Last night, I opened up a bottle of Pinot Noir brought back as a souvenir from my recent trip to California, and realized how lovely it was to revisit Napa Valley through the smell and taste of my first sip. But I have to admit it also got me longing for barbecue. "Come again?" I'm sure you must be wondering. Well, let me explain: In the heart of Napa Valley is some of the best barbecue found west of the Mississippi, and it's served in the company of some very fine wines, making for, perhaps, the perfect meal.
I'd ventured up to Napa with two friends from Kansas City, so when they mentioned trying some barbecue I was cautious. Their standards are much higher than my own, but really, I wondered, can you expect good barbecue in California? And in the highbrow area of Napa it didn't seem a likely fit. But I was pleasantly impressed.
For the past 14 years, importer Mark Pope, aka "The Bounty Hunter," and his team of "Wine Scouts" have introduced thousands of wines to his loyal customers. Since 2003 he's been running the eponymous bistro and wine shop in downtown Napa that's factored in his second obsession: barbecue. In the restaurant area, guests sit at several high tables, where they can order up wine flights or pulled pork sandwiches—both of which are so full of flavor that your taste buds richocet through your mouth, unsure of what to do with themselves. Opposite the tables are shelves and shelves of wine, which the gracious and well-versed staffers will pull down and pair with your meals. The three of us perused the menu and finally settled on the the Bounty Hunter Smokin' BBQ Platter, a mix of pulled pork, apple wood smoked brisket, and barbecued ribs with meat that just about melted off the bone. The Kansas City girls were blown away—the mix of smoke and spices mingled with the trio of amazing sauces, and I knew we'd found something special. (In fact, it was so good that though I told myself I would take a picture for the blog, the food didn't stay long enough on the plate for me to even snap one shot.)
After our meat feast, we then trekked over to the Domaine Carneros winery, which I had written about when they began making organic sparkling wine earlier this year. Head winemaker Eileen Crane was correct when she told me that the ambiance at Carneros was different from other vineyards. Their outside patio overlooks the rolling Napa hills, then encourage you to sit and relax, enjoying their varietals instead of just hurrying onto the next sipping stand. We ordered two flights: one of their Pinot Noirs and another of their sparkling wines, including a taste of their special Blanc de Blanc, Le Reve, or "The Dream." It was a wonderful afternoon, one that I was worried I might have to wake up from at some point. But fortunately, I was able to revisit my Napa afternoon last night thanks to a well-poured souvenir.
Photos: Janelle Nanos