Living in the Bay Area has its perks, including day trips to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. In the past, trips to wine country have involved tasting way too many wines at as many wineries as possible. The result? Buying wines I didn’t really love, which I blame on a variation on the law of diminishing returns (the more you taste, the less your palate can discriminate) as well as the unavoidable hangover. With age comes wisdom, so now, rather than trying to enjoy all of wine country in a single day, I’ve been sneaking off with friends on the occasional Friday to enjoy a lunch and winery pairing.
In December four of us spirited off to Auberge du Soleil to enjoy a pre-holiday lunch followed by tasting at Rutherford Hill Winery, an obvious choice since it’s walking distance from the resort. Nestled on the hillside amongst acres of olive groves and with an extraordinary view of the valley, Condé Nast Traveler named Auberge du Soleil the #1 Hotel in Wine Country for 2018. With 11 consecutive Michelin Stars, a menu featuring Mediterranean inspired cuisine, and a wine cellar featuring 15,000 bottles, the restaurant at the Auberge du Soleil resort is a dining destination. The Kurobuta pork chop, with poached quince, braised red cabbage, rye spätzel and cider sauce was fabulous. I’m fairly certain I’ve never had melt-in-your-mouth tender pork before. For a heartier option (and to soak up the alcohol from the wine tasting) I’d suggest the seasonal risotto. Our selection was mint and lemon risotto with wild gulf shrimp, bacon, Parmigiano Reggiano and yuzu emulsion.
Following lunch, we walked back up the hill to Rutherford Hill Winery for tasting and the cave tour, which takes about an hour and showcases a barrel-tapped tasting in addition to bottled tastings. It’s always fun for me to learn something new about a winery to feel more connected to their wines. Rutherford Hill is known for developing the standard for California Merlot. About 75% of the winery’s production is dedicated to the varietal. The winery is also known for excelling in Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. My favorite, however, was the Ian – Tiago, which is a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon named after the sons of winemaker Marisa Taylor and her assistant, both born in 2009.
If you go: park at Rutherford Hill and then walk down to Auberge du Soleil. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a sweater or wrap even on warm days as the cave is climate controlled. Tours take place Monday through Friday at 11:30 am, 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 11:00 am, 12:30 pm, 2:00 pm, 3:30 pm. Reservations are recommended. Tours are $40 per person (free for wine club members). Children 12 and under are not allowed in the caves.