Category Archives: Wine

Dining At Calistoga’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant

A5 Wagyu cap with caviar on a tiny oyster cracker -- one of the first bites at Auro.
A5 Wagyu cap with caviar on a tiny oyster cracker — one of the first bites at Auro.

It took only eight months after opening for Auro at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Napa Valley to garner a Michelin star, making it the only Calistoga restaurant so honored.

It’s been a long time in coming for Executive Chef Rogelio Garcia, who was born in Mexico City and grew up in the Napa Valley. Last year, he returned to Wine Country to open this fine-dining restaurant after honing his skills at the such revered establishments as the original Cyrus in Healdsburg, the French Laundry in Yountville, Spruce in San Francisco, and Luce in San Francisco.

This marks the first star he’s earned.

And what a triumph it has been, as evidenced by the superlative meal I experienced when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant earlier this month.

Executive Chef Rogelio Garcia stands underneath his first Michelin star.
Executive Chef Rogelio Garcia stands underneath his first Michelin star.

Pull up to the roundabout driveway of the country-chic resort, and you’ll find the restaurant off to the right. Auro shares the same pristine kitchen as the resort’s casual restaurant, Truss.

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Sip, Sip, Hooray: Part 4

Tasting the 2020 Arkenstone Howell Mountain Estate Blanc (left) beside the 2017 Arkenstone Howell Mountain Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (right).
Tasting the 2020 Arkenstone Howell Mountain Estate Blanc (left) beside the 2017 Arkenstone Howell Mountain Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (right).

Arkenstone Sauvignon Blanc

Moderately priced, racy New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are my usual go-to spring and summer sips. Napa Valley’s Arkenstone Sauvignon Blancs stand in stark contrast to those.

With the 2020 Arkenstone Howell Mountain Estate Blanc priced at $125, and the 2017 Arkenstone Howell Mountain Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc priced at $200, these wines, which arrived as samples, were surely the most expensive Sauvignon Blancs I’ve had.

They’re crafted by winemaker Sam Kaplan, who has been with the small, family-owned winery since 2006. Owned by husband-and-wife Ron and Susan Krausz, this high-elevation Howell Mountain property rises to more than 1,650 feet above sea level.

That means the organically farmed, 13-acre estate vineyard sits above the fog line, making for more hours of sunlight that translates into riper, more concentrated grapes.

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The Summeriest Salad

A jumble of colorful summer peppers and stone fruit star in this lively tasting salad.
A jumble of colorful summer peppers and stone fruit star in this lively tasting salad.

Besides ones from my own home state of California, the wines that I find myself probably sipping most come from our neighbor to the north — Oregon.

Especially because Pinot Noir happens to be one of my favorite varietals, and grows exceedingly well there.

So, I couldn’t have been more overjoyed to see a new cookbook that highlights not only Oregon’s more than 50-year-old wine industry, but its rich food traditions found at its storied wineries.

“Oregon Wine & Food” (Figure 1), of which I received a review copy, is by my friend and colleague Danielle Centoni, who wrote it with fellow food writer Kerry Newberry.

The book spotlights 40 of Oregon’s top wineries, with two signature recipes from each one that each come with a wine pairing.

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A Visit to Chateau du Sureau and The Elderberry House

Olive oil-poached steelhead trout at The Elderberry House.
Olive oil-poached steelhead trout at The Elderberry House.

When Ethan de Graaff was just 13 years old, he knew there was no other choice but to become a chef.

Now, the head chef of The Elderberry House in Oakhurst, he explains with a chuckle, “Once my dad started using mayo as a sauce on everything, I knew what I had to do.”

Today, he oversees the menu at the fine-dining restaurant at the Old World Chateau du Sureau, a 9-acre oasis in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, not far from Yosemite National Park. He works in conjunction with Culinary Director Chris Flint, the former chef de cuisine at New York’s storied Eleven Madison Park and former executive chef of Michelin-starred Maude in Los Angeles.

Also tasked with overseeing sister property First & Oak in Solvang, Flint was hired in late 2022. Since his arrival, he’s brought back the restaurant’s tasting menu and leaned into sourcing locally even more.

Last week, when I was invited in as an overnight guest of the Relais & Chateau property, I had a chance to experience the roll-out of his first full new menu.

Chateau du Sureau.
Chateau du Sureau.
Keys to your guest room.
Keys to your guest room.

You might say my visit was more than two decades in the making. Way back when, while staying at another property near Yosemite, my husband and I had made dinner reservations at The Elderberry House. Unfortunately, it happened to be one of those precarious winters with such a deluge of snow that we were alarmed to see a snow plow had gone off the side of the road. Because the onslaught kept forcing the closure of the roads, we ended up canceling our reservations, fearing that even if we made it to the restaurant, we might never be able to get out again.

Finally making it here was definitely worth the wait. Imagine pulling up to a turreted estate in the European countryside, and you get an idea of what Chateau du Sureau is like.

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Exploring Southern Oregon: Visiting Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards, Meadow Estate Vineyard & Winery, and Paul O’Brien Winery

Say hello to my new big friend -- the playfully decorated concrete fermenter at Reustle Winery.
Say hello to my new big friend — the playfully decorated concrete fermenter at Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards.

Umpqua Valley, OR — Wine-growing here dates back to the 1880s, when German immigrants who once worked for St. Helena’s Beringer Vineyards (the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa), planted the first wine grapes in this valley.

More than 30 wineries now make their home here, producing more than 40 varieties of wine.

On a recent trip to Oregon, I had a chance to visit three of them, courtesy of Travel Oregon.

Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards

Few wineries in Oregon boast their own wine cave. Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards in Roseburg does, and boy, is it a sight to see.

The wine cave built on the side of a hill, one of the few such winery caves in Oregon.
The wine cave built on the side of a hill, one of the few such winery caves in Oregon.
Part of the cave's ceiling.
Part of the cave’s ceiling.

Stephen and Gloria Reustle, husband-and-wife owners, added theirs in 2008. It was built by the same man who made the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland, which gives a hint to its Old World-style taken up a big fanciful notch.

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