Dinner pairings with Buena Vista Wines

California’s first premium winery continues excellence

Buena Vista Winery old and new | BuenaVistaWinery.com

Whether or not you trace back California winemaking to pre Gold Rush days or after Prohibition, grape and wine production in California rivals any region in the world. And as we tasted through three wines from a reborn Buena Vista Winery, our appreciation for this Sonoma winery goes beyond its historic sites.

Founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, the self-proclaimed “Count”, Buena Vista Winery is California’s first premium winery.

The Count’s passion for innovation and excellence not only led to California’s first premium winery, but also to the development of the California wine world as we know it today. The Count saw the grand vision for producing fine wine in Sonoma County, and Buena Vista was his vinicultural laboratory.

Buena Vista property began producing wine on an old, dry-farmed vineyard pre-Gold Rush. The land was developed by The Count of Buena Vista, Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa of Hungary. | BuenaVistaWinery.com

He created the first gravity flow winery in California and excavated the first wine caves. The Count had been the first to experiment with Redwood barrels for aging and fermenting, and he brought over 300 different varieties from Europe to California.

Now fast forward to last week, Geena and I paired three Buena Vista wines over the course of a week, tasting new releases from the winery known for “purple gold” – the perfect ‘terroir’ and exceptional wines. While the winery’s revival is well documented, we had not sampled Buena Vista wines for years.

The impetus behind this week with Buena Vista was an invitation from the folks at thewininghour.blogspot.com. Owner and leader Lin shared how this historic winery created the first California property to make a true Champagne in Champagne. I was hooked and looked forward to receiving my shipment and began reading its history.

The Count Founder’s Red Wine blend is sourced from Buena Vista Wineries Sonoma properties.

We learned the Buena Vista property already was producing wine on an old, dry-farmed vineyard on the site pre Gold Rush. In 1852, under the direction “The Count of Buena Vista,” Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa of Hungary, the 800-acre ranch was purchased and developed.

The Count understood that great wine comes not just from great grapes, but also from great terroir—that magical combination of all the attributes of a particular site required to create remarkable wines—from the soil, to the climate, to the site’s exposure to the sun, to the vine itself. Upon first experiencing Sonoma, The Count knew immediately that this was going to be that perfect place for producing superb wines.

I agree!

Throughout the decades, The Count’s innovation and legacy have been passed down to others over the years; the property’s historic relevance and central role in California’s history kept the winery alive and producing wines during difficult years. And while others owned a produced wine on the property, it wasn’t until after World War II ended that the vineyards began their journey to a premium winery location.

However, after it was reborn, after Prohibition and first vintage in 1949, the winery and its owners began to promote innovation, championing new winemaking techniques to the state—including cold fermentation and the process of aging wine in small French oak barrels—thereby once again contributing to the rebirth of California’s incredible wine industry.

Our Mexican steak, homemade refried beans, roasted red peppers, sliced avocados and fresh fruit were a wonderful match to the Buena Vista The Count Founder’s Red Wine Blend.

Our first taste of Buena Vista Wine was just after we opened a bottle of 2014 The Count Founder’s Red Wine blend ($20). I popped the cork just after 2 p.m. and decanted it for 30 minutes before sending it back to the bottle. I wanted to open it up a little before sipping while we prepared dinner (a common practice of mine with young wines).

The fact is cooking and tasting both wine and the foods as we create is so important. While we often will look at up dozens of receipes in the planning process of our meals, we test taste, herbs, spices, simmering broths and sauces ALONG with wine to determine which food and wine pairings compliment each other.

The Count countered the spices in the beans and Mexican steak very well. You might also pair it with BBQ beef or country-style pork ribs.

Sourced from vineyards across Sonoma County, the 2014 vintage of The Count – Founder’s Red Wine offers aromas of rich, dark chocolate and soft baking spices, blending 8 varietals. Aromas include dark chocolate, dark berry, plum with hints of cinnamon and vanilla (baking spices). Nicely strucured and well-balanced, this wine has a long, dense finish that lingers long after the first sip.This immediately enjoyable wine will continue to evolve in the bottle over the next two to three years.

We paired The Count with pan-fried Mexican flat iron steak that we had covered with an oil, chipotle and cracked pepper run for a couple of hours. While those sat, we prepared roasted red peppers, cooked up a pot of spiced refried beans, sliced avocados and mangos and blood orange wedges.

Our second Buena Vista wine pairing coincided with a stormy, wet, and cold January night. We had planned on a second steak dinner the night before, opening the Cab, hoping to pair it with ribeye. However, the storm changed our minds.

The Chateau Buena Vista 2013 Napa Valley Cab. was silky smooth and we couldn’t help but start sipping while the soup simmered.

The weather report predicted an epic cold front and storm far beyond “dreary and wet” in the San Joaquin Valley a couple days later. So we were a bit nervous as we had already opened the 2013 Chateau Buena Vista Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) and were eager to try it, not wanting to wait another night.

“Is it versatile and pair with a hearty, Italian soup?” Oh boy, we were thrilled.

The Cab is rich, lush and opulent. Red currant, blackberry, black plum and black, dusty cherry with just a hint of chocolate and even coffee. The dark, subdued dark fruit flavors were delicious with the soup my wife calls, “Mimi’s Soup” after her great aunt who made the family recipe for nearly 90 years.

So Mimi’s Soup takes center stage: Chopped vegetables (whatever is in the kitchen, pantry and fridge at time of creation, including kale, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, stewed and/or fresh tomatoes, bits of potato) spices, white and kidney beans, orzo etc. We cook the Italian sausage separately with spices, onions and garlic (at the end), adding beef stock and top with Parmesan cheese.

This is a showstopper all around. Love how versatile the Cabernet is and I know this would pair well with lighter grilled meats. Wilfred Wong of Wine.com calls the 2013 Chateau Buena Vista Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon the “poster child” of the winery. He’s not far from the truth.

The 2013 Chateau Buena Vista Napa Valley was lovely velvety goodness with “Mimi’s Soup”, a hearty Italian perfect on a stormy, cold January evening.

Buena Vista Winery joined the Boisset Collection in May 2011. Today, Proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset is returning Buena Vista to its original glory with the complete restoration and re-opening of the champagne cellars, which have been unavailable to the public for over 20 years. Buena Vista wines are being driven to greater heights under winemaker Brian Maloney and winemaking consultant David Ramey, including the reintroduction of Sonoma, in honor of where it all began.

Our final Buena Vista wine actually was created as a Boisset Family Wine and from their collection in Champagne, France. Yes, they have a marvelous sparkling wine from France called Buena Vista La Victoire Champagne ($75!

The Buena Vista La Victoire Champagne is elegant, with honey and brioche aromas with stone fruit, pear and peach notes.

Later during our Buena Vista week, we had so much fun thinking about and pairing this Champagne with all sorts of foods and came up with three or four that really seemed to capture our attention. The sparkling was elegant and paired so well with an assortment of appetizers.

We set the table with sour cream & onion potato chips, sour cream and caviar, mixed Italian olives, puffed pastry and Brie with sour cherry preserves, and finally smoked salmon, cucumber, shallots over a dollop of Crème Fraîsch with dill, lemon oil and lemon peel on a Spanish Regains “Tapas” Sesame Cracker from Pardners Pantry, Atascadero.On a side note, I must admit, I did save a little Buena Vista Champagne for a late night popcorn and movie time. One of my favorite snacks all around.

Anyway, the sparking is sourced from 70% Pinot Noir Premier Cru vineyards from Montaigne de Reims, and 30% Chardonnay from Grand Cru Mesnil sur Oger and Chouilly.

Love the Champagne’s elegant mouthfeel with grapefruit, honey and brioche aromas. It is so well-balanced with white stone fruit, peach and peach notes. We really enjoyed this sparkling with so many different snacks. And, I know it will go so well with most anything.

The Buena Vista La Victoire Champagne is so versatile. The bubbly paired well with appetizers, including potato chips and caviar, Italian mixed olives, baked Brie and sour cherry preserves and smoked salmon, cucumber bites.

The Buena Vista wine cellars have undergone extensive restoration from 2011 to 2015 when the renovation was completed. Once again, Buena Vista is becoming the embodiment of the California wine world.

This is the vision that Count Agoston Haraszthy predicted 150 years ago and continues with Jean-Charles Boisset to today, and like many of his other visions for the Golden State, today it has come true.

The caves at Buena Vista Winery.

Today the hope and vision of The Count has been restored and reinvented again. Jean-Charles Boisset and his family purchased the Buena Vista Winery in 2011, beginning a two-year renovation that has refocused and renewed Buena Vista Winery into a world class site. They join a collection historic wineries as part of Boisset Family Estates. Buena Vista produces over 25 varietals of still wines as well as sparkling wines from both California and France.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Cambria, Paso Robles Wine Country host BlendFest.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Garlic Parmesan chicken in cream sauce

As social media wine and food pairing posts continue to be successful, we increasingly field requests to share recipes and/or how to adapted the ones we are using. So that said, TalesoftheCork will occasionally post behind the scene looks, sharing mistakes, messes, and triumphs as we plate and pair food.

With the potatoes roasted separately and the garlic cream sauce made, I combined them to the herbed seared chicken breasts in a baking pan.

As with most, meal preparation and execution takes some planning before placing any ingredients on the counter. While many serve garlic chicken and may be a household classic, we thought to share a base recipe from DamnDelicious.net, tweaked to fit our taste profile.

This brings me to my wife’s first suggestion to any budding home chef: Try a recipe as listed before you engage with recipe creation. We included an altered Damn Delicious.net ingredient list at the bottom of the article for a lovely, yummy, easy to create one-dish dinner.

Enjoy a single-pan Parmesan garlic cream chicken dinner with roasted potatoes and spinach this week. The key to any meal is prepare a grocery list over the weekend make sure your staples are stocked.

Directions for Parmesan garlic cream chicken: 50-60 minutes

1. Coat both sides of the skinless chicken breasts with olive oil. Rub cracked pepper, Italian and rotisserie seasonings on the chicken then sprinkle Kosher salt to taste. However, our preferences are WalterSalt.comTangerine Wheat salt because of their subtle citrus and umami, savory flavors. We think the key to delicious meat preparation is bringing it to room temperature and seasoning at least 30 minutes before cooking. Let set.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. If you have the ability to use a convection oven, this will spend up the process, reducing cooking times.

3. Pour a couple of ounces of olive oil in and heat in a large skillet. Then melt a couple of tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Be careful not to burn the butter.

You might choose to taste your wine or beverage during dinner preparation. This week we tried a Sonoma County Maldonado Chardonnay.

4. Sear the meat on both sides until flesh is golden brown. Do not over cook, about 2-3 minutes. Set aside on separate dish.

5. I like to roast my Yukon gold potatoes before cooking them with the chicken mixture. Chop them into quarters (or smaller chunks) and mixed them in olive oil and cracked pepper. Put in a open roaring dish and place in the 400 degree F oven while preparing rest of meal (15-20 minutes). This will ensure they will bake all the way through but also have that roasted aroma and flavor we love.

6. In a sauce pan, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter and a splash of olive oil then add chopped garlic over medium heat. Continuously stir to avoid burning garlic for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Overcooked garlic will become bitter tasting. Whisk 2-3 tablespoons of flour into the butter and garlic, staring until lightly brown, about a minute.

7. We like adding a splash of dry white wine at this point (our preference is a light oaked Chardonnay) at this point to further infuse the mixture with flavor. Slowly add the chicken broth, fresh thyme and a basil leaf. Cook and whisk the mixture thoroughly until consistent–another minute or two.

8. Slowly incorporate the half and half and sprinkle in the grated Parmesan cheese a small handful at a time. Keep stirring. The heat should remain medium yet hot enough to melt the cheese to create a creamy consistency. This will take a couple of minutes. Adjust Parmesan to thicken or adjust density. Add more salt and pepper as per personal taste.

TIP: Add some extra half and half if mixture is too thick. If cream sauce is too thin, add a teaspoon of flour to a splash of cool milk and shake in a separate container to dissolve. Add to hot cheesy cream.

9. Place seared chicken breast on bottom of greased/prepared baking pan. Remove roasting potatoes from oven and place on and around seasoned chicken breasts. Pour prepared garlic and Parmesan creme sauce over the ingredients.

As a one-dish meal, the garlic Parmesan sauce carries the dish. Add the spinach and parsley in the last minute of baking just to wilt the greens.

10. Place in middle of hot oven and roast until chicken is completely cooked through, reaching internal temperature of 165 F. Use a thermometer to check temp. This should take about 25-30 minutes or quicker depending on whether you are using a conventional or convection oven.

11. During bake time, chop the spinach and parsley to add near the end of the cooking time. As temperatures in the chicken reach the safe zone, pull dish from oven and use a large serving dish to spoon the spinach into the hot dish and garlic sauce to cook for the last five minutes. Most vegetables break down and lose their nutrients if they are overcooked. Remember, after washing spinach, it can be eaten raw so just cook it enough to wilt it in the garlic sauce.

12. Garnish dish with parsley and serve immediately.

We paired our Parmesan garlic cream chicken with a Maldonado Vineyards 2010 Parr Vineyard Chardonnay. The Sonoma County wine was fabulous with the dish. This  cool Chardonnay has green apple and citrus notes but amazing depth. It also has ripe stone fruit, vanilla and toasty nuts but its minerality comes through with a light creamy texture. This is a big wine and is rich and can handle a wide variety of foods.

Look for their 2012 vintage online. Maldonado Vineyards also has other Napa Valley Chardonnay examples.

Chardonnays are a good choice for creamy, mild and buttery foods and pair well with this roasted herbed chicken in a garlic cream sauce.

However a wide variety of Chardonnays are a good choice for this one-dish meal. Look for Chardonnays that are lightly oaked, with ripe fruit, and hearty. They pair well with simple dishes that are mild, creamy, silky and buttery. Foods that are grilled or roasted do well as risottos and cream-enhanced soups or pastas. Also meaty fish like halibut, cod and rich tasting shellfish.


4 skinless organic chicken breasts

Italian seasoning (to taste)

Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper (to taste)

4 tablespoons of unsalted butter

2 cups of washed baby spinach, roughly chopped

4 Yukon gold potatoes, cut and quartered

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil


1/4 cup unsalted butter

In 50-60 minutes, you can serve a hot and healthy one-dish meal.

6 cloves of chopped garlic

2-3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

a splash of dry white wine

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme

1/2 cup half and half

1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Thanks again to the original chicken and potatoes recipe on Damn Delicious.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Lodi Wine Country: Boutique winery innovation.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Simple Caprese lunch with Emmolo SauvBlanc

Young winemaker Jenny Wagner continues the family tradition established by her great-grandfather as she creates Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.

TalesoftheCork wine reviews

Whether busyness takes you away from what it is otherwise important or too much has already gone under the bridge, take a moment for yourself soon. A 30 to 60-minute vacation from all that is distracting you is necessary to regroup, rebuild and refocus.

Today that is exactly what I needed and created a simple side dish that became a Caprese salad lunch and glass of Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc with my wife after a busy week for both of us. I needed a ‘place’ to forget about a couple of issues and took advantage of a sunny moment in the kitchen.

Fresh home grown tomatoes were on the counter and a quick trip to a market served to add a couple of whole milk fresh Mozzarella balls and some lush, sweet smelling basil. In this case, Trader Joe’s a half mile away had me in and out of the store fast.

We love the aroma of fresh cut tomatoes and basil and the addition of lush Mozzarella coated with extra virgin olive oil and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar as hits the spot like no other. A little cracked pepper sprinkled over the plate adds a final layer of spice to an amazing lunch.

Today’s choice to whet our whistle is a small glass of Emmolo 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from Rutherford in the Napa Valley. Pour yourself a small glass of EmmoloWines 2014 #NapaValley Sauvignon Blanc to sip and appreciate what Jenny Wagner is creating, adding to her great-grandfather’s winemaking tradition.

With just a quick stop at the market, a caprese salad can be created in just minutes.
With just a quick stop at the market, a Caprese salad can be created in just minutes.

According to their Wagner Family website, “the Emmolos have a long history in Napa Valley with Jenny’s great-grandfather, Salvatore Emmolo, starting the family’s grapevine rootstock nursery in St. Helena in 1923. Her grandfather, Frank Emmolo, not only managed the nursery, but also grew Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot on their family property.”

The Emmolo #SauvBlanc is dry, refreshing, crisp and tart. The light wine is smooth and balanced with a hint of peach & Kiwi with melon and and lime notes. Love the minerality and herbal overtones and allow the pear and and citrus aromas tempt you. This is a winner!

We’ve enjoyed this wine with oysters and scallops in the past but would also love it with shellfish pasta and chicken salads. While their website is not yet complete, check out EmmoloWines soon. #TalesoftheCork loving their simple elegance.

Wagner Family Wines and Emmolo Wines can be tasted and purchased at Camus Vineyards, 8700 Conn Creek Rd., Rutherford, CA 94573. However, it is not always on the tasting flight menu. Call ahead at 1.707.967.3010 to check for availability. If a trip to Napa is not in the works, try their Wagner Family Wines finder.

Be sure to read the previous TalesoftheCork blog post: Pre travel checklist for overseas visit. And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Grocery list for Caprese salad:

One ball from an 8-ounce container of Whole Milk Fresh Mozzarella in lightly salted water

One container of fresh leaf basil or one sprig of basil

Two vine ripe whole tomatoes

Cracked pepper to taste

Olive oil and Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena to taste

Beaulieu Vineyards Reserve Tapestry 2009 Napa Valley

TalesoftheCork Wine Reviews

Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry 2009 Napa Valley

For those of you whose pocketbook will not allow them to purchase the Aug. 17, 2013, Wine Spectator Daily Pick: Beaulieu Vineyard Maestro Collection Ranch No. 1 Rutherford 2009 for $65, I recommend a 91-point BV wine that still should satisfy even discriminating tastes for just over half the cost.

Since 1900, the Latour family has been farming the Napa Valley and helping create and add to its beauty. Since then the BV vineyards, vines and wines have been a part of the backbone of Napa Valley and Rutherford, California’s, history.

Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Its dark red fruit, flowers, licorice are some of the notes that emerge from this sleek, beautifully balanced red.
Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Its dark red fruit, flowers, licorice are some of the notes that emerge from this sleek, beautifully balanced red.

Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry Napa Valley 09 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Winemaker Jeffrey Stambor chose blocks of reserve-quality grapes which combine to create a wine that has soft tannins and is approachable/drinkable now.

The fruit is deep, dark and red–even jammy. First tastes are cassis and blackberry but give way to licorice, black cherry, plum and a hint of chocolate. There is a light minerality, spice, herb and earthiness to the blend while the floral notes slightly increase after opening.

Robert Parker in The Wine Advocate called the BV Reserve Tapestry 2009 “… A beautifully balanced red.” The Wine Spectator referred to the bottle as “Graceful, with complex spice, herb, dried currant and crushed rock flavors that are well-proportioned and gaining on the finish, where the flavors weave together with subtle nuances.”

While the suggested food pairing includes semi-hard cheeses like Bravo white cheddar, meat dishes, duck and mushroom dishes, I enjoyed my 2009 Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry with a mesquite charcoal-grilled ribeye steak with a pomegranate red wine reduction sauce. The side dish was mozzarella, baby Roma tomatoes and basil fresh from the local farmer’s market mixed with vinegar and white balsamic. The Cabernet blend mixed well with the lightly braised tomatoes and complimented the peppery and smoky flavors of the meat. We used a fresh baked batard to sop up the juices.

While not BV's top Cabernet or blend, the Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve paired well with my ribeye steak. I recommend this 90-91 point wine and a value buy drinking well now.
While not BV’s top Cabernet or blend, the Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve paired well with my ribeye steak. I recommend this 90-91 point wine and a value buy drinking well now.

The BV Tapestry is definitely a Bordeaux-style wine built with a California palate in mind. While previous years and their estate Cabernet’s may have more finesse and complexity, this red blend will be a crowd pleaser. The finish is long, fleshy and friendly. I believe this wine will continue to improve over the next three years. This may be the Cabernet you buy six or 12 bottles to open over time.

The BV Tapestry blend is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec (Alcohol by volume: 14.8%). Drink now through 2017.

Currently this wine can be bought online through various outlets, including Beaulieu Vineyard Wines and WineChateau.com ($39.97). If you are willing to buy a case of this or mix and match wine, the shipping is free through WineChateau! Another excellent source to find a competitive pricing for wine is at Wine-Searcher.com.

The average price for this wine currently is $42 (excluding tax) and available for as low as $33 on the East Coast and $36 on the West Coast. Sample received courtesy Wine Chateau for review purposes.

The Beaulieu Vineyard visitor center is located at 1960 St. Helena Hwy. Rutherford, CA 94573. Call 800.264.6918, ext. 5233, or 707.967.5233 for more information. The tasting room also has wines that are not available anywhere else. The winery is also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bvwines and Twitter at @BVwines.

If you missed my last post, check out the, J. Rickards Winery: Darn fine barn wine (VIDEO).

Be sure to return check out my Twitter @TalesoftheCork and on my Instagram (talesofthecork) daily postings. I also would covet those who would suggest a wine, restaurant, chef or hotel to visit. Feel free to contact me through social media or via email at talesofthecork@gmail.com.

Calistoga: Brannan’s Grill for lunch

WIth large plantation windows facing the street to the right, Brannan's Grill is a comfortable, upscale spot for lunch, dinner in Calistoga.
With large plantation windows facing the street to the right, Brannan’s Grill is a comfortable, upscale spot for lunch, dinner in Calistoga.

My wife, Geena, and I were fortunate to enjoy lunch at Brannan’s Grill in Calistoga, California, in late June. There we met a friend, local resident Peter Stetson. As we entered, a hostess greeted, smiled and led us to a booth in front of one of the large plantation-style windows overlooking Lincoln Ave.

Brannan’s decor creates anticipation and an expectation of a top-flight meal. The main space is wide open with wood beams and a pitched wood-planked ceiling. An elk trophy hangs above the large stone fireplace at the back of the raised center dining room. Large area photographs and drawings help create a historical tie to the the 19th century western town made famous by spas and the 1976 Paris Tasting. The large mahogany bar can seat at least 12 and its staff carried on lively conversations with locals and walk-ins alike.

Our meal started with a couple of roasted artichokes. They were braised, had great smoky flavor on their own, but the bed of pesto aioli was to die for. I love artichokes and Brannan’s version kept me thinking of an old Lays potato chip commercial: “Bet you can’t just eat one.” I confess, I ate more than my share.

We enjoyed a bowl of mussels
A glass of Sonoma County Iron Horse Pinot Noir Rosé complimented a bowl of lightly seasoned mussels.

The waiter suggested an Iron Horse Pinot Noir Rosé from the Russian River. The Sterling family out of Sonoma County creates wonderful wines and this one was perfect. This rose petal pink version is a bone dry, 11.8% alcohol, delicate Rosé. After an initial taste, the nose was watermelon and strawberry with a hint of lime. However, in the mouth, green apple became prevalent, but not overpowering the crisp watermelon flavors. This wine is perfect for lighter fare, including our artichoke and bowl of lightly spiced steamed mussels. The perceived sweetness of the Rosé, its low alcohol and structure helped cut through the pepper flakes and spice of the bouillon and fish. A nice foil for the lunch dishes.

The seasoned mussels had chopped tomatillos, Anaheim chilies, feta cheese mixed in a light salsa. The bowl was just big enough for four to enjoy as an appetizer, especially since we had already picked clean the artichokes. Corn tortillas were also provided, but I choose to fork out my share of the seafood.

I must say the poor reviews listed on Yelp did not materialize on our table. The hostess, waiter and staff were pleasant and quick to check on refills. After making suggestions, the waiter delivered our two appetizers to table, allowing us to finish one of the two artichokes before bringing the next one, still warm. The mussels arrived before the second ‘choke was gone. Water glasses were refilled and the waiter seemed genuinely happy we chose Brannan’s for lunch.

Local resident Peter Stetson, left, and Brannan's owner Mark Young share personal passions and stories of Calistoga during lunch.
Local resident Peter Stetson, left, and Brannan’s owner Mark Young share personal passions and stories of Calistoga during lunch.

Perhaps the staff was extra attentive this day or maybe they were “on their game,” but I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy the company of one of the two owners, Mark Young. Mark was wandering through, chatting with the patrons and stopped to say hello to Peter. Evidently though, he is often in the restaurant doing much the same.

Mark quickly became warm and friendly and he chatted about the town, restaurant, day spas and mud baths and recreational opportunities in the area. In fact, he began to share his passion for a once-a-year trip to the desert of Black Rock Nevada called Burning Man. It’s a city in the desert, dedicated to radical self reliance, radical self-expression and art. His passion for community, sharing gifts unconditionally and self discovery was impressive. He was quick to share via his iPad and I learned much about his fervor for living as a restauranteur and community spokesperson.

Just before we finished the mussels, our entrees arrived. Mine was one of the specials of the day: Cioppino. The seafood soup (bouillabaisse) consisted of clams, mussels, salmon and shrimp. I must say I was impressed not only with the Cioppino but with the toasted garlic sourdough bread as well. My wife was surprised I went back to a seafood dish but I heard the San Francisco-based famous seafood stew was special here. The lightly spiced, tomato bisque was gorgeous. Be sure to check with the server as to what the chef includes in this dish as the best Cioppino always relies on fresh ingredients.

WIth a spiced tomato bisque base, I used all my toasted garlic sourdough bread to soak up all of the San Francisco-inspired Cioppino.
With a spiced tomato bisque base, I used my toasted garlic sourdough bread to soak up all of the San Francisco-inspired Cioppino.

While my visit was during lunch, call the hostess a head of time or find out if Brannan’s Grill is featuring a local artist or musician during the dinner hours. This touch adds class to a weekend date. Often Saturdays are smooth jazz nights and other evenings may include local guitarists.

The buzz on the way out from a couple of bar patrons stopped me. “Have you tried a Carlos Lemon Drop? – the best in NorCal!” I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. I should have known to stop at the bar first.

“Not yet,” I answered. “I’ll have to wait until my next visit.”

Brannan’s Grill is located at 1374 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga, California 94515. They can be reached via their website, Brannan’s Grill, via phone: 707.942.2233 or by email: mark@lcrestaurants.com. Social media folks can catch them through Facebook: BrannansCalistoga or through Twitter: BrannansGrill.

For my previous post, check out TalesoftheCork.com and the Tuscan tasting: Castello di Amorosa 2012 Rosato.

Be sure to return check out my Twitter @TalesoftheCork and on my Instagram (talesofthecork) daily postings. I also would covet those who would suggest a wine, restaurant, chef or hotel to visit. Feel free to contact me through social media or via email at talesofthecork@gmail.com.