Before diving head first into the holiday season, plan a quick getaway to relax and enjoy the final weeks of the season. It seems that most of the US had a somewhat late summer this year which means the fall leaves are appearing and sticking around later than usual. Thanksgiving is a month away and it starts the insanity that is the holiday season, but not if you start preparing now! In the meantime, give yourself a break by taking a quick trip away from everyday life. These five destinations have a mix of warmer and colder fall weather but each is a strong contender in its own right. From New England to California, whether you have a regular weekend or a long weekend, these are worth a fall getaway…Read More
Fall is my favorite time to travel. The weather is at its best and depending on where you go, prices can be more affordable than usual. For example, I bought a round-trip flight from Chicago to Dallas to San Francisco and back to Chicago for under $200. I’m not making that up either, it was a steal! My travel time is typically from October to April, breaking during the holiday season. Fall and spring are ideal for traveling in the north and winter is perfect to visit the south. I love putting together mini guides of sorts sharing where to travel when, where to travel for certain things, etc. Today, we’re going with three great cities to visit in the fall. While this list could be endless, I’m tailoring it down to a few places that have made an impact on me during this time of year. Keep reading to find out why.
This is probably not a hard sell for the fall season. The New England area in general is known for spectacular fall colors and Halloween celebrations. It’s a dream of mine to make it to Salem close to Halloween and take a trip throughout the entire Northeastern region but baby steps. Boston is a city where you can feel the history and age. From the cobblestone and brick streets to the century-old buildings, it’s the closest you can get to Revolutionary and pre-Revolutionary times. Each road, each building and each neighborhood has a special story waiting to be discovered. Add the chilly, cloudy fall weather and colored leaves, it’s a magical experience. While I recommend everyone to visit Boston at least once in their lifetime, I recommend even more visiting at least once in the fall.
Maybe not the most obvious choice for a fall trip but one worth mentioning. I visit the Dallas-Fort Worth area every year, usually in the fall. I’ll arrive sometime close to Halloween and stay through mid-November. The best of Chicago’s fall is just about ending by the time I leave and Dallas’ fall is starting to begin. It means I get an extended fall each year, something I’m not mad about. Texas doesn’t get as chilly as the north during fall but it can get cool enough to wear cute sweaters and boots. You’ll also get treated to a few trees turning colors. Like the rest of the south, Texas is unbearably hot for at least 4-5 months out of the year. The weather in fall is sunny, breezy and beautiful. It’s the best time, in my humble opinion, to visit the state. There’s also a decent-sized wine country so fall also means harvest season! How can you resist celebrating a grape harvest?
What to Do:
Take the free trolley along McKinney Avenue to see some of the Dallas neighborhoods or simply walk
Grab a burger at Village Burger Bar
Visit Grapevine! Later in November, all of the decorations are out for Christmas.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
San Francisco has gorgeous weather year round but it's also within driving distance of Napa Valley and Sonoma, the US’s favorite wine country. The city of San Francisco itself has plenty to offer in the fall and any time of year. The Presidio is one site in particular beautiful to visit in the fall. For those who love the sunshine and want to soak up every last minute of it, San Francisco is your friend. Go for a hike, enjoy one of the many parks or stroll along the ridiculously hilly streets. Venture outside of San Francisco for the Muir Woods, Yosemite Park, Montery or Carmel. California might not have a traditional fall experience but the northern region provides a spectacular one nonetheless.
Visiting Napa Valley involves a lot of driving around. It doesn't matter if you're staying somewhere else and planning a day trip or spending it all in the valley. Chances are you'll have at least a 10-15 minute car ride to your next destination. Always prepared on the music front, I've put together a playlist for your Napa Valley adventures. It's not hard to get creative musically for a Napa trip. The amount of songs about wine or champagne are endless. I chose a few favorites for your listening pleasure.
Napa is classy so I tried to keep it that way but I won't deny a few guilty pleasures. You'll find songs from classics like Nina Simone and Billy Joel to chart toppers like Nick Jonas and Meghan Trainor. There's also a 90s throwback with UB-40's "Red, Red Wine." Remember that one? I also did a little digging and found a few songs that I wasn't expecting like "Killer Queen." Never one to stay in the box, I squeezed in a few songs that might not be wine related but felt natural for a Napa road trip. There are a lot of love songs because apparently wine and love are not mutually exclusive. But there are also some surprising, upbeat numbers. All Time Low and Fall Out Boy made the list as well as Ne-Yo, Nas & Amy Winehouse and Hozier. Don't be surprised to find a few country songs in there too. How can anyone resist "Strawberry Wine" by Deanna Carter. That's one of my favorite country songs of all time.
I felt very relaxed and comfortable in Napa. It felt as if it were an extension of Europe and I've been missing it terribly lately. I tapped into that nostalgia to create this playlist putting care into the vibe. It embraces mood swings from zen to ready to party. It's great road trip music, at least I think so, and might even get you through a little bit of your workday. Since I've put this playlist together, I've gotten so much work done that it might become my new favorite.
One day in Napa Valley isn't enough time to enjoy everything this slice of heaven has to offer. From fairy tale estates to infinite rows of vines and a bright, warm sun, it's hard to believe Napa is real. It took less than an hour for me to fall in love. One day, one tour, four tastings and one meal. Three vineyards, four wineries, one old friend and many new friends. Maybe it was the people I shared this experience with or maybe Napa has a magical quality that draws you in making you want more. I can't say for certain but what I can definitely guarantee is that I will be returning and for much longer than a day. When I make it back, these are on the top of my list of things to do.
Visit St. Helena
Driving through the valley, we passed this romantic, quaint town that I instantly fell in love with. After doing a little research, I discovered that St. Helena is one of the more popular towns within the valley. Locally owned shops and restaurants dominate main street. Local wineries and vineyards provide the best of the best wine for tastings, pairings and simply just sipping. What's most intriguing are the gorgeous bed and breakfasts and boutique inns. Why stay in a hotel when you can stay in a mansion that feels like home but even better?
Attend A Wine Pairing Dinner
Tasting wine is fun on its own but dinners with specifically designed tastings are even better. The people who put these events together know what they are doing which makes the end result nothing short of spectacular. There are seasonal pairings, themed pairings, specialty pairings. It's the ultimate foodie and vino experience.
Visit Historical Wineries/Take A Historical Wine Tour
There are several wineries in Napa Valley that have a strong history. V. Sattui is one with a long, rich family history. One on my list is Chateau Montelena at a whopping 132 years old and known for winning the Judgement in Paris for its Chardonnay in 1976. Among many others, I'd also like to experience Schramsberg Vineyards. Over 150 years old, this winery is known for its sparkling wines and features a cave tour.
Take a Spa Day
Of all the things to do in Wine Country, USA, you wouldn't think a spa day would be one of them. I think this is an ideal place to relax and treat yourself to a little TLC, especially on your last day. Detox from all the wine and food tasting, relax those muscles from days of walking around and treat your body so that when you return home, you're feeling ten times better than when you left. Napa Valley's travel website has a guide to the best spas with local insider tips.
Take Part In Harvest Season
Harvest season is a special time of year anywhere that has vineyards. It's a time of prosperity and celebration. There are plenty of opportunities all over the world to experience the wonderful world of harvest season and Napa Valley is one. Some places allow you to volunteer your time, others will pay you and most offer celebrations for the locals and tourists to enjoy together. That's where you'll normally find grape-stomping activities.
Experience The Judgement Of Paris
The Judgement of Paris was a wine competition in Paris in 1976. French judges blind tasted wines from France and California and chose the best of Chardonnays and red wines. It was a big deal because France was believed to have the best of all the wines and California won many of the awards. Many of the wineries and vineyards that participated in this competition are still in business. I'd love to go on a tour of them and see what had the French all flustered.
The final stop on our wine tour in Napa Valley is the nostalgic Andretti Winery. I've never been to Italy but I have a feeling if I went to a remote Tuscan village, Andretti would resemble it. There isn't much more for me to describe than what you'll find in these photos. The winery is surrounded by acres of vines. If you shut away all the people and just stared at the landscape, you could imagine yourself driving in Tuscany like in Letters to Juliet. It really is a breathtaking site, Napa Valley. I must sound like a broken record but the entire valley is stunning. I can't imagine living here and being unhappy. All you'd have to do is look out your window and forget about life's struggles.
Mario Andretti is a former race car driver who was born in Italy. Traveling for work led to his love of wine. When he retired in the early '90s, he decided to open his own winery. In 1996, Andretti Winery opened its doors. The winery offers tours and tastings, food and wine pairings, events and more. They have a shop with plenty of memorabilia to browse as well as foods like cheese, snacks, pairing suggestions and more. To be honest, I was happy enough just to walk around and take in the beauty of the property.
Unfortunately, I do not have tasting notes for this winery. I didn't have a tasting sheet to take notes and it would have been difficult standing without tables. On top if it all, my phone was dying so I didn't want to drain the battery typing notes. Our hostess was knowledgeable about the history of Andretti, the wine making process and the wines they were currently selling. We tried several reds and whites and even got to taste wine still in the barrel. That was one of the more exciting experiences I've had wine tasting.
Have you been to Andretti Winery in Napa, California? What are some of your favorite wineries and vineyards to visit?
Tucked away in St. Helena, California is a charming, magical place called V. Sattui. This winery and vineyard is actually the father of Castello di Amorosa. The Sattui Family opened for business in 1885 which would make it their 131st anniversary this year. It is obvious visiting both V. Sattui and Castello di Amorosa that this family loves what they do. It is their passion and it reflects on the experience guests enjoy at both properties.
V. Sattui is much smaller than Castillo di Amorosa but just as magnificent. The property includes a stone winery, Artisan Deli & Marketplace, tasting rooms, picnic grounds and more. We had lunch at the deli where they serve paninis, cheese, snacks, meats, salads, pasta and more. They had jumbo Arancini when we visited that were spectacular. I'm talking melt in your mouth, creamy, comforting deliciousness. My friend and I each got a panini and split them so we could taste both. One had prosciutto (a favorite of mine) and the other was either bresaola or soppressata but I can't remember. Regardless, it was all delicious and the few cheeses we had the luxury of tasting were phenomenal as well.
V. Sattui has a large tasting room with plenty of space to sip wine, browse around and enjoy yourself. The servers are friendly and accommodating. They also make fantastic recommendations. Here are the wines that I tasted while visiting V. Sattui. I hope you're enjoying the photos as well!
Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
The Sauvignon Blanc carried notes of pear and apple on the nose and I could easily tell this was a dry wine. It was smooth with a dry finish and I was able to get notes of green apple on the tongue.
From V. Sattui: Time spent in their concrete egg brings a mineral character to the wine along with a richness and fines on the mount. Oak barrels bring silk texture on the mount and just the slightest hint of spice and vanilla.
Riesling has become my favorite white wine (aside from the hard to find Sancerre) because of it's diversity. This particular varietal carried pear, apricot and peach notes to the nose. It was smooth and I tasted pear, white peach and apple notes. Very refreshing.
From V. Sattui: Their White Riesling has intense tropical fruit aromas with clean, green apple, honey and apricot flavors. Its finish is softly floral, rich and opulent.
A quick whiff of the Gamay Rouge hinted at an uber sweet wine full of fruity flavor, especially strawberry and peach. It was fuller in body on the tongue, incredibly sweet (as predicted) and carried strong notes of strawberry, raspberry and watermelon. This would be a great dessert wine or aperitif.
From V. Sattui: Fruit flavors and relatively high acids are balanced by a slight natural sweetness derived from the juice of the grapes.
Ramazzotti Vineyard Zinfandel
The Zinfandel was a bold, strong red. I was able to pick up berry notes on the nose and a peculiar sweetness. The taste turned out surprisingly different with a peppery quality, bold plum flavor and light notes of currant. It was also very tannic. Zinfandel is not my favorite red typically. Where I didn't dislike this one, I wouldn't pick it again if given the choice.
From V. Sattui: Intensely varietal, with dark cherry and blackberry flavors that develop intense complexity, there is also deftly applied oak that lends a trip of sweet spice. Pair with smoked meats or your summer barbecues.
Syrah, Napa Valley
I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the Syrah. This was another bold red. There were scents of currant, date, blueberry and dirt. It sounds weird but the more earthy wines can have a, well, an earthy quality to them. I picked up pepper, plum and black cherry on the tongue as well as earthy elements as if it were just pulled out of the ground. I loved the grit (not literal) that this red brought.
From V. Sattui: Contributes a ripe, chocolatey profile, along with sweet blueberry.
Entanglement was delicious, possibly one of my favorites from this tasting. I noticed scents of licorice and berries as well as floral notes. On the tongue, I picked up cherry and plum as well as a slightly tannic quality. This is a great red for those who might not be fully pulled over to the dark side yet and still favor whites.
From V. Sattui: This delicious blend is a lighter style wine with flavors of red vine licorice styled after the GSM blends from the Rhone region in France.
Cabernet, Napa Valley
I am not normally a fan of Cabernet but I did enjoy this one. I was able to note scents of berry, cherry and dried fruit. Tasting, it had a spicy personality with notes of pepper, plum, black cherry and earth (yes, again). It was also tannic. If you don't like that puckery, dry feeling on your tongue when drinking red wine this one isn't for you. However, if you like spicy, bold reds this is perfect for you.
From V. Sattui: Captures a good measure of currant fruit and colors it with sweet oak, a bit of dusty spice and hints of black olive.
V. Sattui is a fantastic winery to visit for all levels of tasters. Whether you're tasting just for fun or seriously rating your wine, the staff are incredibly accommodating and they even have special tastings where you can taste limited releases and specialty bottles. I highly recommend coming here for lunch and looking up events they might be having. They offer freshly made brick-oven pizza some nights with a bonfire and that is right up my alley!
Napa Valley is a wine aficionado's oasis. Wine tasting is more than just drinking as many wines as possible. It teaches you the history of that particular bottle from the grape to the winery owner. You learn about terroir, the process of fermentation, the aging details (for reds) and so much more. There's a lot of love put into a bottle starting with planting a seed. Wine tells a story. It tells the story of the people who make it, the land it comes from, the region it's home to. As enjoyable it is to drink, it's even more rewarding to accept all it has to offer.
Castello di Amorosa is a beautiful, chateau-like property in the town of Calistoga located in Napa Valley. The property took fourteen years to build and was designed to resemble a 13th century Tuscan castle. I've never been to Tuscany but I imagine this is what it would look like (I have seen Letters to Juliet). The estate has 107 rooms, 8 levels above and below ground, a great hall with magnificent Italian frescoes, a drawbridge and moat plus so much more. The vineyards of Castello di Amorosa feature Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Primitivo and Sangiovese grapes.
The property is one of the most beautiful I've seen. Even in the cold, wet morning we had, there was a warmth throughout the place. The tasting experience was fantastic. Our server, Ortega, was a blast: funny, intelligent and just a great personality. He provided several great recommendations, all which I share below. Castello di Amorosa was a memorable experience that has me dreaming to return asap. I recommend it whether you're visiting for a few hours or a few days.
Here are the wines that I sampled at Castello di Amorosa. Not all have descriptions from the property but they all have my personal notes:
The Pinot Grigio had a sweet start with pear and apple notes but a dry finish. Refreshing and light, this wine had just enough flavor to not be too overpowering as the first sip of the day.
GIOIA, Roasato di Sangiovese
There were strong strawberry notes easily noticeable both on the nose and the tongue. It was very sweet, almost candy-like but delicious. I would serve this as a dessert wine or aperitif on a warm day.
From Castello di Amorosa: Gioia (Italian for "Joy") is an Italian style rose with a beautiful rosy-red garnet color, bursting with bright wild berry and melon flavors A perfect summer sipping wine.
In full discretion, I have yet to meet a Merlot that I enjoy. Apparently that is offensive in Napa Valley because they're known for it? Ortega insisted I try their Merlot because tasting a Merlot in its place of birth is different from, say, Chicago. I gave it a shot. While it wasn't as awful an experience as I normally have with Merlot, it wasn't terrible. I noticed cranberry and plum notes and it was strong with tannins. I wouldn't personally choose this wine for dinner but I know several people in my family who would.
From Castello di Amorosa: A flavorful dry Merlot with excellent depth and balance, with notes of black cherry, mocha and spice, and a smooth dark chocolate aftertaste.
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
I have the Cab marked as a favorite and man, was it tasty. It was very tannic and I personally noticed berry, plum and peppery notes. The cinnamon and nutmeg were a surprising and welcoming touch that I enjoyed. This is a fantastic wine for cold nights. It will warm you right up!
From Castello di Amorosa: A bold and balanced Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, exhibiting aromas of cassis, earth and mushroom accented with spice notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and tinder box.
The Sangiovese was a bold and slightly dry wine with notes of plum and oak. I liked the subtlety of the oak. It gave the wine an earthy taste. It was also tannic which I used to hate but have noticed I'm enjoying more as I get older and expand my comfort zone with wine. This was another favorite of mine.
From Castello di Amorosa: Perfumed aromas of dried flowers, red plum, sweet exotic spices and wild berry flavors framed by supple, toasty oak.
This darker rose smells sweet and most definitely tastes sweet. It had a beautiful flavor profile: floral notes mixed with tart cherries and sweet berries. This would be fantastic cold on a warm day with bitter, dark chocolate or a fruit salad.
From Castello di Amorosa: An Italian style soft sparkling wine which is lower in alcohol, naturally sweet and refreshing with bright aromas of cherry, exotic flowers and wild berries.
If you're looking for a high-level tasting experience, I strongly recommend Castello di Amorosa. My tasting experiences in Napa Valley were through a tour my friend and I went on but I'm certain that if I planned out my own day in this beautiful valley, this would have made the top of my list. Have you been to Napa Valley or Castello di Amorosa? What are your favorite wines to taste while participating in a tasting?
If I could travel anywhere in the world, you know I would be on the first flight to Europe. It's not currently in the budget but Napa Valley comes close to what the Loire Valley in France. This beautiful piece of paradise on the west coast is what dreams are made of. Napa boasts plenty of wine, beautiful landscapes and breathtaking sunsets. It's central location is located close enough to the city, the beach, trails and more.
Unfortunately, my time in Napa was kept short to just a day but we covered quite a bit of ground. Four wineries and vineyards, plenty of tastings and just enough food had us occupied as much as we could be. Though the weather started out rainy and cold, it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day by late morning. We drove through the valley and passed a few towns that I am dying to return and explore like St. Helena.
Driving through Napa Valley is remarkable with all the mansions and estates. Most are wineries and vineyards but others are homes like that of Nora Roberts. Rows and rows of vines add an almost calming touch to the area. It's truly an incredible experience and the closest thing I've come to the Loire Valley since I've been home from France. Is it too much to ask for a small cottage on a hill so I can sip my morning coffee overlooking the sunrise? Napa is its own little part of the world where life moves a little slower with a bit more joy for assured happiness.
The wineries visited on our tour included Castello di Amorosa, V. Sattui Winery, Folie A Deax Napa Cellars and Andretti Winery. I wouldn't normally pick favorites but Castello di Amorosa was a dream. Built like a French chateau, it looks as though it had been around for hundreds of years. Imagine that!? V. Sattui was fantastic as well and I particularly enjoyed our tasting here. The server was nice and let us try a few extra wines. He also catered them to our preferences, especially when we couldn't decide on what to order.
I have much more to share from my Napa Valley day trip so stay tuned for more posts to follow. Have you ever been to Napa Valley? Make sure to catch up on my time in San Franscisco. Follow me on Instagram for the latest trip I'm taking, recipe I'm whipping up or whatever other shenanigans I'm up to.