own spin on the ingredients, which made them stand out. We ate Kofte Meatballs alongside a Cucumber Dill Dip with Feta cheese, bringing the Chef’s Greek heritage into the mix. The Steamed Mussels where beautiful and the Artisan Salumi Hush Puppies with Smoked Tomato Aioli were fabulous. Every course was great.
Additional selections include Cheese and Charcuterie to a Grass Fed Burger or Monteral Seasoning Hanger Steak. The Pastries…. Hello, it’s me! The Almond and Sweet Corn Doughnuts, that is all you have to say! The Executive Chef made them fun, a little different with an interesting spice influence. She works with seasonal changes and produces foods that honor that. They source food that is within 50 miles. Don’t miss this terrace and ask for a food and wine pairing; you will be in heaven.
There is a great gym next door to Andaz Napa, and guests are provided passes. The gym has classes, a pool, free weights, etc.
We went to Model Bakery on Monday for their homemade English Muffins and got so much more. Their English Muffins are light and airy and delicious. They also make the most amazing breads, beautiful pastries and serve terrific coffee. You can’t be downtown and miss out on Model Bakeries English Muffins and breads. Go early, they do run out!
We spent an amazing day with Brandon St. Martin; he is a certified wine professional, and a certified specialist of wine and certified sommelier that works with Michael Chiarello wines. He is passionate and originally from Austin, Texas, this wine connoisseur is living the dream in Napa, working Michael Chiarello and the heartfelt, quality of Chiarello Vineyards. Brandon is a quality person, who teaches us about the uniqueness of Chiarello’s wine portfolio in a relaxed, smart and fun way.
On a beautiful Napa afternoon we sat outside at the V Marketplace in Yountville to taste Chef Chiarello’s unique wines. The smell of homemade cheeses and charcuterie, as well as other quality products, were enticing. The combination of the lunch and exceptional wines were majestic. Brandon shared about how special the 1890 vineyard estate is in Santa Helena, Napa.
It is organically farmed by Chef Chiarello and vineyards legend “Amigo Bob Cantisano”. Thomas Rivers Brown is the winemaker since 2000 and Food and Wine’s “Winemaker of the Year “ with multiple 100-pt scoring wines. This is a one in a million winemaker.
Individuals and groups can schedule private tastings with Brandon. This is something I highly recommend and desire to do again and again!
Check out the options of wine tasting and experiencing more with Chef Chiarello’s celebration of wine and food with Club Simpatico. There are varied types of wine experiences to be had, from Presto to Prego to the Totale Experience, which is what we were fortunate enough to experience with Brandon. This is 90 minutes of guided tasting Chef Chiarello’s wine portfolio, which included: 2012 Chiara Bianco (Ribolla Gialla & Tocai Friulano) White Wine 2011 Giana Young Vine Zinfandel 2010 Bambino Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Felicia Old Vine Zinfandel (4 to 6 barrels annually; 1890’s vines; Potentially our last vintage) 2007 Eileen Cabernet Library Reserve 2010 Roux Old Vine Petite Sirah (4 to 6 barrels; 1890’s vines 2012 Chiara Rose of Zinfandel (rarely made; 6 barrels for 2012
The decadence of foods that accompanied the wines included: Cheeseboard with various charcuterie, cheeses, crostini, and nut Caesar Salad, Forever Roasted Pork Hot Panini: Slow roasted heritage Duroc pork with their signature fennel rub, Fontina cheese, mostarda di frutta on baguette Toasted-Spice Chicken Hot Panini: Grilled chicken rubbed with their signature toasted spice, olive oil, Braised potato, tomato, arugula on ciabatta.
I found myself enjoying each wine, going back to breath them in and allow them to evolve. It was difficult to find a favorite amongst such stellar wines, as I adored them all, but I fell in love with the Eileen Cab, named after Chef Chiarello’s wife. Brandon shared, "2007 was a perfect vintage for Napa Valley and Eileen is our flagship production, made from the Grace Clone (Cabernet Sauvignon), barrel-aged for 20 months in Taransaud and Darnajou French Oak barrels, estate single vineyard."
After a fabulous picnic, I went to the Southbridge Napa Valley Spa. They also have a beautiful gym that has the very best trainers. Next time I am booking a session because I understand they are first rate. The spa is calm and relaxing; they have a boutique that is small but nice. I went in for a massage. She provided me with exactly the type of massage I asked for and the facial left my skin glowing. I was given extra time with my facial, she truly cared about my skin while caring for me in the process. It was a wonderful experience. This is a quaint spa that provides you with pure relaxation.
Being perfectly relaxed, we went to Chef Michael Chiarello famous Bottega restaurant for dinner. I was so excited, because Michael has a way about food and wine that is not only trustworthy but his talent and knowledge are openly impressive. I could hardly wait it eat his food.
The first was a small bite, the presentation was gorgeous and so was the flavor of the Big Eye Tuna, which was on a diamond cut of pink salt. The first course was Porcini Mushrooms (which were delightfully meaty) with Rabbit Confit and Glazed Turnips. Every presentation was stellar.
The second course was quite fun as well as tasty: Green Eggs and Ham. We ate the Pasta Duo that included Lobster Canetelli, Soft Shell Crab/Lemon Fettuccini with Zucchini and Shaved cheese. Everything was an orchestra of flavor and melded so harmoniously that you felt like you were in food heaven.
Next was the Honey Glazed Duck Breast. Need I say more? It was succulent, rich, beautiful and melted in my mouth. The classic Short Rib was tender, mouth-watering good. It was served with Contornic Polenta under glass. The best Polenta I have ever tasted! For dessert we had a Cherry Tart, Panna Cotta, Xeppoles, Tiramisu and Amaro to finish. Talk about a melody, these desserts danced in my mouth.
The dinner took me to Italy and with each course I was romanced. Bottega is a must when you are in Napa. Call ahead for reservations or just drop by and sit on their lovely patio. Either way, you will be inspired.
From the inspiration found at Bottega, I was thrilled to be able to talk with Chef Michael Chiarello… the conversation showed his purity of heart, his zest for life and fervency for a job well done. He continues to evolve and shared how he is focused on authenticity, quality over quantity and makes wine to compliment food. He shared how each vine is like one of your children and needs attention every day, coddling as well as a varied amount of intervention for a structured life. Chef Michael Chiarello oozes passion about life, his love of family, people, and of course food and wine.
Chef Chiarello farms with integrity for the farm itself. Chef Chiarello shared how every grape is important with prime grapes that are blended for 10 different specialties. He continued that grapes are prone to have their own personalities. He chooses the root, the style of wine he wants to make and puts on top of it the clones. He informed me that most wine grapes won’t grow directly into the ground and found that allowing the grapes to grow the way they want to grow works best.
His understanding of farming is being natural for the highest good. “The family dynamic for farming has blown up. You used to have the family to work on the farm. I wanted to understand farming, be close to the farm always seemed critical. Converting to organic is not so simple. Chef Chiarello continued, wanting the soil to be as good as it can be… the experience is challenging.” As he talks about farming, wine, and food, he goes beyond the root of everything: the past, present and future are all a part of it. He respects and honors the land.
“Its spirit is glorious.” Chef Chiarello is deeply invested in understanding the farming component. Half of his vineyards are dry farming. “It is how it was done before electricity. Plants wean off water like a baby from a bottle.”
From wine to food his appetite for all of it is enormous. Chef Chiarello said, “It’s all about having a relationship with your food. Growing up Southern Italian, we would hike fifteen miles, shoot the rabbit, clean it and take what we needed. We did not need three rabbits to get full. It’s emotional to be satiated; the quantity is so much more than it was a decade ago and fifty to a hundred years ago. Chef Chiarello is sustainably minded. He said that one can find a behavior shift in yourself by reaching into the social environment and become body wise to be a wiser person, a better lover, partner, father.”
"When there is more flavor there is more meaning. Good tasting wine is not enough for me. The component of story-telling, the relationship with wines; each one has a story.” When I asked Chef Chiarello about Bottega, He said, "We cook for our guests. We have a community that works together with spirit and a foundation; if we do it well, it shines through. It’s all about the guest, through a celebration of food and wine. The good thing about it is you get up in the morning and do it again.” Fortunate us!
The next morning, before leaving Andaz Napa, I had breakfast at the Andaz Farmer’s Table with manager Aaron Feeney. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice, Cage Free Eggs, Homemade Granola; it was all so wonderful, how could I choose? It was going to be a long fabulous day, so I tried their Strawberry Rhubarb Pancakes and their Lox on a Model English Muffin; everything was delightful including the company.
Staying at Andaz Napa was a special experience, the service was exceptional the space is lovely and personal, the rooms and bathrooms are spacious and it makes for a wonderful trip to experience all of it in one place. This is the place to stay in downtown Napa Valley. You won’t want to leave.