Jerome, Arizona

The State of Arizona is a wonderland for vacationers.  There are the thriving metropolis of Phoenix and its tony suburb, Scottsdale, where you can visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West.  Natural beauties abound.  There are the magnificent red rocks of Sedona, the Painted Desert and more stunning than any other natural wonder is the Grand Canyon.  We encourage you to avail yourself of all the best that Arizona has to offer.

And if you have one more day, we suggest you drive to the tiny village of Jerome.  Once a thriving mining town, Jerome once had 15,000 residents.  But then the mine closed, the people left and it became a veritable ghost town.  Today, Jerome has been revived as…well, there’s no other way to say it, Jerome is a tourist destination.  Not a trap, it’s too much for that.  But it exists only so that tourists can come look at it, eat a meal or two, buy souvenirs and leave.

Jerome as it once was… Photo courtesy of the Jerome Grand Hotel.

So why are we featuring it as a Place to Visit in Power Tasting?  Because there are local wines to taste in Jerome.

…And as it is today.  Photo courtesy of Experience Scottsdale.

Every state in America has vineyards.  The three Pacific states make world renowned wines.  A few others are producing some creditable wines.  It is Power Tasting’s policy not to say bad things about any winery, but we aren’t urging you to make the journey to Jerome just for the wines.  But we do recommend that you make it if you are in the area.

Getting there is half the fun, if your idea of fun is driving up a long, steep road.  You are rewarded for that drive by magnificent views across the desert.  If you’re the one driving, keep your eyes on the road; if you’re a passenger, try not to let your knuckles get too white.

Once you get into town and find somewhere to park, the best thing to do is just walk around.  In some ways, Jerome is small-town America, with the emphasis on “small”.  In another, it’s a lovingly recreated (and somewhat embellished) corner of the now-lost West.  There are no gunfights on Main Street and probably never were, but there are saloons, cafes, galleries and restored buildings.

And there are winery tasting rooms.  Among them are Caduceus Cellars, Merkin Vineyards, Jerome Winery, Vina Zona, Echo Canyon and others.  Most of them offer a fairly wide selection of wines, starting with the expected varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.  But many feature less common grapes like Aglianico, Nebbiolo, Garnacha and blends of just about anything they can grow.  We don’t think that any of these grapes were intended for production in the High Chaparral, but there are some hardy pioneers who are doing it.

A visit to Jerome may not reward the avid wine taster with a life-changing experience.  But you can have a fun day visiting a restored ghost town.  And when you get home, you can brag that you tasted wines made in Arizona.

A Fantastic Place to Visit

Each month Power Tasting features a Place to Visit.  It’s in Wine Country somewhere, but is not necessarily wine-related.  We’ve taken you to small villages, medieval cities, a trade show and great wine bars.  This month, we’d like to suggest that everyone take a very close look at a very special place: your own immediate neighborhood.

We live in Manhattan’s West Village sector.  When it’s not raining, we take brief walks and we get to see our neighborhood in a very different way.  The streets are almost deserted, both of cars and pedestrians.  There are more people in the park than we’d like, so we avoid it most of the time.  Some people are wearing masks; most aren’t.

But it’s still New York and it’s still spring.  We don’t know a lot about flowering trees but we think Google is telling us that the white ones are calley pear trees and the pink ones are well, pretty pink trees.

We’re walking along streets we don’t usually take.  Even though West Street is on one side of our apartment building, we don’t usually walk there because there’s really no place to go.  Normally, the traffic on this major artery alongside the river is quite heavy, so a walk amidst the fumes isn’t very inviting.  But with the traffic almost all gone, it’s more pleasant, even though there’s still nothing very interesting along it.  But with our horizons shrinking in, we have found a little spot where the city has planted a mini-garden and a park bench, sadly often occupied by a homeless fellow.  There are a few restaurants we have pledged to try when the city re-opens.  And we’re seeing the back end of the Whitney Museum, a view we don’t usually get.

When we have gotten into Hudson River Park on a bright sunny day, we see New York in suspended animation.  There’s the biergarten that will hopefully return with warmer weather.  An interesting statue of the New York symbol, the Big Apple.  The river itself, with fewer boats than usual.  Two long piers, one that reaches well into the Hudson and provides stunning views of the city.  Remember, all these sights are not more than ten minutes from our door, on foot.

We live along the Hudson River

New York is all about BIG.  But these days, we’re seeing New York in miniature.  We take the time to notice the 19th century row houses, the cobblestone streets, the tall, new glass-and-steel apartments and the chipping paint on some of the older ones.  We know those things were there before but now we’re seeing them as the only parts of outdoors that are readily available to us.  Quite frankly, we look forward to the time when we will walk by these things without taking special notice.  When we’ll smile at passers-by, not walk into the street to avoid breathing the same air as they do.  When we can board a plane and go wine tasting.

It will be better someday.  But our neighborhood will always be a place to visit.  And then, when you do, you’ll be able to stop in a trattoria for a glass of wine.

VinExpo New York 2020

This month’s Places to Visit article is about a place most wine lovers can’t visit.  It’s a trade show that was held in March in New York City’s Javits Center for the international wine trade.  As Power Tasting’s reporters are considered to be “trade”, we were able to attend and are pleased to offer our readers an account of what the event was all about.

Part of the French pavilion at VineExpo New York 2020.

It was mostly about the business of wine.  In particular, growers from all over the world sought importers and distributors so that they could sell their wines in the US, especially on the Eastern Seaboard.  And of course, importers and distributors were looking for new producers without the expense of travelling overseas.  [VinExpo New York occurred on March 2 and 3, after the coronavirus had begun to spread but before it was the worldwide crisis it has become.]

Wines were displayed (and tasted) from all over the globe: France, Italy and Spain being the most prominently positioned, but Brazil, the Czech Republic, South Africa and Georgia also had sizable exhibits.  (That’s Georgia from the Caucasus, not from Dixie.)  There was a huge tasting area for organic wines.  There were also numerous exhibits of wine accompaniments, such as glasses, barware and preservation systems.

Jeffrey Franklin of the Society of Wine Educators discussing (and tasting) with Armelle Cruse and Paul Maron of Cru Bourgeois du Medoc.

There were also many lectures and curated tastings.  These were split between sessions that were clearly for those in the wine business, such as a panel discussion sponsored by Wine Spectator on “The Changing World of Wine Retail in the US” and others that were about wines from certain locations, such as the Czech Republic and Sonoma County.  Not surprisingly, the lectures that included tastings were the ones most widely attended.

So what was to be learned that is of interest to (shall we say “non-professional”) wine tasters?

  • Wine is a business and internationally it’s a big business. From the casual buyer to the connoisseur, wine drinkers buy hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of wine each year.  We learned that this market is expected to grow to more than $400 billion by 2023.  As a group, we wine tasters have some economic clout.
  • Some very good wines are being made in places other than those we’re accustomed to. Brazilian sparkling wine?  Not bad.  Czech Muller-Thurgau?  Worth sipping.  With wine being made in all fifty of the United States, we Americans shouldn’t be surprised by other countries’ entry into the market.
  • Small producers have a tough time breaking into the US market. Of course, this does not come as a shock.  With the shipper, the importer, the distributor and the retailer (or restaurateur) adding their costs to the price of a bottle, it is either not financially feasible for many small wine houses to sell here or for many customers to take a chance with a virtually unknown wine.
  • There’s more to the wine business than wine. Somebody makes money selling the rack you store the wine in, the gizmo you use to pull out the cork and the glasses you sip it from.  Of course, you knew that.  But seeing it all in one place reminds us that there’s an awful lot of money needed to get the wines we love get from the vine to our tables.

Pézenas, France

Pézenas is a quiet commune of 8,000 souls, nestled in the uplands of the Languedoc.  As with most villages in that region, wines are made all around it, mostly blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Because of the schist soil, the wines there tend to be a bit stony.  If you are in the region for wine tasting, you should also stop to visit the village.

The local tourist people make a big deal about Molière, who lived there for awhile in the 1650s.  His great acclaim came in Paris later on, but the people of Pézenas claim him as a “local boy made good” to this day.  You’ll find a statue of the great playwright across from the Brasserie Molière and the Grand Hotel Molière.  There’s a pretty row of cafés there, but they’re rather touristy.

Along the Cours Jean Jaurès in Pézenas, with the Collégiale Saint-Jean in the background.

You should definitely explore the eateries in Pézenas.  On the advice of a local gentleman out walking his dog, we had a superb three-course meal, with wine, for under fifty euros for two people.  Just taking a coffee along the delightfully decorated main drag, the Cours Jean Jaurès, and you know you’re in France.

On that same street, the Piscenois (for so the local inhabitants call themselves) host a grand outdoor market every Saturday.  It takes up the entire center of town and is well-attended by the townspeople and tourists alike.

All the above are great reasons to visit Pézenas.  Best of all, nestled within the charming village is a medieval one.  It has been preserved, cleaned up and adorned with the sorts of shops and galleries that tourists seem to adore.  Yes, we could have done with a few less chocolateries, but it is fair to say that people in the Middle Ages must have walked these narrow streets to buy their bread and olives, so why should we scoff at the commerce that makes this little corner of history possible.

The town square in medieval Pézenas.

You enter through a stone portal on the aforementioned Cours Jean Jaurès and you find yourself carried back eight centuries.  You have choice of streets to follow.  To the right you’ll eventually find yourself in the ancient town square.  There you can stop for a meal or a drink and pretend to be a few centuries older than you are.  From there, too, you can choose from among several streets, alleys really, in which to wander.

The ancient ghetto of Pézenas.

Everywhere you turn, you’re likely to find something to delight your eyes.  Here there’s a fountain, there a statue, up the street a merchant’s house that you’re welcome to inspect.  We found most moving the ancient Jewish ghetto.  Yes, even then, even here, discrimination flourished.  Of course, today this section holds housing for all who can afford it.

That is the overall attraction of Pézenas.  Side by side you find the contemporary, memories of greatness and a wonderfully preserved bit of long-ago times.  And all surrounded by the vineyards of Languedoc!



The Little Wine Shop

This story occurred in Taormina, a resort town on the cliffs above the Mediterranean, on the east coast of Sicily.  But it could have been anywhere.

The bay o\f Taormina

We checked into our hotel and, as we had reserved, saw that we had a large terrace attached to our room, with a motor-driven shade that made it tolerable to sit there in the heat of the afternoon Sicilian sun.  The view was so gorgeous, we knew immediately that we had to have a bottle of white wine for sipping while admiring the view.  So we asked the front desk where we might buy some and they recommended a shop a few blocks away (and up the hill), called Mamma Mia.


Mamma Mia enoteca.  Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor.

Mamma Mia!  Could there be anything more stereotypical than a shop by that name.  (Actually, the sign in front said, in English, New Mamma Mia, so maybe there was an old one somewhere.)

One side of the shop was a convenience store cum salumeria, the other an enoteca.  Both sides were presided over by a young man named Fernando.  As we entered, he was selling olives to another couple who then wanted some wine.  They didn’t speak Italian and Fernando didn’t understand whatever language they spoke but it became clear that they were looking for a cool, refreshing and inexpensive wine.

After they left it was our turn and we guessed Fernando thought that two more foreigners would want the cheap stuff, too.  That wasn’t what we were after and in our broken Italian we made that clear to him.  So he pulled a few biancos off the wall that cost around twenty euros apiece.  We decided to buy one if he had it on ice but then asked if he had anything better or, in fact, to show us his best wine.  (This entailed a lot of hand motions, a little English, maybe a word or two of French and whatever Italian we could dredge up from our limited vocabulary.)

So he reached back and showed us a bottle of white wine for forty euros, which he said was his best and most expensive.  He was a little apprehensive about suggesting such a high-priced wine but also a little eager to show some interested visitors what he considered to be the best of Sicily.  So in addition to the one we had already chosen, we took the top wine, which he did not have refrigerated.  We had a small fridge in our room, so we bought some olives, a piece of cheese and some sausage and went back to our hotel to enjoy the view.

The ”special” wine

The next day we had our little feast for lunch and opened the “special’ wine.  It was a Duca di Salaparuta Bianca di Valguarnera Bianco Terre Siciliane, and it was among the most enjoyable white wines we had ever tasted.  But it’s only available in Italy, maybe only in Sicily.  During our stay in Taormina, we became regulars at Mamma Mia’s enoteca and salumeria.

Moral of the story: in your travels, when you want a good bottle of wine, ask where the locals shop and get their best.  You’ll rarely be disappointed.


Tasting in Napa Valley – A Status Report

In the more than 40 years that we have been visiting Napa Valley, we’ve seen many changes.  Some have been for the better, some for the worse as would only be expected over such a long period of time.  Fortunately, some things will never change.  The mountains and the valley floor will always be beautiful, showing different characteristics as the seasons pass.  The earth will always support superb vines.  And, so we hope, those vines will be producing extraordinary wines for many years to come.

For those like us who take pleasure in visiting Napa Valley for wine tasting, we present our perspective on the plusses and minuses of the region today.

  • The top wineries may be making the finest wines, year after year, that have ever been made there. In a recent visit we focused on the reserve tasting at some of the best vineyards.  Almost without exception (there were a few, but we’ll let those pass) the red wines in particular equaled or surpassed anything we have tasted before.  The wines from the drought years are maturing admirably and the recent vintages sparkle.  You are almost certain to sip great wines when you visit.
  • Merlot is less available in tasting rooms, while Malbec is becoming more prominent. Of course there are still great Merlots to be sampled.  Beringer’s Bancroft Ranch and Pine Ridge’s Carneros Merlot were our recent favorites.  But more and more wineries are featuring single varietal Malbecs.  Although it is historically a Bordeaux grape, the Bordelais barely use it anymore.  We suspect that its new popularity stems from its dominant use in Argentine wines.

The tasting room at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

  • Wine tasting prices have skyrocketed. You will have to pay a pretty penny to sample the top wines, though.  Based on a non-scientific sample, we can report that $45 is table stakes to taste reserve wines.  Mondavi charges $75 for a reserve tasting; Joseph Phelps charges $85.  You can partake of a tasting in Pete Buttiegieg’s wine cave (actually it’s at Hall Rutherford) for $125.  Wine tasting in Napa Valley has become unaffordable for many people.  Moreover, the prices of the top wines at almost every winery we visited are $100 or more, some into the $200s.
  • The same can be said for hotel rooms. There may be inexpensive places to stay, but we haven’t found them.  We now pay for a room what we would have walked away from only a few years ago.  Using your points at a Marriott or Hilton property may be a good tactic.

The tasting room at Trefethen Family Vineyards, where all the tastings are seated

  • More and more wineries are erecting Napa Palaces. Places that only a few years ago were little more than farmhouses with a bar have now become elegant “visitor centers”.  Stag’s Leap, Louis M. Martini and Joseph Phelps are among them.  Some reserve the fancier digs for members of their wine clubs; Etude, Pine Ridge, Domaine Carneros and Bouchaine are among these.  It’s hard to say if this is a positive or negative trend.  The new buildings are indeed beautiful, but they are further removed from the elemental farming and winemaking that has made Napa Valley what it is.
  • Increasingly, wines are served in seated tastings. Again, this may be viewed as a plus.  You are less likely to be standing next to an over-served know-it-all at the bar.  But on busy days it may prove harder to get your glass refilled.  The servers are more like waiters than educators; they have less time to explain to you the details about what you are sipping.  And while you won’t be bothered by other visitors, you’re less likely to meet interesting people who share the same enthusiasm for wine.

As we said, Napa Valley has changed and surely will do so in the future.  It is still a wonderful destination for wine lovers.  We just think it’s best to be aware of what the conditions are before you book your trip.


We almost didn’t visit Narbonne.  We were in southwest France to soak up village life and to visit vineyards.  Why spend time visiting a second-tier city that wasn’t on the list of “must-see” places in the country.  But it was only a short drive from where we were staying and so why not?  It would have been a big mistake to miss Narbonne.

Located in the heart of Languedoc Roussillon, there are indeed many vineyards in the general area as well as some famous beaches (Narbonne Plage) nearby.  The city manages to contain ancient monuments, 19th century splendor and modernity quite well together.

Gargoyles on Narbonne’s cathedral.

The best of the ancient buildings are a gothic cathedral and an almost as old bishops’ palace, so we went to take in a bit of medieval culture.  And indeed, the cathedral is impressive.  There had been others on the same location and in 1268 the Pope decided that the town was safe enough from heretics to build a new one.  Most of it was erected, but they never quite got around to finishing it.  What they did build is quite an eyeful, especially the gargoyles around the top.

By all means see the old stones, but leave time for the more contemporary, less touristy attractions Narbonne has to offer.  For us, foodies that we are, the topmost among these is the grand indoor market, Les Halles de Narbonne.  Like other markets in France, you’ll find a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables bursting with color and flavor. (If you’re there at the end of summer, eat mirabelles, small green plums that are the sweetest we’ve ever tasted and you can’t find them in the United States.)  There are beautiful meats, of course with butchers who will slice you a steak of Aubrac beef.  And the cheese counters are a tour of French pastures.

But not everywhere can you find the kiosk that specializes in tapenades, the olive and anchovy spreads beloved in the south of France.  Or the fellow who will sell you cassoulet in an earthenware bowl for you to heat it up in.  Or counters of tapas bars (Narbonne is quite close to Spain) where the locals meet on weekend mornings for snacks and wine.

A procession of winemakers through Les Halles de Narbonne during the Fête des Vendanges

Should you be there on the second Saturday of September, the local winemaking fraternities hold their annual Fête des Vendanges (harvest festival).  You can see the members of these wine societies parade through the village and into the Marché, striding with a few instrumentalists among the food stalls.  A grand feast is held outside on long picnic tables, with food available from many of the stalls inside.  You feel as though you were just transported to the Middle Ages.

Along the Canal de la Robine in Narbonne

If you’d like to sit in a bistro along a tree-shaded canal, Narbonne offers many of them as well, along the Canal de la Robine that crosses the city.  In warm weather, which is most of the year, there are outdoor tables in front of every restaurant.  Your only problem is choosing which one.

Finally, leave some time just to walk around.  There are narrow medieval streets, leafy boulevards and lots of charming places to stop for a coffee.  Avail yourself of this little French jewel of a city, and then drive just outside of town and visit the vineyards.


Champagne – The Region

There are many parts of the world’s Wine Country where they make sparkling wine.  It almost seems that every place that grows grapes makes some sparklers.  They may call it champagne, but only one place makes true Champagne and that’s in France.  The Champagne region is about an hour and a half drive from the Paris airports and lies, generally speaking, in the area between and around the towns of Reims and Épernay.

The September harvest in Champagne

Now, of course, any reader of Power Tasting will want to visit Champagne in order to taste the wines there.  But when you are there, there are many other reasons to enjoy the Champagne region.  For one thing, it’s a beautiful region of rolling hills and endless vineyards, with plenty of other farming where the land does not lend itself to growing grapes.  We were fortunate enough to travel in Champagne during the harvest; the sight of the workers in fields bursting with fruit in the vines was inspiring, especially knowing the destiny of those grapes.

The Chagall windows in Reims Cathedral

Both of the major towns are worth visiting.  Reims has a magnificent cathedral that has had its unfortunate share of warfare, especially during the two world wars of the 20th Century.  You can still see the marks made by artillery on the walls.  Fortunately, the parishioners took down the rose window and preserved it from the violence, but the windows in the Lady Chapel at the rear of the cathedral were not so lucky.  However, they were replaced after World War II with new windows by Marc Chagall that are among the most gorgeous works of stained glass, ancient or modern, to be seen anywhere.

The Hotel de Ville (City Hall) in Épernay

Épernay does not have the an equivalent architectural marvel, although many of the buildings that house wineries are wonderful examples of 19th century imagination.  You can see many of them on the Avenue de Champagne where some of the best known Champagne producers (and many lesser known ones, too) have their headquarters.  [More about that in our article on wine tasting in Champagne.]

Aside from the major towns, the Champagne region is full of history.  We recommend that you look up the Routes Touristiques de Champagne (in English at  It will show you all the little, out of the way places to visit.  Then, drive around looking for the signs that point out all the turns on the routes.

We are rather surprised at the lack of top restaurants in Épernay and Reims.  You can get a good enough meal, to be sure, but the restaurants aren’t up to the level of food we have come to expect in Wine Country, especially in France.  However, in the smaller villages in the countryside, there are many small cafes and bistros, as well as grand gastronomic establishments, where you can sample fine French cuisine.

Finally, a word about the name “Champagne”.  Americans pronounce it sham-PANE.  But the French say shahm-PAN-ya, sort of swallowing the last syllable.  Of course it’s their country and they have a right to say it their way (which is, after all, the right way).  But an American, even one who can speak French tolerably well, feels silly saying it their way.  Okay, you want to blend in so try it the French way.  But believe us, you won’t blend in anyway.  They can tell a tourist from kilometers away.


N’Ombra de Vin

Here is another in Power Tasting’s irregular series on great wine bars of the world.

Italy has some of the most beautiful cities in the world: Rome, Venice and Florence come to mind.  Milan, the country’s financial and fashion capital, was victimized by too many wars and lost many of its antiquities.  It still has some beautiful things – such as the Duomo, The Last Supper, La Scala – but it boasts modernity rather than an ancient patina.  Today, what typifies Milan is a very sophisticated lifestyle and all of us, as visitors, are invited to partake of it.

Milan revels in its wine bars and we love one in particular.  All over the city there gathering spots where fine wines are served and a great number of the populace assemble in the early evening for a glass of wine, a bite of food and the Italian national pastime, chatting.  Our personal favorite is N’Ombra de Vin on the Via San Marco (  Evidently there are others who favor this spot, because it is packed every evening.

As for the name, well, it doesn’t mean anything in either Italian or English.  “Ombra” is Italian for shade or shadow and of course “vin” means wine…in French.  Let’s just say that the name means “In the shadow of wine” in some combination of languages and that works pretty well.

And indeed, N’Ombra de Vin is all about wine.  It was originally and still is a wine store.  Not exactly originally; that is, the owners claim that the building goes back to the 5th Century and that in later years Napoleon’s army and Mozart himself frequented the location.  Who’s to say?  But in 1973 it definitely became a wine store.  In later years, N’Ombra de Vin added an Italian tapas bistro and a music venue, as it continues today.

We got there early.

But for our purposes and for those who jam the joint from 5:00 until at least 8:00 every night, N’Ombra de Vin is about the institution of the apertivo.  The list of wines by the glass is a compendium of the great winemaking regions of Italy.  It changes frequently but there are always a few excellent Tuscans and Barolos and also many wines from lesser known corners of Italian Wine Country.

And the prices, at least for those of us used to New York wine lists, are amazingly low.  We well remember having healthy pours of Quintarelli Primafiore for 14 euros ($15.50) a glass.  It’s one of our favorite wines and it’s  $50 for a bottle.  Imagine what that would cost in an American bar, if you could find it.

Snacks, on the house.

Along with your drinks there you will be served little complimentary plates of snacks.  There will be olives, cheeses, bites of pizza, nuts and whatever they feel like adding that night.  We always get to N’Ombra de Vin prior to dinner and we always eat too much beforehand.

The third great attraction is the crowd.  If you want a seat outside – and you do want to be outside if the weather permits – get there early.  N’Ombra de Vin will be empty at 5:00 and overflowing by 6:00.  If you’ve been touristing around Milan all day, you’ll appreciate sitting down.  But the locals all seem to want to stand and mingle.  It seems that everyone knows everyone and you’ll feel like you’re at a cocktail party with a lot of well-dressed people (they’re Milanese, of course).

Milan is often the port of entry to Italy these days, so no matter where we’re going, we land there.  And if we have even one evening in town, we make a bee-line for N’Ombra de Vin.



Not so long ago, Yountville was a sleepy farming village where freight trains stopped to pick up produce and drop off supplies.  We always hoped it was named for Milwaukee baseball legend Robin Yount, but it actually got its name from one George Yount, who was reputed to have planted the first vineyard in Napa Valley.

There are many reasons why it grew into the tourist mecca it is today, not least being the explosion of interest in California winemaking.  But if Yankee Stadium is the House that Ruth Built, then Yountville is the Town that Thomas Keller Put on the Map. Beginning with French Laundry, he has added Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc to his restaurant empire, all along Washington Street in Yountville.  Keller has recently opened La Calenda, a Mexican restaurant in the location that used to house the late, lamented Hurley’s.

With all that, Yountville is now the culinary capital of Napa Valley.  After his time as chef at Domaine’s Chandon’s Étoile restaurant, Philippe Jeanty opened Bistro Jeanty, a veritable reproduction of a country French bistro.  Richard Reddington added Redd and then Redd Wood.  And on and on.  It’s hard to find a bad meal in Yountville.

With the restaurants came the diners and the shoppers.  Washington and Yount Streets abound with boutiques, topped by the V Marketplace, a shopping center with the full line of Napa Style accessories, housewares, wines, restaurants and galleries that give Napa Valley its fashion tone (and fill your mailbox with catalogs).

Photo courtesy of

There are also a number of tasting rooms along Washington Street.  As with all in-town tastings, there are some that are well worth a stop and others that are best passed by.  Unfortunately, there is little way to know in advance which is which.  In Yountville, we have enjoyed Priest Ranch and Beau Vigne, which is not to say that some of the others aren’t worthwhile.

As a visitor to Yountville, a great way to enjoy it is to make a day of it.  This is especially good advice on a weekend, when the roads and wineries on Route 29 are jammed.  Begin with breakfast at Bouchon Bakery.  You’ll stand in line for coffee and croissants but the wait will be worth it.  Sit outside at one of the little tables and think about all the places you will go today.  Well fortified, you can try a winery and look into a gallery or two.  Then it’s time for lunch.  Why not a pizza at Redd Wood or a salad at R & D Kitchen?

A few more wineries in the afternoon and some serious boutique-ing come next.  Be smart about the alcohol you consume; still, it’s nice to know that you don’t have to get behind the wheel to go from place to place.  An aperitif at the bar at Bistro Jeanty will give you the chance to mingle with a few locals.  Then it’s off to dinner.

Yountville at Christmastime.  Photo courtesy of

As noted, the choice of restaurants is broad, but if you want to be in with the in crowd, queue up for a table at Ciccio.  Run by the owners of Altamura Vineyards, Ciccio doesn’t take reservations and it is always packed with people who have the patience to dine there.

A final word: visit Yountville at Christmas season.  They wrap every tree on Washington Street in little white lights and the town becomes a fairyland.  It’s magical.    And the crowds are less in December as well.