The Haute List

Napa Valley and Sonoma County Wineries to Note: Haute Travel, The Haute List

paradise among the vines in Napa

paradise among the vines in Napa

Happy Friday!  Friday calls for some wine (maybe other days of the week do too), and I love my wine.  But in case you didn’t know, for the past 4 years I have been writing about wine and wine-related fun for as Boston Budget Wine Examiner and NY Budget Wine Examiner. When I started doing this, it was because as my interest and experience in wine grew, so did the number of people asking me for wine input.  As a result, I have kept this haute list of my top Napa and Sonoma wineries in my gmail for years, sending it to whomever asks, and now I am sharing it with you (complete with my obscure starring system). Enjoy!
wine hills in Napa

wine hills in Napa

Sonoma Wineries I love: (stars mean I really, really love them)
I need to explore Sonoma more, but this is an initial list to get you started!
  • *Cline – (this is a regular at any wine shop, but worth buying and visiting if you have a chance.  I love the smooth, fruity and easy drinking nature of all Cline wines.
  • Jacuzzi  – yep you read right – Jacuzzi is named for the family who invented the Jacuzzi, and this winery is right across the way from Cline.  They had some nice smooth reds which we really enjoyed, and a name I will never forget!
  • Longshadow Ranch – This is a get, relaxed winery which lends well to bringing your picnic to enjoy with a great bottle.  We grabbed an Outlaw Red for our lunchtime stop, and enjoyed some great country music while we ate and drank!

dc napa

Napa Wineries I love: (again, stars mean I really, really love them)

  • *Domain Chandon (especially nice on a nice day) – Sparkling Wine, enough said.  But great varieties and an amazing setting.  Etoile, the on-site restaurant, is not bad either if you like 4 stars and fancy.  I love most of the wines from Chandon, but especially the Blancs de Noirs, and the Sparkling Red (actually, obsessed with the Sparkling Red).
  • *Joseph Phelps (serene setting and you can picnic there, though you need a reservation) – When I did a tour of 15 wineries in 5 days, Joseph Phelps had all positive notes in my tasting book.  Their Insignia is divine, and their Viognier is the first and best I have had yet. ($25 per tasting session)
  • Frank Family– great still and sparkling wine, great laid back ranch feel.
  • Swanson – very cool, intimate, and exclusive still wine and cheese tasting.  Starts at $25 and you need a reservation.
  • *V. Sattui – Expansive place with really budegt-friendly and tasty wines, inexpensive tasting fees, and a huge deli to buy food to picnic.  This is a stop for many tourists in Napa, so prepare for a bit of friendly food chaos. The wines are great table wines, and they even have some nice dessert wines.  I like the Off-Dry Riesling for a fruity, sweet treat and the Madeira for soaking berries in for dessert.
  • *Domain Carneros – Good sparkling wine, even better views…the scenery and mansion that is the Domain Carneros tasting room is one to be admired.   Enjoying a glass of wine here is a great treat for any special occasion.

domain carneros

  • Sterling – not my favorite wine, but a favorite Napa wine stop – Sterling is a household name, and has a huge estate to prove it.  They offer a gondola ride to their winery, which has really cool views.
  • Cosentino – Good intro Napa wines, Cosentino was my first Napa winery. They have a bit more earthy reds, but they suite the style of the region.
  • *Miner Family – Delicious Pinot Noir and Cabernet are what I remember best about Miner Family.  A must do, hough they sell out of the good stuff quickly, so buy your bottles early in the season.
  • *Schramsburg – another Sparkling wine favorite, you need a reservation for their awesome wine cave tour, but it is totally recommended. I like their Cremant, cause it’s a smooth celebratory wine (smooth as creme).
  • Rubicon Estates – the Copola family of movie fame owns this estate, and make some of my favorite wine shop wines, the Sofia line!  Had to stop here and say hello, and grab a quick tasting with some seriously famous people.
  • Mumm Napa – Awesome patio, decent sparkling wine.  I have other favorites, so I stick to those, but this is a great tasting environment when in Napa on a sunny day.

There is my list so far, and I hope to see it grow on my next few visits to the lovely valley.  Hope these recommendations make your next trip to Napa a haute one!

2013 in Review + Looking Ahead to 2014 (in my opinion): The Haute List

It’s that time of year again, when we look back at the year past, and forward to what the year ahead may hold. Personally, I prefer to look ahead, but the best laid plans often require a review of past practices to get them right, so off we go.

Haute Travel – Adventure in 2013 followed by peace in 2014.

2013 was a big year for travel, and some of the most coveted vacations seemed to add elements of adventure and wellness into the mix.  For me, this included hiking in Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes World Heritage Site, and doing yoga in the Riveira Maya.  But we saw an insurgence of mountain climbers in 2013, including many excursions to Machu Picchu and Kilimanjaro – perhaps some of the more accessible heights.  Stateside, Charleston was probably the “new haute” city of the year, with many a stag party heading south, along with foodies and history-buffs too.  I had an amazing few meals in Charleston (Husk and Xaio-bao biscuit), and felt the “haute spot” credit was rightly so.

Yoga in Playa del Carmen (Riviera Maya, MX)

Yoga in Playa del Carmen (Riviera Maya, MX)

2014 is looking a bit more off the beaten path, with many folks venturing to Antarctica, the hautest (or coldest), destination of the year.  You can cruise to the tip of Argentina and head down to the barren continent, and even spend the night, if you dare ( will get you there for a cool $6K).

Also haute for 2014, finding peace and meaning in your excursion, like a volunteer trip to Africa (try for example), or a meditation retreat (I want to check our Esalen in Big Sur).  As people’s work lives get busier, what better way to unwind and rewind.  Not to mention, there is always room for rest and relaxation poolside or even a good stay-cation this year…where will you go or stay in 2014?

Haute Eats – What made us full in 2013 and what makes us hungry in 2014?

From farm to table to tables at the farm, 2013 saw us venturing back to the earth for our food inspirations.  I don’t know about you, but farm-to-table is synonymous with yum for me, and not only did this come to fruition in the food we ate but the trends we so admired.

I made it to the amazing Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Hudson River Valley this year for a multi-course meal which highlighted the best of the farm.  All around the country, farm dining is becoming a haute and hip thing to do, brining our minds back to the basics with our food.

Dining a la log @BlueHill at Stone Barns

Dining a la log @BlueHill at Stone Barns

2013 also put cake in the spotlight, or actually shaped cake as as a spotlight, as cake balls made the haute list this year.  Perhaps we like the bite size nature of the balls, or they remind us of lovely petite fours of the past.

In 2014, local foods, continuing the back to basics mindset, should make the haute list.  Not only do you have more fresh, sustainable food, but you also support local economies which makes life where you live a bit sweeter.  And hopefully, we continue to have fun with dessert – such as my new favorite treat, chocolate covered honeycomb (I like for this and other fabulous unconventional chocolates).

Haute wines of the year included Malbec (again), Zinfandel (especially some great Sonoma finds), and bubbly (all kinds though we all should know more about what makes these unique and special).

Haute Fashion – From Swinging with the 20s in 2013, to Discoing in the 70s in 2014

Fashion is a fun point for me, and I love playing with decades as much as possible.  Though this year, I heard an interesting theory which tied fashion trends to the economy; namely regarding prints and color.  The theory is that as the economy grows, so do the print sizes and the range of colors we use, and as the economy shrinks, we see large houndstooth give way to tiny checks and drab colors.  Interesting theory so I will run with it.

2013 helped us get past a few economic humps, with jobs back, shopping was back too.  Mid year, we all loved Gatsby, and the 20s came back to the scene.  From jeweled headbands, to drop waist skirts, we saw a bit of vintage wherever we turned.

Gatsby Mania in Chicago

Gatsby Mania in Chicago

Add to this, 2013 may have been the year of Mint.  Mint was everywhere – from winter jeggings to summer dresses, and a what a great color it was.

Going with the growing economy theory, it seems we could catapult to the 70s and usher in bright colors (I heard Radiant Orchid is the Pantone color of the year), bold prints, and more color to match our growing wallets.  This could be an exciting year for color, and for those trying to shed their black-obsessions (ah-hem me), it may be just the ticket.

Other Haute Stuff – the stuff we loved and look forward to loving

Haute Reads – Scrambling to finish the Hunger Games, well that is last years news (fantasy).  Big this year was a lot of Historical Fiction (like the Lowlands, by Jhumpa Lahiri) and a soft bang from Khalid Hosseini (And the Mountains Echoed).  Steve Jobs was a big NF read I gathered as well.

Haute Happenings – No political agenda implied, but this was the year to talk about Obamacare and Twerking.  Yep, I grouped them. The media and news outlets took on OC, and all my friends on social media took on Miley.  Both have merits and flaws, but both make us look inside and wonder if we can do better for ourselves…good way to start a new year.

Ok, that’s my account of the year past and predictions for the year ahead.  For me, I wish for new adventures and peace, and for you I wish for the spirit to keep wishing and moving forward.

Have a happy and haute new year!

The Haute List – Looking Back at 2012

2012 marked the beginning of le haute eye, but we are excited to share our list of the “hautest” trends, food, drinks and more for the year!


Haute Fashion

There were so many amazing trends in 2012, but the ones which stood out to the le haute eye team were the ones which stole the show time and time again…

Peplum- This skirted skirt really shown this year, and provided figure friendly accents to skirts of all length.  Everyone was rocking a peplum, including Lady Gaga, which let’s you know it was a trend with staying power.


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Leather Accents – Leather made a comeback in a big way, but mostly as an accent rather than a solo act.  You can expect to see much more of this, as many designers are pushing this trend into spring, as I heard at a NYC Zara recently.  


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Haute Spots

Adventure trips were on my list this year, here are a few favorites.

Iceland – This is an adventure junkie heaven, in winter or summer, Iceland has a ton to offer!  I loved the blue lagoon, and especially enjoyed the vast and seemingly desolate scenes.  I would love to go back for another adventure, and hope to finally see the Northern Lights.


Belmopan, Belize – Belize is not just for couples, but is a great spot to visit for an adventure or to relax in the jungle.  I stayed at the Sleeping Giant Lodge ( and had the most memorable, personal, and adventurous experience with friends.



Haute Eats

Magic/Miracle Berries – One of my best food experiences of 2012 involved Miracle Berries, a berry from Africa with the amazing ability to turn sour tastes into sweet treats.  The low shelf life of this fruit makes it only available in powder or tablet form, which may seem odd to some, but it’s a flavor experience worth every bite.  Many restaurants in Chicago use Miracle berries, like ING (one of my faves), and I even use them when drinking a regualar old vodka, soda and lime, turning it into a lemonade-like treat.


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Haute Drinks

Cucumber Drinks – Everywhere I went, cucumber abounded this year, from mixes with Elderflower, to simple Cucumber Martinis, this versatile fruit lent well to so many great drinks in 2012.


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Burbon-based Cockatails/Mixology Drinks – These drinks throwback to the old days of drinking, like they did in the 20s, with bitters and potions making a comeback.  Spots like Hawthorne in Boston and Swig in San Francisco, made finding these drinks a cool experience, and have many coming back for more.  


Haute Reads

A few of my top books/series of the year were pretty obvious, but need to be listed none-the-less:

The Hunger Games Trilogy – This young adult trilogy captivated me and many an audience, and the follow-up movie made waves as well.  Following Katniss through the Hunger Games made us all feel a bit better about our life challenges.  A must read for anyone looking for adventure, drama, and a book which speaks about society


The Dovekeepers or anything by Alice Hoffman – I was recently introduced to Alice Hoffman’s work, and I am hooked.  Dovekeepers is my favorite of the historical fiction work from Hoffman, and is a deep and intense story of love and loss, set in the old world Middle East.


2012 had much more to offer, but this sampling reminds me of all the great things I experienced this year, and makes 2013 all the more exciting!  Wishing you all a safe, prosperous, and Happy New Year!