June 14, 2006
Napa Dossier

With the nerve of legendary British spies, the anonymous agents of the posh travel guide Nota Bene swarmed through the Napa Valley not long ago to assemble a dossier of sensitive tips for anyone planning to visit the valley this summer.

The opening volley is pretty snarky, upbraiding the valley as "not that beautiful physically," "disappointingly lacking in striking architecture" and impossible to visit without a car. "For all the area's biodiversity, all the organic wine and vegetables you'll sample, all the talk of terroir and earth and minerals, and the wholesome eco-sensibility of the people who live and work here, a car is the only way to get about."

With few exceptions, the hotels and the wines get knocked, but the correspondents did enjoy much of the food they tasted. They especially liked The French Laundry (best restaurant for serious dining), Domaine Chandon (best setting), Bouchon (best atmosphere), Tra Vigne (best Italian) and Cyrus (best newcomer, which actually is in Healdsburg in neighboring Sonoma County, which you sense is where the writers really wish they had spent their time).

The best wineries to visit, they found, were Quintessa, Schramsberg and Chappellet, while the best places to stay were two relative newcomers, Milliken Creek Inn and Poetry Inn. They got over their shock at the dismal contents of the minibar in their room at the Carneros Inn to conclude that it has the "best countryside setting" of the resorts they visited. ("Corona and Michelob the only beers! Just who do they think their guests are?" they fume about the Carneros Inn.)

Nota Bene devotes most of each of its 10 issues a year to a prime destination - Singapore, Marrakech, Florence, Dublin and so forth - but a subscription doesn't come cheap at 295 pounds, which translates into $544 American.

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