Sally and I recently took a weeklong road trip through several of California’s wine regions, including Paso Robles, Mendocino, Sonoma, and Napa. We’ve assembled this short guide in case you’re thinking of embarking on a similar adventure.
We stayed at La Bellaserra, which is one freeway exit south of downtown. The upscale accommodations are about half the cost of the one or two similar hotels in Paso Robles, and La Bellaserra has the added advantage of being right off both the 101 Freeway and Highway 46, giving you easy access to area wineries.
We dined at Artisan on our first night, which is an excellent farm-to-table style bistro. Habaneros was perfect for a casual Mexican dinner while the French cuisine at Bistro Laurent hit the spot one day at lunch.
Unfortunately, our wine choices on this trip were much less exciting that our 2011 visit. It could be due to the individual wineries we visited or a particularly challenging 2010 vintage that most wineries were pouring. Whatever the case, the only one that truly stood out was Herman Story, which was already one of our favorite wineries and one of only two wineries where we’re club members.
The Albion River Inn, located approximately 10 miles south of the town of Mendocino, is paradise for those seeking unvarnished relaxation. Perched on the cliff above the Albion River, you can view the ocean from your private deck or retreat inside your room to warm up by your fireplace.
Dining options in this area are a bit limited, so we had dinner two out of three nights at the Albion River Inn’s outstanding restaurant. A great lunch spot is the Little River Market & Deli, which doesn’t look like much from the outside, but serves up an outstanding variety of deli options for take-out or dine in.
Our last visit to this wine region was a bit disappointing because many of the wineries’ current releases were of very poor quality due to a 2008 fire that caused a lot of the wine to taste like smoke. The wine was better this time around, with favorites including the unusual varietals and spectacular view from the seaside Pacific Star Winery and the fantastic sparkling wine at Scharffenberger Cellars.
We were just passing through, so no suggestions for accommodations, but we did enjoy some nice sandwiches from the Dry Creek General Store in Healdsburg.
Winery stops included Raymond Burr Vineyards, a limited-production winery named after the late actor that keeps their lineup of varietals focused and tasty. We also dropped by Ridge Vineyards, an old favorite that is responsible for our oft-used phrase, “You can’t go wrong with a Ridge Zin.”
The Napa River Inn is one of our favorite hotels and their location in downtown Napa provides ready access to a number of restaurants within easy walking distance. Walking to dinner is always a great idea after a day of wine tasting.
Except for a small indulgence at Cole’s Chop House, our dining in Napa was casual. The Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ is a great place to soak up the local vibe and enjoy some tasty and unpretentious barbeque. If you want to go really casual, try the Oxbow Public Market, where you can eat your way through the food stands. Of course, no trip to Napa would be complete without a lunch stop at the iconic Oakville Grocery's deli counter.
A few of our favorite wineries from this trip were several small-production wineries off the crowded, limo-trodden Napa trail including Beneserre Vineyards, Robert Biale Vineyards, and Elyse. Of course, no trip to Napa would be complete without sampling the incredible wines at Cuvaison Estate Wines.