Frog’s Leap- an organic winery with wines that make you leap for joy.

It’s a $15 tasting fee that includes a one-hour tour of the property, and includes a sampling of 4 of their wines.  Just walking around the grounds makes for a nice visit as the setting is stunningly beautiful.  There is the red barn that is part of the old ghost wineries of Napa Valley, and lots of information about organic farming and winemaking and how they utilize these processes.  Most impressive, though, are the wines themselves.  I’m not a huge Sauvignon Blanc fan, but I enjoyed theirs.  Their Zinfandel, though a bit peppery for me, had a nice round fruit flavor I enjoyed.  The Merlot was delicious, and the Cabernet was just beautiful.  The day we visited we were treated to a food and wine pairing experience, and that can make all the difference.  It is amazing how you can taste the wine, then take a bite of food, and then taste the wine while your chewing/swallowing, and presto! the wine is so much better.  The flavors either pop out, or they mellow, or it just becomes a smooth finish with the meal.  Unfortunately they don’t provide food and wine pairings so you’ll have to use your imagination when you ask what they would “pair” this with during a meal.


Paraduxx: a perfect pairing with cheese in a beautiful setting.

I have to admit my reluctance to hit some of the more well-known wineries that are part of what we call the Rodeo Drive of Napa Valley.  Paraduxx is one of those, as is Cakebread, Duckhorn, Rubicon, Opus One, Silver Oak, etc.  All big names with big marketing budgets.  Our philosophy is typically: if you can get it at home, then don’t drink it here.  Find what you cannot find at home and introduce your family and friends to something unique and different.  Still, we had been invited and we accepted the invitation to do some wine tasting.  First, Paraduxx produces blends- an important distinction for some wine drinkers, but not so much for Jamie and me.  As long as it tastes good, I’ll buy it and drink it.  Driving into Paraduxx you are unable to see the real magic, which is the tasting room, outdoor garden area, and production area.  It is a lovely space where there are tables and chairs outdoors underneath a canopy of oak trees, you are surrounded by the vineyards, and they bring you the wine with a pairing of cheeses to the table.  You sit casually, nibble, sip, and read about the wines. If you have questions, they are available to answer; but mostly it is an experience of enjoying the sights, sounds, and tastes of Napa.  As for their wines, I really enjoyed them.  I’m not a Zinfandel fan per se, but their wines are all Zinfandel blends, so they play with the flavors which is always fun.  I have to admit- I liked it.  Lastly, they provide a winemaker’s course for those who would like to learn how to blend themselves.  A fun event for you to sit with your friends in the barrel room, blend wines, and to take some of it home with you.  Tours run around $30 to $40 dollars per person, depending on what experience you want, and how many wines you want to try.  Well worth a visit here in Napa Valley.

A private vineyard with a private dinner.

Our friend, Gordon Larum, took us to a vineyard last week that is very private.  Set up on a hillside, you park the car and walk along a hillside path that is rocky and barren, through some scrub brush, and come out onto a two-tiered platform with tables and chairs under a wooden canopy, and look out onto the most spectacular view of Napa Valley.  There is no tasting room, no bathrooms (except the bushes and trees), no running water.  We could have stayed there all day.  When the winemaker, Peter, pulled out his wine he started with his ’02 release, then worked us up through his ’03, and then ’04, describing his blend, the differences from year to year, and why he chose to change the blend proportions from year to year.  The wine is not inexpensive ($75/bottle on up), but it is really good.  When it was over he told us that he offers private dinners up there for $150 per person, or lunches, for $100 per person, with all the wine you can drink.  You can rent a port-o-potty for $75 that he will bring onto the property for the event if you want it.  It is a casual affair: jeans and tennis shoes, and yet it is a special place.  It is pretty amazing.  My one suggestion: hire a driver for the night.  You don’t want to be coming down the mountain after a dining/wine experience like that.  He is willing to allow us to book these events and we are glad to give you his name when you schedule and pay for the event.  That was our commitment to the winemaker who wants to keep this small and intimate and private.

Hurley’s: great food, great ambience.

Hurley’s is Bob Hurley’s long-established restaurant in Yountville.  Hurley’s provides both patio and indoor dining, the patio establishing a more casual feel, and the dining room inside a more upscale feel.  We chose the patio because it was a perfect Napa evening to be sitting under the stars out in the open air.  The special that night was the soup, a corn chowder that was just beautiful in presentation and clean with flavor.  Jamie enjoyed a Caesar salad with shaved parmesan cheese, focaccia croutons, and an anchovy filet, and then moved onto one of my personal favorites- the boar stew over soft polenta.  It is Chef Bob Hurley’s signature dish, and it is incredibly delicious (a not to be missed experience in Napa).  Sometimes on his menu you will find fresh salmon or halibut that Bob just caught on a recent fishing trip; that, too, is part of the charm of this place- his personal touch with the food selection.  I decided to take on the Tamarind – Chipotle Glazed Antelope Short Ribs that night, and they were “fall off the bone” and “packed with flavor” served with bok choy.  For dessert we shared the ice cream sandwich, a regular part of his menu, and that was a perfect finish to the meal.  It is a hazelnut praline, vanilla gelato, and raspberry coulis- a perfect ending to the meal.  Chef Bob Hurley may not be on television, but his food is definitely equal to any chef who is on the food network.

Kingfish: a casual place for lunch in the Bay Area

For those headed to San Francisco Airport and have some time on their hands before their flight, I would highly recommend a small side-trip to the town of San Mateo.  Quaint, with lots of shops and little eateries along South B Street, one of their main thoroughfares.  We chose Kingfish Restaurant as our destination that day for lunch, as we were looking for special grasses for the front yard to replace the roses and there is a nursery in San Mateo that specializes in those.  The ambience is casual, with a slice of Southern charm throughout.  The restaurant feels comfortable, and the food follows in line with that.  We enjoyed the Jambalaya, rich with sausage and chicken pieces throughout the seasoned rice, as well as the chicken avocado sandwich.  We also saw the French Dip sandwich come out that looked really big and luscious.  Oh well, for the next time.  And the front yard, by the way, really looks great with the new grasses!