Winter in the Chiles Valley & Croissants

The leaves on the vines have turned brown and the ground looks like a green carpet in the Napa Valley. This is the moment for locals to visit. No traffic. Exquisite light. A bracing chill in the air. I spent a day in the Chiles Valley, east of Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail via Highway 128, an elevated swatch of hills and vineyards that runs parallel to the valley floor. This hidden area is known for zinfandels and lush Bordeaux-style blends. The red wines have a characteristic spicy, peppery quality that I like. My faves include Green and Red 2004 and 2005 Zinfandels ($20 to $25); the soon-to-be-released 2006 Brown Estate Chiles Valley Zinfandel (around $55); Volker Eisele's 2004 cabernet sauvignon ($40); and the super-spicy Nichelini Primitivo ($35). Take a drive through this hilly subsection of the Napa Valley to get a sense of what wine country used to feel like, and then get a bite at Ad Hoc, Redd or Bistro Jeanty in Yountville to see what it has become.

CROISSANTS

Baked three times a day, the croissants ($2) at the mothership Boulangerie Bay Bread on Pine Street capture the magical flakiness and butteriness of the best French pastry. They need no jam and should be eaten immediately. Though there are now seven Boulange cafes scattered throughout the city, the croissants from the original bakery somehow taste the best.

2325 Pine St. (at Fillmore St.), San Francisco (415) 440-0356

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