Top Weekend in Napa Itinerary Ideas

We just got back from our annual trip to Napa Valley. Even though I came down with one of the worst colds of my life (tissues were worth their weight in gold), we still had an amazing time with good food and good wine. The Seattle rain today really has me missing the warm weather – good thing we have a case of wine shipping up here to last us the rest of winter. This year, we stayed in Yountville, just north of the city of Napa. Here’s what we loved about Napa this time around…and what we’ll definitely pass on next time.


Bouchon/Bouchon Bakery:  For those of us who can’t (or frankly would never choose to) afford Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, Bouchon is a more than adequate alternative, especially for lunch. The steak frites with truffle fries is my favorite Napa meal, while the scallops are the best my husband has ever had. It’s an expensive lunch, but that steak fills me up so much that I skip dinner. Bouchon Bakery next door ALWAYS has a line, but it’s worth the wait. When you walk in, prepare to ‘oo’ and ‘ahh’ at the display case. Oh, you thought you already knew what you wanted? Fugettaboutit! The “Oh-noyoudidn’t” is a chocolate dipped macaron. Enough said.

Napa Weekend Itinerary Bouchon

Bouchon: That’s probably French for ‘yum.’

Ma(i)sonry: Located in in one of the oldest buildings in Yountville, this winery collective and contemporary art gallery looked like the kind of place I’d be intimidated by with its expensive modern art and hipster employees. But our extremely positive experience shattered that expectation! Each host was very friendly (it didn’t hurt that they’re native Marylanders, like us). The tasting experience is unique in that 1) it usually takes place in their sunny sculpture garden surrounded by interesting art, and 2) instead of a set tasting menu, your personal host will bring wines for you to try based on your palette preferences. With wines that range from $12/bottle to $250/bottle, there really is wine for every palette in every price range, and remember, these are wines you really can’t purchase anywhere else  – these boutique wineries don’t even have tasting rooms. The icing on the cake – shipping to Seattle was only $11!

Napa Weekend Itinerary Maisonry

Ma(i)sonry: Beautiful day, beautiful building.

The Vintage Inn: Out of all my travels, this might be my favorite hotel – no kidding. Even though I was pretty sick this whole trip, this Yountville hotel was extremely comfortable. It’s perfectly located, and even if it wasn’t, the grounds of the hotel are beautiful enough, with fountains, flowers, and lux pool, that it’s hard to leave. The second floor rooms have spacious balconies and wood-burning fireplaces that come with Duraflame logs and a bottle of wine. On top of all of that, the complimentary breakfast cannot be beat with mimosas and bloody marys, an omelette bar (the omelette guy is a serious pro), waffle bar, and so many other pastries and traditional breakfast foods. We had a wonderful stay and will definitely be back.


Bottega: Celebrity-chef Michael Chiarello’s restaurant was crazy loud – so loud my husband and I didn’t speak most of dinner because we couldn’t hear one another from across the table! It’s one of those menus where they encourage you to get an appetizer, a “primi” pasta dish and “secondi” main course. You would think the dishes would get better and better with each course, but it was just the opposite. A beautiful, fresh antipasta app, a simple but tasty pasta carbonara, and the just ‘meh’ spare ribs. With so many courses, we were too full, and too put off by the noise, we couldn’t make it to dessert.

Mumm Napa: Mumm is one of our go-to sparkling wines when we stop at Bev-Mo so we thought hey, let’s visit the source. Their tasting room is in a gorgeous location in a valley of grape vines and they have a photography gallery on-site featuring an impressive Ansel Adams collection. Unfortunately, the service was as dry as the wine. Our host did not show any enthusiasm for the wine, or for us. “Take a look at the tasting menu and when I come back, I want to see some ID.” I wonder if he was a police officer or a high school teacher in his previous career? He dropped off the tasting bill without a word. Needless to say, the closest we’ll be to Mumm again will be at our local Bev-Mo where the service is always great!

Napa weekend itinerary mumm

Mumm: Gorgeous grounds, grumpy service.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars: Also known for the “million dollar apostrophe.” I know, I know, this is a Napa Valley legend, but honestly, I was not wowed by the wine or the tasting room experience. I have a feeling this winery is always packed, and our visit was no exception. We were luckily able to get a space standing at the tasting bar with a nice gentleman to pour our wine. For all the hype, the wines just didn’t stick with me the way I thought they would for the cost. Checking it off the Napa Valley bucket list and moving on.

Napa weekend itinerary stag's leap

Stag’s Leap: Not to be confused with Stags’ Leap.

All and all, another great trip to Mecca…I mean, Napa Valley. Now if only I can get rid of this cold, sinus infection, plague, whatever. Looking forward to planning another trip for next year…with less cold medication!

How to enjoy wine: It’s not just for snobs!

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
― Paulo CoelhoBrida

I love wine. There is nothing better than enjoying a glass with my hubby at the end of the day. It’s hard to believe that in college, the girls drank Barefoot, Franzia and Yellow Tail and thought, well at least it’s not Natty Lite. We thought we were so fancy then, drinking wine out of red solo cups, maybe even a wine cooler if we were feeling wild. Little did we know there is a whole world of wine that exists outside of the jug and box.

Before: Nothing said “Let’s party!” like a fresh box of wine.

I discovered this world when we moved from Maryland to Seattle after college. Turns out, Washington state is the largest producer of premium wines (a.k.a. non-jug or box wines, that glamorous title goes to California) in the U.S. and despite the notorious Seattle rain, the weather east of the Cascade Mountains is pretty perfect for growing grapes. There’s a number of growing regions east of Seattle in the central and southern portions of the state that are on close to the same latitude line as some of the best grape growing regions in the world, France’s Bordeaux and Burgundy regions. Because of this, a lot of the common French grape varietals grow well in WA (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay) and they’re all worth trying.

Everyone has a “gateway” wine and most people will admit they started out sweet and white (insert probably inappropriate joke here).  Some are introduced first to sweet or sparkling Rieslings or Moscats (Moscato). Mine was Pinot Grigio, which is typically pretty fruity. So how do you go from “No reds for me, please” to “Bring me something dark, bold, and beautiful?” It definitely takes an adventurous and dedicated palette.

After: Keeping it classy. No more boxed wine for me!

My tips for how to drink wine:

Go wine tasting.

Did you know wine is produced in all 50 states. That means, maybe even unbeknownst to you, there’s probably a winery tasting room near you! Not all of these wineries grow their own grapes, and some might not even be using grapes at all, but it’s an opportunity you should not pass up. Visiting a winery not only supports a local business, but you’ll probably learn a lot as well. For a small tasting fee (commonly waived with purchase), you have the opportunity to try several wines without the pressure of downing a whole glass. Read the tasting notes and ask questions. Remember, this is not a shot of wine to drink in one gulp – you should take a few small sips to make sure you’ve thoroughly tasted the wine. Swish the wine around in your glass and in your mouth, and smell the wine – I mean seriously, get your nose in there. Treat this as a real experiment in expanding your palette and take your time.

Know how to describe what you do or don’t like. 

Do you like a wine that is sweet, or do you prefer one that is dry (opposite of sweet)? Does it taste crisp, almost refreshing? Or is not crisp, but soft? Many people say they do not like wines that are bitter or give the feeling of dry-mouth – these wines are fairly tannic. If you can put into words what you like about certain wines, and what you really don’t like, this can help you navigate (or allow someone else to help you) to find other wine types that might better fit your taste buds.

Visit you local wine shop. 

If a winery is too far out of the way, try your local wine shop. In WA, wine can be sold outside of state-run stores so wine shops are often run by passionate (and often incredibly knowledgeable) winos who pick the wines they carry like they’re picking out a ring. They will be more than happy to help you find a bottle you’d like to try, and many even do their own tastings. No local wine shop? Try your local big box wine/beer stores like Total Wine & More or BevMo! where you can often taste some of their specials or chat with wine-trained personnel. Even some grocery stores like Safeway have beefed up their wine selection and offer tastings on occasion.

Pair wine with food. 

Why not wine and dine? Food can be a huge complement to wine and certain wines taste far better with certain foods. A cold, crisp Chenin Blanc can be the perfect way to wash down a spicy Asian dish, just like a bold Cabernet can warm you up alongside a hearty beef stew. You can often find food pairing info online, or you can check with your local wine shop for suggestions. The perfect time to pair wine with food is at a restaurant, where the waiter or sommelier can often suggest which of their wines to pair with your upcoming meal.

Drink wines as they are meant to be drank. 

This might go without saying, but not all wines are enjoyed at the same temperature and drinking a wine well outside of its intended temp will definitely skew the taste. Unless you have a wine fridge (I don’t), you’ll rely on your own refrigerator. Assuming you’re storing your wine at about room temperature (let the wine snobs gasp, but I do), white wines should typically go in the fridge at least an hour or two before you plan to enjoy it. I serve my red wines at room temperature, however I’ve heard some people will put them in the fridge for a quick 20 minutes before serving as well. Don’t drink wine right after you open the bottle. Let it sit out for at least a few minutes to “open up.” You’ll find that a little waiting can really go a long way.

Drink wine with friends. 

Opening a bottle for all to try is kind of like hosting your own personal wine tasting experience. Also, there is just something intimate and fun in catching up with friends with a glass of wine in hand. If you don’t have friends (or at least ones that drink wine), try seeking out a local wine club or see if lists any in your area.

Never pass up an opportunity to try something new.

 Trying new wines is the only way to expand your taste preferences. There are over 1,000 different grape varietals out there – gotta catch ’em all! Even let your palette travel internationally through wines from across the world. When you sit down at a restaurant with a wine list, or walk into an aisle that is wine as far as the eye can see – don’t be overwhelmed! You’re a figurative kid in a candy store! Enjoy!

Ultimately, drink what you like!

Without judgement. Seriously, wine snobs, be damned! Wine should be something  you enjoy, not something you feel like you have to muster through, like compound fractions or a root canal. If you only like Pinots, then Pinot it up! If you only like dessert wines, then have your cake and drink it, too! Hell, if you find you really can’t stand wine at all, then enjoy your beer. The important thing is that you don’t automatically write off wine, in general, as something too frou-frou, too dry, or too sweet for you. Try to keep an open mind, and always a curious palette.