Evening of Decadence at the Speakeasy Cocktail Festival


Pinstripes and pearls. Feathers and fedoras. Blackjack and burlesque. The 1920s came roaring back Saturday at the second Speakeasy Cocktail Festival.

The event was a celebration of the style and sips of the Prohibition era. Revelers enjoyed 1920s inspired cocktails, and tastes of rum, vodka, tequila, cognac and beyond.

Opera in Midtown provided the perfect location to see and be seen – or not. Guests could take in performances from three floors, or sneak off to side rooms for drinks or cigars.

For those who were feeling lucky, the casino offered poker, blackjack, roulette and craps.

With sensual performances and all the classic and creative cocktails you could imagine, the Speakeasy Cocktail festival was a true evening of decadence.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Health Education & Communication Center of Atlanta. Click here to read about the organizations supported.

Wild Heaven Brewery Groundbreaking

Longtime supporters and beer fans joined the Wild Heaven team Thursday evening to experience the next phase for the craft beer company – a production brewery, located a stone’s throw from Decatur in Avondale Estates.

Wild Heaven groundbreakingAt the groundbreaking, founder Nick Purdy and consulting brewmaster Eric Johnson led the first of what will surely be many brewery tours, spray painting where the tanks, fermenters and even the bathrooms will be.

Afterwards guests took turns swinging sledgehammers through a remaining wall.

Of course, the evening wouldn’t be complete without Wild Heaven’s brews. In commemorative pint glasses, guests sipped Eschaton, Let There Be Light and one of the two beers that started it all: Invocation.

The Pallookaville food truck provided savory pairings – freshly dipped and fried corn dogs, french fries, pickles and boiled peanuts.

The brewery is expected to open in March 2014. For more information visit wildheavencraftbeers.com.

Check out the snapshots below from the Wild Heaven brewery groundbreaking.

Valor: Spain’s Favorite Chocolate Available in the US

Quieres chocolate? Whether you answered ‘si’ or ‘yes,’ you’ll want to try the dark and milk chocolates from Valor, Spain’s oldest family-owned chocolate company.

Valor chocolatesWith a commitment to “bean to bar” and keeping their chocolates free of artificial flavoring and preservatives, Valor has become Spain’s leading chocolate brand. Starting with cocoa beans from Ecuador, Panama and Ghana, Valor’s master chocolatiers expertly roast, shell and ground the beans for a distinct aroma and flavor.

When you take a bite of a Valor bar there’s no waxy taste or texture – it’s just really good chocolate. It is made even better with whole Marcona almonds, which add a delicately sweet and nutty flavor.

In addition to their traditional chocolates, Valor has sugar-free and no sugar added chocolates that are so tasty you won’t feel like you’re missing out. The sugar-free chocolates are made with Stevia.

Valor is based in Villajoyosa, Alicante, on the eastern coast of Spain. For more information visit www.ValorChocolate.com.

Purchase Valor Chocolates online at the following sites:

Disclosure: The Amateur Gastronomer received complimentary samples.

It’s Time for Wine: 1949 Cheval Blanc in a 2013 World

By Monty Preiser

If you were asked to design the quintessential retail shop for the true oenophile, you would be hard pressed to do a better job than simply copy Andrew Lampasone’s Wine Watch in Ft. Lauderdale. Not a millimeter of wasted space, scores of vintages and thousands of wines from around the world, a designated area where a loyal clientele gathers to share wines they bring and ones Andy opens from his own stock, and a proprietor (Andy) who is both expert in wines on a global scale, and perfect in his knowledge of where each bottle is in his own place. In fact, such a legend has this establishment become that few vintners or sales people get to south Florida without making a stop.

Yet Andy takes it all a step further by offering almost weekly tastings of rare and/or outstanding wines. Whether it be Cult Cab night, Madeira night, or a simpler dinner featuring the current releases of a top winery, something is always going on. if you live in or visit the Lauderdale area, you should certainly be on his mailing list.

Chateau Cheval BlancI (that’s why the column is in the singular – Sara could not attend), along with 15 other tasters, cozily sidled into Wine Watch’s back room for a vertical of “Miles’ favorite wine,” the Chateau Cheval Blanc St. Emilion. As you probably know, the blend of this wine is close to 2/3 Cabernet Franc and 1/3 Merlot each year, and the winemaker gives credit for its longevity to the Cab Franc. For me, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about as I had never tried it. For everyone else (the majority, interestingly, were doctors) old Bordeaux samplings seemed to be almost passé.

The lineup of wines did indeed seem staggering. Robert Parker’s 100 point (if you put much stock in that sort of thing) 1949; Bordeaux Book’s 95 point 1953 (half bottle); Wine Spectator’s 96 point 1982; Wine Spectator’s 92 point 1985; Bordeaux Book’s 89 point 1986; Parker’s 98+ point 1990; Wine Spectator’s 91 point 1996; and Parker’s 93 point 1999. To give you an example of the value of these wines, the 1990 was released at $250.00/bottle and Andy had it marked at $1,175.00. Winesearcher shows about 8 shops worldwide carrying the 1949, with prices ranging from $1,500.00/bottle in Northamptonshire, U.K. to $3,500.00 per bottle in Centre, France.

Chateau Cheval Blanc[As an aside, there is an interesting story reported by Elin McCoy in her book The Emperor of Wine: the Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr., and the Reign of American Taste. It seems that Jacques Hebrard, the then manager of Cheval Blanc, was less than pleased with Mr. Parker’s 1981 barrel sample rating of his wine. Mr. Hebrard asked for a re-taste. When Parker arrived he was attacked by Hebrard’s dog while the manager simply stood aside. When Parker asked for a bandage to stop his leg from bleeding (Hebrard denies that it was), Parker says Hebrard instead gave him a copy of the offending review. Apparently Parker isn’t one to hold a grudge as he did re-taste the wine, found it markedly different, and updated his evaluation.]

There is no denying that my palate runs toward California style wines. I have, however, tasted most of the great reputation wines from Bordeaux, many of them old vintages as well – and many selling for $500/bottle and above. And of course over the years I have sampled scores of younger wines with more modest prices. Nothing has changed my opinion that (as prize fighters are described) pound for pound and ounce for ounce France can no longer compete with California.

vineyards in St. EmilionThus, the most interesting part of my night was the question of what, if anything, we were really learning by tasting this vertical. Or was this perhaps just a fun exercise? The Francophiles in the room (almost everyone else) were enthralled by this opportunity and, to a person, they agreed the importance of the experience was to see how the Cheval Blanc aged. They concluded that since the 1949 and 1953 were still so beautiful, all the newer wines would age in the same or similar manner.

While I agreed that the 1949 and 1953 were exquisite (in fact, the 49 is on the list of the best wines I have ever tasted), I disagreed with the final opinion expressed above by the vast majority. To me, and I think it is borne out by logic, tasting an older Bordeaux from a particular winery has minimal bearing on how well most younger wines from that same winery will age. In that region of France it is all about vintage. In other words, wines from most Chateaux will age wonderfully in a good vintage year, and, conversely, will age poorly when the year’s weather and/or other conditions have been problematic. Thus, winery x’s great 1979 does not accurately predict how winery x’s 2012 will age.

Contrast that with California, where, except for an aberration like 2011, the weather is consistent and vintages are so similar that it is often hard to distinguish one from another unless they are tasted side by side. It is only under these conditions, I argued, that one can tell how a 2012 wine from winery y is actually going to age by tasting older winery y vintages.

I wish I could say that my position sparked a heated and collegial debate, but most in the room held the prevailing opinion otherwise and apparently saw no advantage to commenting on my observations. Not surprising, really, but this belief was actually and inadvertently contradicted by one of the doctors who had generously supplied the wines for the evening at a low cost. He pointed out the Bordeaux wines he cellared were all excellent because, “I don’t buy bad vintages.” This is really a tacit admission that in Bordeaux, at least, it is in fact all about vintage, which, I hasten to point out here, was, and is, my point exactly.

With that background, I can report that the 1949, 1953, and 1985 vintages were indeed magnificent. In fact, we all chose our two favorites and but for a few hands raised in favor of the 1990, the three named above took all the votes. And while I thought its still aromatic and fragrant nose coupled with spices, wood, and black fruit put the 49 out front, the smooth and aromatically brilliant 1953 was the choice of the group.

As to all the others? I thought they were marginally OK. The 1999 seems to bring $315 – $440/ bottle and the 1986 $330 – $530. You would not find me spending anywhere near that much. Most were too thin for my liking, and, as validated by the entire group, less enticing than the big four (’49, ’53, ’85, and ’90).

We concluded with a gift from one of the docs, a 1992 Chateau d’Yquem. Not bad. In fact, everything about the evening, including the erudite company, was lovely in all respects. Andrew, keep up the good work.


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com. Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley and Sonoma, the most comprehensive guides to wineries and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

Red Bull Curates: Canvas Cooler Project Atlanta

The Westside Cultural Arts Center was the setting Thursday night for the Red Bull Curates: Canvas Cooler Project Atlanta. Twenty local artists were challenged to transform a blank canvas-wrapped Red Bull cooler into a work of art.

Red Bull Canvas Cooler ProjectGuests and a panel of judges voted on the coolers via Twitter hashtag, with the two top artists scoring a spot in the SCOPE Art Show during Art Basel week in Miami in December.

The participating artists included InKyoung Chun, Patrick Davis Allen Taylor, Catlanta, ericmack, Sarah Emerson, Brandon Sadler Joe Tsambiras, Michi Meko, olive47, Alvaro Alvillar, Sanithna Phansavanh, Emer, PLF (Peter Ferrari), Lela Brunet, Spencer Murrill, Mike Germon, Jesse Jaeger, Sam Parker and Matt Relkin.

The winning artists were Sarah Emerson and Sam Parker. Lela Brunet and Peter Ferrari were the people’s choice winners.

The coolers will be on display at restaurants and venues around Atlanta.

Here are snapshots from the event:

>> Connect:
@RedBullATL and @SCOPEArtShow on Twitter

Wallet-Friendly Red Wines for Fall

Looking for a new great value wine to try this fall? Try one of these three reds:

Esporao Monte Velho RedHerdade do Esporão Monte Velho Red 2012


Set a place at the dinner table for this medium bodied, food-friendly wine from the Alentejo region of Portugal. The wine is a blend of indigenous grapes Aragonês (40%) and Trincadeira (35%) along with Touriga Nacional (20%) and Syrah (5%). Vibrant berry aromas introduce flavors of cherry, raspberry, and cassis. The fruit is layered with white pepper, clove and subtle toasted oak. If you’re not familiar with the wines of Portugal, Esporão offers an excellent introduction.

$10, 14% alcohol by volume

Rib Shack RedRib Shack Red 2012

South Africa

With its smoky and earthy flavors, this wine from the Western Cape in South Africa is the perfect pairing for barbecues and tailgates. The wine from Douglas Green is 60% Pinotage and 40% Shiraz. Intense tobacco, leather and wood smoke aromas and flavors are supported nicely by black cherry, boysenberry and plum. Silky tannins give the wine a smooth mouthfeel, and the finish is satisfying with lingering dark berry and mocha.

$10, 13% alcohol by volume

Dead Bolt Winemaker's BlendDead Bolt Winemaker’s Red Blend 2011


Juicy and jammy, this wine can warm you up as the temperature drops. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah and Shiraz from California by Australian winemaker Philip Laffer. Black plum, baked cherries and sweet tannins make for a bold first impression. This is followed by a silky finish that has a touch of nutmeg. From the flashy label to the full flavor, this wine is anything but shy.

$14, 13% alcohol by volume


More Red Wines | White Wines | More Under $20

2012 Finger Lakes Riesling Report

Say hello to the class of 2012. With a series of virtual tastings, the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance celebrated the release of the 2012 Rieslings.

From dry to sweet, Riesling comes in a variety of styles – part of the reason why it is the fastest growing white wine in the United States. Riesling is ideally suited for the cool climate of the Finger Lakes. Look to this region in New York for some exciting and delicious wines.

How do the 2012 Finger Lakes Rieslings taste? The Amateur Gastronomer shares a sip of three.

Heron Hill Winery
Classic Dry Riesling 2012

Heron Hill 2012 Dry RieslingOverlooking Keuka Lake, Heron Hill Winery has been producing wines for more than 35 years in the Finger Lakes. The winery uses state-of-the-art equipment combined with Old World expertise — Winemaker Bernard Cannac learned winemaking at his family’s vineyard in southern France and was educated in Bordeaux and Burgundy. This is one of five styles of Riesling that Heron Hill produces each vintage.

Crisp, floral and elegant, the Heron Hill Dry Riesling is a wine to make you a fan of the Finger Lakes. Aromas of pear, golden apple and white flowers introduce a palate of tropical fruit. Delicate flavors of mango, guava, apple and honeysuckle are nicely balanced with flinty minerality and good acidity. There’s subtle sweet honey on the finish, making every sip feel like its ending on an upbeat note.

$14, 12% alcohol by volume

>> Connect:
@HeronHillWinery on Twitter

Standing Stone Vineyards
Old West Block Riesling 2012

Standing Stone Old West Block 2012 RieslingStanding Stone is located on the east side of Seneca Lake. Riesling plantings there date back to 1972; current owners Tom and Marti Macinski purchased the vineyards in 1991. Tom oversees all aspects of grape growing (he jokes he “only sleeps well when nothing is growing.”), and Marti oversees the winemaking. Standing Stone practices sustainable farming, and filters and fines the wines only when necessary.

This single vineyard, medium dry Riesling comes from one of the oldest vinifera vineyards in the Finger Lakes, planted in 1972. The 2012 vintage benefited from lots of sunshine throughout the summer and harvest. The wine opens with aromas of orange blossom, golden pear and sweet lemon. Flavors of white apricot, white peach and lychee mix with slate and a hint of white pepper. The initial sweetness is followed by bright acidity that gives the wine a refreshing finish.

$19, 12.2% alcohol by volume

>> Connect:
@ssvny on Twitter
Standing Stone on Facebook

Thirsty Owl Wine Company
Riesling 2012

Thirsty Owl 2012 RieslingLocated on the west side of Cayuga Lake, Thirsty Owl opened in September 2002 on an auspicious date – Friday the 13th. It seems the winery has had good luck; over the past 11 years winemaker and vineyard manager Shawn Kime and the Thirsty Owl team have produced wines that have won numerous Best of Class and Best of Show awards, including the New York State Governor’s Cup.

Grapes for this medium dry Riesling came mainly from the 30 year-old estate vineyard. Apple, tangerine, and honeysuckle are expressed on both the nose and palate, along with flavors of honeydew, white grapefruit and cantaloupe. The wine has a pleasantly round and soft mouthfeel, gentle acidity and a finish with lingering melon.

$15, 11.3% alcohol by volume

>> Connect:
@TheThirstyOwl on Twitter
Thirsty Owl on Facebook

For more on the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance visit FingerLakesWineAlliance.com.
Connect with @FLXWine on Twitter or Facebook.com/FingerLakesWine.

Oyster Cook-Off at The Hangout in Gulf Shores, Alabama

Love oysters or think you make the best oyster dish around? Then you’ll want to visit Gulf Shores, Alabama on November 9th for the Gulf Coast Oyster Cook-Off.

Oyster Cook-Off at The HangoutNow in its 6th year, the Oyster Cook-Off is presented by Alabama Gulf Seafood and held at The Hangout, a family-friendly spot just steps from the beach. Entry is free, and tasting tickets may be purchased for $2 each or $30 for a book of 20 tickets.

At the cook-off chefs and amateurs will compete for bragging rights and big bucks – $10,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded. More than 65 chefs will be participating, including Atlanta chefs Adam Evens of The Optimist, Ron Eyester of Rosebud, Bob McDonough from F&H Food Trading Group and Mimmo Alboumeh of Red Pepper Taqueria.

Oyster Cook-OffThink you have what it takes to compete? For an entry fee you can show off your best Rockefeller, Cajun or raw oyster dish. The dishes will be judged by attendees and a panel of celebrity judges. The fee to enter is $300 and the deadline is October 18th. Click here for more information on the entry Oyster Cook-Offand judging rules.

Teams must be on site by 9am on Saturday, November 9th and ready to serve at 10am. The event opens to the public at 11am.

In addition to all the oysters you can eat, there will be live music and football shown on big screens.

Click here to see photographs from the 2012 Oyster Cook-Off.

The Hangout also hosts a music festival in May.

The 6th Annual Oyster Cook-Off, Saturday, November 9th at 11am at The Hangout, 101 East Beach Boulevard, Gulf Shores, Alabama 36542.

photos from The Hangout’s Flickr page

Stillhouse: Craft Burgers and Moonshine Now Open in Buckhead

Atlanta’s destination for moonshine is now open – no lawbreaking required.

Stillhouse is the newest restaurant to open in the Andrews Entertainment District. It is a great spot for a night out, offering moonshine on its own or in cocktails, and a menu to rival any of Atlanta’s burger-centric spots.

StillhouseNot familiar with moonshine? Stillhouse proves just how versatile it can be. Drinks like the Carolina Mule and Ghostly Old Fashioned show how moonshine can be a good base for traditional and modern cocktails. Moonshine can also take on a limitless number of flavors – try one of the house made moonshine infusions that are made with regional ingredients like Vidalia onions and Georgia peaches. There is even smoked moonshine – you select a type of wood, and mixologists infuse the smoky flavor into your drink.

moonshine infusionsThe food is just as inventive (and delicious). Start with a southern favorite like the Fried Green Tomatoes or Pimento Cheese. Or try the Mussel Moonshine, PEI mussels steamed in a broth made with Troy & Sons Platinum Moonshine.

The beef burgers are filling, with double patties and a variety of locally sourced and creative toppings. The top bun is flipped up for you to add Stillhouse’s house made ketchup (both standard and spicy) and mustard.

Unusual sounding but very tasty, the PB&J Burger has already become one of Stillhouse’s top sellers. The two beef patties are topped with Georgia peanut hummus, fig jam, fresh sliced peach, blue cheese and pecans. It’s a sweet, salty, creamy and savory mix that really works.

The AG recommends the Buckhead Burger, which is beef patties topped with duck confit, goat cheese, green tomato relish, pickled beets and fresh spinach.

There are also chicken, duck, pork, crab cake, fried oyster and veggie burgers offered on the menu.

For sides try the super creamy Spicy Macaroni & Cheese, and one of the Smothered French Fries (the AG recommends the fries with the North Carolina Gouda). You’ll definitely want to order a side of the collard greens. Slightly sweet in flavor, they’re so good you and your dining companions will fight over the last bite.

If you still have room for dessert, try the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. Topped with white chocolate and a bourbon caramel sauce, it is every bit as rich as you would imagine.

Try a new drink with dessert. As the AG found out, some of the less sweet house made infusions make a great pairing.

Stillhouse: Craft Burgers and Moonshine, 56 East Andrews Drive NW, Atlanta 30305. Open Monday through Saturday, 5pm to 2am. Live music nightly at 9pm. www.stillhouseatl.com

>> Connect:  @StillhouseATL on Twitter
Facebook: www.facebook.com/stillhouseatlanta

It’s Time for Wine: The Big Three Napa Dining Experiences

It’s Time for Wine and Other Things: The Big Three Napa Dining Experiences, Plus an Alert about OpenTable

By Monty and Sara Preiser

Affirmed vs. Alyidar. Frazier vs. Ali. FDR or Abraham Lincoln. Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, or Duke Snider. Ludlam, Follett, or Baldacci? Casablanca vs. Gone With the Wind.

Each and every person, horse, or film named above has at one time been at the pinnacle of their existence, and while sometimes circumstances allowed one to actually best the other in head to head competition, on other occasions that was never possible. Americans, however, when there is no criteria for a clear winner, love to debate who, or which, is better in the hypothetical – they hate ties and always look for number one. And if they can’t have a clear victor, they at least want to learn the pros and cons so they can comfort themselves that they understand the differences.

fine diningSo it is today that we write about what we consider to be the three dining giants in the Napa Valley – The French Laundry, La Toque, and the The Restaurant at Meadowood. All are presently at the top of their games, though we have never seen a major critic or magazine analyze them as we will do below (Michelin uses some strange criteria and, as are too many of the noted food writers, seemingly over-swayed by reputations). Of course, there are other outstanding places in the Valley, some that people will be surprised we have omitted from this discussion. However, we have covered most Napa restaurants of note in the past 6 months and believe the three mentioned, all things taken into consideration, are in a class by themselves.

A Chef on Property is Worth Two in New York

We are great believers in capitalism, and so if Thomas Keller can continue to fill every table at the Laundry and its New York sister restaurant Per Se (which we love and visit every other year or so), we have no qualms at all. That being said, the food at La Toque and Meadowood is at least the equal of that served at the French Laundry, and on some occasions better. And why shouldn’t that be so? Famed Chefs Ken Frank (owner of La Toque) and rising star Christopher Kostow (THE man at Meadowood) are on property most evenings overseeing their kitchens, while the Laundry is overseen on a nightly basis by a younger, less experienced chef. Thus, given the fact that there is no evidence that Chef Keller, a true innovator, is presently any more creative or technically superior than his contemporaries named above, it only makes sense, if one is truthful, that better food will more often be found at the other two establishments when Thomas is not present at his. Again, this does not mean the dishes at the Laundry are not exquisite – they are. But so they are at the other two restaurants as well.

[Comment: Our own experience, almost without exception, is that a restaurant with its excellent chef in the kitchen, even if s/he is perhaps not widely known, is quite often better than the famous establishment owned by big name chefs who are commonly on TV or overseeing multiple properties. It is difficult to logically dispute this.]

Service in General Takes Many Forms

Service at the three great establishments in today’s spotlight is uniformly outstanding, yet different in formality and concept. Here, it is hard to say which is unequivocally best as diners prefer different approaches. At La Toque, the vested servers are trained to recognize and encourage the individuality of their clientele, all the while interacting to keep the evening upbeat and fun in a pleasantly energetic manner. At Meadowood and the Laundry the tuxedoed staff reflects a far more formal manner while they guide the diner through a semi-set degustation menu in a very quiet atmosphere. The latter is indeed very appealing to many diners, especially those who feel that a classically formal presentation is an integral part of fine dining.

Ambiance – The First Thing You Notice

Monty’s dad used to say that you “dine with your eyes,” meaning, of course, that your surroundings (and plate presentation) influence your meal. This is even more so when you realize that the first thing one sees is vitally important in an overall evaluation. All three restaurants are beautiful, though in different ways. The room at Meadowood is stunning and could be out of a Gatsby style movie. The Laundry is in an impossibly beautiful setting, welcoming its diners to an old two story home reminiscent of a film about the Civil War. La Toque opts, as it often does, to be more modern, though the room is perfectly lit, comfortable in the extreme, and much like New York. No one would be disappointed spending three hours in any of these dining rooms.

Wine Service Can Set a Restaurant Apart –
Especially in Napa

The wine program put in place by Chef Frank and Scott Tracy at La Toque many years ago is a tradition being carried on by the present sommeliers, who are always on the floor, personally pour the beautiful wines, and take time to explain why each wine is paired with a particular dish. Importantly, there are always enough somms on duty here to handle the night’s crowd, even if one has to be called in at the last minute. At Meadowood and the Laundry the sommeliers have top qualifications and will of course help with your selections, but they are not always so visible throughout the meal, nor do they always take time to interact as much with the diner as they do at La Toque.

Curiously, Meadowood’s procedure is to not offer a food menu before you dine – they want the meal to be a surprise. That of course is all well and good (and can be fun), yet they still offer you a pre dinner wine list. We ask you – How can one properly select a wine if s/he does not know what food is coming? Can’t be done by anyone but David Copperfield. We had a recent excellent experience at Meadowood, and we think it was enhanced because we asked for a run-down of the menu before we decided on wines. We suggest you consider requesting the same. At La Toque you select your meal from many options, so you control your own wine destiny if you desire. The Laundry does not offer so many food options, but you know what they will be so that you can decide how you want to have your wine service presented.

None of the above should be taken to mean that one of these Big III has a particularly better wine list than the other. They each have their strengths and know their clientele. All three have wonderfully balanced lists – mostly U.S. and French, but many other countries are represented. Something we love to see, and for which we give credit to all three establishments, is their seeking to pair your meal with the best wine for the job, regardless of place of origin.

Finally in this category, we have to talk about corkage fees for bringing your own bottles. La Toque charges a more-than-fair $25/bottle – they know you are in wine country and want you to enjoy the fruits of your exploration. The Laundry and Meadowood ask what is (and you can’t say it any other way) an outrageous $75/bottle, and the Laundry limits you to one per couple. It seems sadly obvious that both of these high-corkage-charging restaurants do what they can to discourage the diner from bringing a favorite, which we would criticize in any city, but which in wine country seems particularly out of place. “Bad form” comes to mind. More than once we have decided where we will dine based on the fairness of the corkage charge.

No Matter How Rich You Are, You Should Ask the Price

The price for your dinner at each restaurant is a fair consideration for comparison, given the fact that you will receive all you really want to eat at any of them (La Toque a bit heavier on savory dishes than Meadowood or the Laundry, while the Laundry serves more sweets than the other two). Before wines, the 9 course tasting menu at French Laundry costs $270 each, the 12 course tasting menu at Meadowood $225, while the 5 course menu at La Toque is $90 (don’t be deceived by “5” as you may select from a number of choices here and the servings are larger than at the other two). After wine pairings and tips at the two more expensive restaurants you will see a check in the neighborhood of $800/couple. At La Toque the bill will usually be a touch less than half that.

Can You Guess Our Conclusion?

So Affirmed nosed out Alyidar three times. Ali won the rubber match against Frazier. The best New York center fielder depends on which Borough was your home. The best modern author depends on who you read last. And the best movie depends on your mood when voting. What about the Big III (which wouldn’t be our Big III unless we thought the world of them)?

Setting records for its number of diners over the past 6 months, La Toque, for the reasons set out above, continues to be our choice* as the overall top fine dining experience in Napa. The more inexpensive price is just a bonus, as it is the equal of its more expensive cousins in most other respects.

We are aware that the still fabled French Laundry has sold out every meal for years, and is on every top ten list. We are also cognizant of Meadowood’s deserved popularity among the well-heeled. In fact, we dined at both restaurants not too long ago and were absolutely enthralled with each. They were practically perfect in every aspect, and there is nothing (other than the corkage charge) of which to be critical if you accept the prices as being consistent with world class dining rooms. At this juncture in our lives, however, we prefer our fabulous food in an atmosphere of collegiality as practiced at La Toque. Saving over $400 is never a bad thing either.

We can even go a bit farther. There are certainly restaurants throughout the world on a par with La Toque, Meadowood, and the Laundry, but almost universally the charges are in the range asked by the latter two. We believe that we have never dined better for $350 (everything in the world is relevant) than in Ken Frank’s place in downtown Napa. When you know that the Laundry and Meadowood each have 3 deserved Michelin stars, the one star for La Toque is a restaurant world travesty.**

French Laundry, 6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2380

La Toque, 1314 McKinstry Street, Napa, CA 94559
(707) 257-5157

The Restaurant at Meadowood, 900 Meadowood Lane, St Helena, CA 94574
(707) 967-1205

* In the interest of full disclosure, we are (very) small investors in La Toque. We made that decision because we believed it to be just as good as we have described it herein. Our venture has not diminished our appreciation for Meadowood and The French Laundry. We hope our reporting has been factual where appropriate.

** The other five excellent Napa Valley restaurants that have earned one star are Auberge du Soleil, Bouchon, Redd, Solbar and Terra. We like them all and agree that the stars are deserved, but we obviously think the three about which we have written are a step above (and Michelin agrees with us on two).

OpenTable Alert

We know that many of you make reservations using OpenTable. It is the smart thing to do. No charge, it is easy, there are restaurant menus to peruse, and you receive dining credit from them after a specified number of reservations are honored.

Sometimes, however, we all go to a restaurant website for a more thorough picture of the establishment. Quite often (more common all the time) the restaurant invites you to make reservations through a link which is to OpenTable. All well and good, EXCEPT when you do that OpenTable does not reward you with any points. In other words, you have to make reservations through the OpenTable website directly to be awarded dining points. We did not know that until this week. Did you?


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com. Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley and Sonoma, the most comprehensive guides to wineries and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.