10 Places to Sip and Nibble In California's Napa Valley. #7 Is A Hidden Gem.

Northern California's wine country is a magical place. Each and every time I visit I feel like I am in a dream -- perhaps it's the wine that has this effect! There is a never ending list of wineries and tasting rooms to visit while in Napa or Sonoma. So, how does one go about choosing? That's the dilemma. Napa Valley contains well over 200 wineries, and most welcome guests with tours and tasting rooms. While enticing, the wealth of options can be overwhelming for all but the savviest of insiders. I'm breaking it down for you, the best places to sip on wine tastings and nibble on small pairings.

1. Sip Tiny Bubbles at Domaine Chandon

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Chandon is one of the few Napa Valley wineries permitted to have a restaurant, the excellent Étoile. For the tasting lounge, chef Perry Hoffman created dishes to go with Chandon sparkling wines. chandon.com

2. Experience Wine and Olive Oil tasting at Long Meadow Ranch

Long Meadow Ranch 2 Long Meadow Ranch All of the tastings here include samples of the estate's wonderful olive oils, too. Reserve a spot for a Farm-to-Table Experience ($85), which culminates in a three-course lunch at Long Meadow's Logan-Ives House. Dishes from chef Tim Mosblech are tailored to the wines, from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet. longmeadowranch.com

3. Explore 20 Small Wineries at Ma(i)sonry

Charles Rovegno House, 6711 Washington St., Yountville, CAMa(i)sonry

Twenty small California wineries offer tastings at the Ma(i)sonry collective. Guests can taste from whichever wineries they choose in whichever setting they prefer, from a steampunk-art gallery to a contemporary sculpture garden to a blanket on the lawn. maisonry.com

4. For the Cabernet drinkers, you'll love O'Shaughnessy

O'Shaughnessy Everything about Paul and Betty Wooll's secluded, Cabernet-focused winery is state of the art, from the glass-and-stone cellar to the 11,000-square-foot cave drilled into the side of Howell Mountain. Yet the building manages to blend into its natural surroundings. oshaughnessywinery.com

5. Taste one of the oldest producers, Beaulieu Vineyard

Beaulieu Vineyard One of the oldest producers in the valley, BV offers tours of the original winery building, which dates back to 1885. These are followed by barrel samples of Cabernet and a stop in the new Heritage Room, which chronicles the history of wine in Napa. bvwines.com

6. Wine Taste in the Louis XV-styled Château that is Domaine Carneros

Domaine CarnerosDomaine Carneros 2 There’s no better way to soak in Carneros than by sitting on the terrace of Domaine Carneros with a glass of sparkling wine in hand. The winery, set gracefully on a hill, was designed to evoke the 200-year-old, Louis XV-styled Château de la Marquetterie, which Champagne’s Taittinger family has owned since before World War II. The tableside service on the patio allows visitors to sit back and feel the signature Carneros breezes while sampling Domaine Carneros wines by the glass, flight or bottle. Munch on the complimentary almonds or dig into the well-priced selections of cheeses or caviar. The intimate Balcony Package for two is a private tasting of top cuvées overlooking the vines, for $250. Inside, a painting of Madame de Pompadour dominates the foyer leading to the marble-floored, high-ceilinged tasting room. www.domainecarneros.com

7. Relax in the unpretentiousness of Scribe

ScribeScribeWinery_Web-12 Just a short drive away from San Francisco, Scribe Winery in Sonoma provide an exceptional setting for an enjoyable wine tasting while nibbling on snacks in Wine Country. Andrew Mariani's two hundred acre farm/winery is certainly an outstanding experience. harming, rustic, and indie are three words to describe Scribe. The tasting room? Simple. A few out door rugged tables to the view of the vineyards, not scripted, down to earth wine servers that willing to have conversations with you and not there to clean your wallet or forcing you to join their wine clubs. The kind of service that make you come back to buy more wines and worth-of-mouth to promote their wines on social media without anything more. Scribe is by appointment only.

8. Enjoy a glass in resort style at Ram's Gate

rams gatejpeg Ram's Gate Winery is something pretty spectacular and worth checking out. Located at the entrance to the Carneros region of Sonoma just across from Infineon Raceway. The facility and tasting room just opened about in 2012, offering an excellent hospitality experience, amazing wines from some of the best vineyards in Carneros and Sonoma County, stunning architecture and views, and excellent food pairings to complement our wines and round out the experience.

9. Try the Cheese and Wine Pairings at Far Niente

Far NienteFar Niente 2 Far Niente is one of Napa’s most elegant estates, with beautiful grounds and a deep history. A visit includes a winery tour and tasting of current release and library Cabernets and Chardonnays, with a seasonal cheese match. Not bad for $50. The 40,000 square feet of wine-aging caves are spectacular, as is the carriage house, where you’ll get to peek in on founder Gil Nickel’s car collection. www.farniente.com

10. Plenty of photo opps at Peju Province Winery

Peju Province Winery 1 Peju Province Winery 2 Outside, a long line of sycamore trees, gardens, fountains and sculptures offer plenty of photo opportunities. Inside Peju, there is plenty more to look at—an art gallery, an antique stained-glass window and shopping—and multiple tasting spaces; be sure to make a reservation if you want a tasting of older library wines. It all has a quirky, colorful, friendly vibe, and the staff is very accommodating. www.peju.com

Have you been to any of these? Share your favorites!

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Decadently Chocolatey Vegan Chocolate Ganache Tart

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Northern California, Gluten-Free Travel, Gluten Free travel, Gluten-Free Traveling, Gluten Free Traveling, Gluten-Free Northern California, Mendocino, Northern California Coast Last year, on a recent stay in Mendocino's Stanford Inn by the Sea, I feel head over heals over the Chocolate Ganache Tart--decadently chocolatey with a delicious berry sauce. Not too sweet or heavy. Just wonderful! The best part? Both vegan and gluten-free! Now being back home, I have searched high and low for Chef Barry Horton Ravens Vegan Chocolate Ganache Tart recipe. Voilà! I have found it. The luxurious chocolate filling of this tart is amazingly easy to make.

Enjoy!

[amd-zlrecipe-recipe:5]

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Insiders Guide to California's Free Road Trips 2012 Guid

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It's road trip season and California Road Trips 2012 encourages visitors to hit the road and explore the Golden State, with this year's focus on fun for the entire family. The newly released guide maps out special two- to three-day driving getaways as well as more detailed routes for longer vacations throughout California's 12 diverse regions.

"California is home to many iconic destinations – many of which are best viewed from the road.  Visitors who travel our highways and biways can experience the incredible diversity of the state from its spectacular coastline to the higher ground of the Sierra and everything in between," said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California. "CaliforniaRoad Trips 2012 reinforces the best of California with a focus on our incredible attractions that every member of the family will enjoy."

This year, the theme of the guide, produced by Visit California and Sunset Publishing, is "Family Fun," a focus that has special resonance in California, with its abundance of attractions from historical sites, educational museums and hands-on experiences to incomparable theme parks to outdoor adventures.  Each itinerary presents a range of activities for all kinds of travelers, inviting people to stop, explore, learn and have fun.

Inside California Road Trips 2012, readers will find inside scoops on things to see and do and the abundance of activities they'll find throughout the state of California. As part of the guide's "Strike it Rich" trip, drivers can fuel up for a trip back through time into California's Gold Country. In "Welcome to Adventureland," visitors discover wild beaches, serene tidepools and a surprise safari along California's North Coast.  They can also head for the "Great Wild North" to sample outdoor adventures in the mountains, lakes and secret swimming holes of California's Shasta Cascade.  This is shaping up to be California's best summer ever as 2012 is a huge year for theme parks and attractions with new rides and attractions opening from north to south, including Cars Land at Disney California Adventure Park, the new Transformers: The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood and SeaWorld's first thrill ride – Manta!

This year's issue of Road Trips will see one million distributions, with 600,000 guides being distributed in the June 2012 issue of Sunset magazine; the remaining 400,000 will be distributed through domestic and international direct fulfillment and trade shows. Road Trips 2012 will also be available for free in digital format on visitcalifornia.com and on Visit California's iPad app, available in the Apple App Store.  Visitors can also get a copy by calling 1-877-CALIFORNIA.

Visit California (formerly known as the California Travel & Tourism Commission) is a non-profit organization with a mission to develop and maintain marketing programs – in partnership with the state's travel industry – that keep California top-of-mind as a premier travel destination. According to Visit California, travel and tourism expenditures total $102.3 billion annually in California (20 percent of which is international), support jobs for 893,000 Californians and generate $6.3 billion in state and local tax revenues. For more information about Visit California and for a free California Official State Visitor's Guide, go to www.VisitCalifornia.com.