The Eiffel Tower

One of the features of Power Tasting is a monthly article on a Place to Visit that isn’t about wine but is in Wine Country.  And since this edition is about the beaten path, there’s no path in all of France that’s been trod more often than the one that leads to the Eiffel Tower.  But wait, is Paris really in Wine Country?  Surprisingly, the answer is “yes”.  You can make a day trip to Champagne or the Loire and amazingly, there are still a handful vineyards in Paris itself.  None of the urban vineyards are very big (one has only ten vines) but they qualify the city for inclusion.

The Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero.  Photo courtesy of the Hotel Eiffel Trocadero.

So about that tower.  For one thing, it’s one of those iconic structures, along with the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben and the Kremlin, that are emblematic of their entire country.  Its story is pretty well known, so we’ll recount it here only briefly.  It was named for Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built it for the 1889 World’s Fair or Exposition Universelle.  It was derided in its own time but has become beloved ever since.  You can ride to near the top for a great view of Paris, with restaurants on the second and third levels.

The issue is not whether you’ll see the Eiffel Tower.  When you go to Paris, you can’t miss it and you’ll take your picture in front of it.  We’d like to give you some ideas as to how to see it.

The Eiffel Tower is located in the 7th Arrondissement, on the Left Bank of the Seine. This sector is one of the more elegant residential areas of the city and worth walking around in.  The tower itself is in a park, the Champs de Mars, where royal troops used to train back in the time just before the French Revolution.  In pleasant weather, you can join Parisians in stretching out, kicking a ball or listening to itinerant musicians.  Or you can walk up to the Eiffel Tower, lean your head back and try to take it all in.  Maybe that’s why Eiffel’s contemporaries couldn’t appreciate it; they couldn’t really see it properly.

For us, the best place to see the tower is across the river at the Place du Trocadero.  Sit at a café on the place and soak in the view.  From there you can see the tower in the perspective we believe Eiffel intended, massive but contained within Paris.  Keep in mind that only a few decades before the fair, Paris had been completely renovated into the gorgeous city we know today.  The Eiffel Tower added an exclamation point to the city. Viewing it from the Trocadero puts it in context.

Hovering over the city.

As you walk around the sector where the tower is, you’ll see it above many of the rooftops.  There’s no better way to enjoy this kind of view than sitting in a café with a coffee and a French pastry or with a glass of wine.  And do see it at night.  Since the Millennium celebration, the Eiffel Tower erupts in a symphony of flashing lights, for five minutes every hour on the hour.  The Parisians have never lacked for a sense of the dramatic.

The Importance of Being There

It’s always fun to discover that an unknown wine from an obscure location is really pretty good.  But with all due respect to the Mavrud grapes of Bulgaria or the sparkling wines of Brazil, there’s a reason why the world beats a path to Bordeaux, Tuscany, Napa Valley, Burgundy, the Rioja and Sonoma County: They’re the best.  If you want to be a knowledgeable wine taster. before you get off the beaten path, you’d better be familiar with some if not all of the premier sectors of Wine Country

What’s the big deal about being there, in the most famous locales?

For one thing, there’s a pleasure when you open a bottle in remembering what the region looked like or even better what the winery was like.  There’s nothing like the experience of touching the actual grapes (or maybe filching one to see what they’re like) when you pour what they made from them.  Except for winemakers themselves, most of us couldn’t tell a Cabernet Sauvignon grape from a Pinot Noir, but it’s fun to believe you could.  And you can only pretend to do so if you’ve actually been there to see them.

Of course, you can look at grapes anywhere they grow them.  But when you’re standing in front of Château Margaux touching the grapes (which we have done) you know that these are among the greatest grapes in the world.  You have to be there.

Château Margaux.  Photo courtesy of Forbes.

Wine is made of grapes but people make wine.  It’s a wonderful experience meeting these people in their own environment.  For the most part, they’re very nice.  And why shouldn’t they be?  You’ve come a long way to taste their wines and you chose their winery for the purpose.  If you’re serious about wine tasting – and you must be, because you’re there – they are as eager to know something about their customers as you are to engage with the winemaker.

We were in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or many years ago, having a picnic in a churchyard.  A man walked by and spotted us and came over to talk.  We thought he was going to tell us to move but, no, he wanted to see what we were drinking with lunch.  When he found that a couple from the other side of the Atlantic was having a premier cru with our jambon and baguette, he was quite pleased.  “Quelle pique-nique!”  It turned out that he owned a few rows of vines in the adjoining vineyard.  We think of him every time we open a top Burgundy.  To do that, you have to be there.

For us, wine is a beverage to accompany dinner, sometimes for meditation, a subject of eternal fascination and, in wine tasting, an avocation that has taken us to vineyards around the world.  We can and do enjoy the wine from the store around the corner, but it’s not the same experience.  The pleasure of wine tasting, as opposed to drinking, comes as much from the tastes, memories and feelings as much as from the wine itself.  And to get that experience, you have to be there.

V. Sattui Winery

  1. Sattui Winery ( is an American success story. Vittorio Sattui was born in a small town near Genoa and emigrated to San Francisco. He opened a winery there in 1885 and prospered, along with family members who followed him, until Prohibition closed the winery down.  Then in 1976, Vittorio’s great-grandson Dario revived the family business in St. Helena.  (As it happens, our first trip to Napa Valley was in 1977, so we thought that V. Sattui had always been there.)

The original winery in San Francisco.  That’s Vittorio’s son Mario and brother Romeo out front.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

Today, V. Sattui has become an institution.  If you visit Napa Valley for only a few times, you are sure to wind up at their doorstep.  Everybody does.  There are several reasons why this is so.

The first is location. It’s right on Route 29, so anyone going to taste in the northern end of the valley has to pass by.  Heitz and Louis M. Martini are just up the road, so we guess Dario figured back then this was a good spot for a winery, and maybe he knew that Flora Springs would open across the street in a few years.  But he couldn’t have known that Pahlmeyer, Belle Glos and Hall would

someday be neighbors as well.  You could do a day’s wine tasting in walking distance of V. Sattui.

Then of course there’s the wine.  V. Sattui has always had an enormous selection of them, many of which were quite affordable.  This is still the case, but they also have pricier wines sourced from some of the most reputed vineyards in California, including Morisoli, Ramazotti and Quaglia.  Their wines include four white varietals, ten red varietals (plus blends), eight dessert wines, five rosés and four sparkling wines.

So how come you’ve never seen any of these in your local wine store?  It’s because they don’t distribute their wines outside the winery.  These days, of course, everything is for sale on the internet as well.  But for decades, V. Sattui has relied on visitors to buy up their stock.

The picnic grounds at V. Sattui.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

And the visitors have come, year after year, many attracted by the expansive picnic grounds on the property.  Napa County has limited the number of wineries that can have picnic tables, with those that have long had them allowed to continue doing so.  It is a common sight in good weather to see families gathered at the tables eating feasts, like you see in Italian movies.  Somewhere, old Vittorio must be smiling.

The people are eating and drinking food and wine purchased on the premises.  In addition to selling wines, V. Sattui has a very fine deli, or salumeria as Vittorio would have said.  There are cold cuts, cheeses, sandwiches, salads, hot dishes and desserts.  And of course, it all goes with V. Sattui wines.  They have a rule that food and wine must be bought there, and that’s only fair.

Many visitors are new to wine tasting in Napa Valley, so they’ve never heard of, much less tasted, V. Sattui’s wines.  So if you sit the shady picnic area and listen carefully, you’ll hear people saying, “Hey, this is pretty good”.  And it is.

Dealing with Wine Country Crowds

One of the famous sayings that Yogi Berra was supposed to have uttered was “Nobody goes there anymore – it’s too crowded”.  You may want to remember that if you should find yourself, say, on Route 29 in Napa Valley on a sunny July 4 weekend.  Everybody knows (whoever everybody is) that it will be mobbed with wine lovers, tourists, partiers, kids, bachelorettes and assorted hangers-on.  The roads are clogged; you can’t get near a server in wineries and as for getting an answer to a question, well, as we say in Brooklyn, fuhgeddaboudit.

So why go?  That may be your only day in the area or you promised some people you’d take them when they were in town.  Here are a few tips for making the best of it.

  • Avoid the big names. Sure, it’s fun to visit the wineries you’re familiar with but those are the ones that will likely attract the biggest crowds.  Even in regular times, we’ve felt overwhelmed at places like Domaine Chandon and Silver Oak.  So consider some of the lesser known, more out of the way wineries.  For instance, if you really want to try some sparkling, you might want to go to Iron Horse in Sebastopol.

The Iron Horse tasting “room”.  Wine tasting as in the old days.  Photo courtesy of

  • Take your glasses outside. An advantage of Iron Horse is that their tasting “room” is and was outdoors, even before Covid forced that on every winery.  Many wineries have terraces or picnic areas where you can sip under the blue skies.  We enjoy the combination of wine and good weather under any circumstances.  We remember well a visit to Etude one Martin Luther King Birthday weekend when we sat outside in a pair of Adirondack chairs, while a nice server came by periodically and made sure we hadn’t run out of Pinot Noir.
  • Use the auxiliary tasting rooms. Some top wineries, such as Chateau Montelena or Beaulieu Vineyard, maintain secondary tasting rooms specifically to deal with crowded days.  If you make it clear that you’d prefer some relative peace and quiet instead of being in the middle of the action, they will be glad to accommodate you.
  • Make appointments. This is a good idea on weekends, much less holidays.  During the pandemic, most wineries are by appointment only, anyway.  But when it’s over, the masses will return, perhaps in greater numbers after being away for so long.  With an appointment, you usually will get a seated tasting, which by itself limits the size of the crowds.
  • Don’t try to visit too many wineries. The less time you spend on the road, the better off you are.  So limit you tastings to a few places, preferably fairly close to one another.  Think about the places you’d like to stay for a while, for both wine tasting and other reasons.  Some wineries have beautiful gardens.  Others have outstanding art collections.  And some are just lovely places to be.  Take advantage of them.

“Downtown” Calistoga.  Photo courtesy of TripSavvy.

  • Consider in-town tastings. As a general rule, we prefer to be in towns, such as Calistoga or Healdsburg, on weekends rather than out in the vineyards.  There are an increasing number of top wineries opening tasting rooms on the streets.  Even if they’re crowded, and they are sometimes, you can stroll around a bit until you can find a spot at a bar.

These are all Napa/Noma tips, but the same ideas apply in European wineries, if you happen to be there for their holidays.