An Alternative Guide to Napa

Places to go when you need something different.


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At the 2014 edition of Premiere Napa Valley, the region’s top trade event, more than 90 percent of the auction lots were big, hearty red wines. Of the 225 wines offered, only seven were white—including two sparklers—and seven were Pinot Noir.

That adds up to a lot of tannin and, generally speaking, a fair bit of alcohol as well.

To be fair, most visits to Napa aren’t quite that Cabernet-centric. Many wineries at least pour a Sauvignon Blanc or a Chardonnay (sometimes both), which can help refresh palates before diving into a lineup of red wines.

Still, the focus of almost any tasting trip to Napa will be the region’s big reds, generally Cabernet Sauvignon. And after a day of palate-staining tasting, you might be in the mood for something different come evening.

That’s certainly how I felt during a recent visit.

Thankfully, the region’s restaurateurs seem to have discovered the same thing. While most wine lists lean heavily on Napa offerings, many reach over the county line for their white wine offerings. Some restaurants do however feature zesty local whites, like Sinskey’s Abraxas, a Carneros-grown blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer.

Alternatively, visitors can do like the local winemakers do and refresh their palates with beer.

Trumer Pils, originally from Austria but now made 40 minutes away in Berkeley, is the lightest, crispest local brew that visitors are likely to encounter.

Even closer is Napa Smith Brewery, located across from the Napa airport. Its taproom is a bit out of the way if you’re in the heart of the valley, but the beers are available at numerous locations. Stop into Cantina on the main drag in St. Helena when you need the comfort of a Napa Smith Amber Ale served in a zero-pretension zone.

Not a beer drinker?

Aim your cocktail sights high at Goose & Gander (the former Martini House), also in St. Helena. Although star mixologist and 2013 Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40 honoree Scott Beattie has joined Meadowood, the mixed-drinks program he started lives on.

Exotic ingredients like Chinese five-spice powder and star anise mingle easily with fresh produce and Bay Area spirits from Hangar 1, St. George and Distillery No. 209, spun together in ingenious, palate-rousing combinations.

At almost every turn, Napa’s restaurants and bars offer exciting alternatives to the region’s wines, giving visitors even more reasons to drink in the valley. 


More than Cabernet

Robert Sinskey Vineyards
$25 tasting includes four wines and small bites from the kitchen.

Napa Smith Brewery
Tours at 4 pm daily. Ten beers on tap.

Goose & Gander
Extensive, inventive cocktail list. Full menu.

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