Friday, October 14, 2011

Chateau Montelena at the Westin St. Francis

I attended a swell event last night at the vintage, circa-1904 Westin St. Francis Hotel, in San Francisco, to mark the grand opening of a rare hotel winery-branded tasting room. Located just off the lobby in a former jewelry shop opposite the grand staircase, the new arrival is an outpost of Napa Valley's well-regarded Chateau Montelena Winery.

Actually, "well-regarded'' may be an understatement. Chateau Montelena ( justly celebrated for its Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. It was this winery's 1973 Chard, in fact, that beat out high-end French white Burgundies in a blind tasting by French judges. This is the now-famous 1976 Judgement of Paris showdown dramatized in the 2008 movie "Bottle Shock''.

Last night, the winery took over an ornate first-floor ballroom in the St. Francis ( to pour half a dozen of its fine wines, from a welcoming glass of Reisling through Chardonnays, a Zinfandel and on to a big Cab. Scrumptious canapes from the hotel kitchen matched up splendidly with the wines.

Of course, you don't have to visit San Francisco and the Bay Area to drink Chateau Montelena wines, but if you are in town, the snug tasting room (open from 1-8 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday) is a good place to get a taste of Napa Valley. Chateau Montelena Winery is located in the town of Calistoga, at the north end of Napa Valley, about 90 minutes drive north of San Francisco.

The tasting room is a nice place and, as far as I have been able to determine, the only winery-branded hotel tasting room in this wine-mad city. I'm not aware of any other winery-specific tasting rooms in any hotel, though I wouldn't swear that there aren't any. In any case, buy a bottle of Chateau Montelena in the tasting room and they waive the corkage fee in the St. Francis's Oak Room, a handsome, traditional dining room in the hotel, so you can drink it with dinner.

The St. Francis, a grande dame hotel on San Francisco's bustling Union Square, is old school in the best sense. It pays a lot of attention to food and drink, with the top of the food chain being occupied by Bourbon Steak, an elegant steakhouse run by accomplished San Francisco chef Michael Mina. Bourbon Steak, too, is located just off the hotel's Powell Street lobby, right by the new Chateau Montelena tasting room, in the space formerly occupied by the chef's namesake Michael Mina restaurant. If you're in the neighborhood, check it out.

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