With so many wonderful tasting rooms in California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys, if a winery is to be truly memorable, it has to offer something more than a couple of pours from a few different bottles. Savvy wine drinkers are thirsty for an unparalleled experience, which means cave tours and barrel tastings simply won’t cut it. Today’s sophisticated sipper is looking for a culinary adventure that features fine wine and delicious food pairings. The trend is so popular that many top wineries have bustling kitchens, extensive gardens and a team of chefs. Ready to add food pairing to your seasonal wine tasting agenda? Here are five spots that have mastered the art of pairing vino with very good bites.
Every Friday, Franciscan Estate winery, in the heart of the Rutherford area, has a special reserve lunch tasting. The experience begins with a quick tour of the facility and a taste of the excellent barrel-fermented Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay. After you’ve checked out the fascinating library of vintage wine bottles (the trajectory of labels throughout Franciscan’s 42-year-old history is incredible), you’ll be escorted into an intimate dining room where the first of a sensational three-course meal awaits you. Chef Brett Young changes the menu often, yet he always makes sure it features locally raised proteins and produce that’s grown on-site. One recent menu consisted of a melt-in-your-mouth day boat scallop atop a bed of creamy corn risotto, succulent duck confit with roasted peppers, and a layered lemon and huckleberry dessert with delicate lemon cake and juicy berry compote. Each course is served with a different wine — all the while, one of Franciscan’s entertaining educators acts as your host of the meal. Ask for Logan and you’ll be in for a roaring good time.
St. Francis Winery
When you tour the property of St. Francis Winery, you’ll not only see row upon row of picturesque vineyards, but you’ll also notice an extensive culinary garden. Herbs, fruit and vegetables are all grown on site and used as a part of the winery’s wildly popular multi-course food and wine pairing. There are three seatings of this culinary escapade — 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. — every Thursday through Monday. St. Francis makes 25 different wines; five of these are featured during the food experience. The pours change according to whatever executive chef Bryan Jones has on the menu. Dishes range from housemade cocoa tortilla with roasted tomato sauce and smoked Calabrian chili sausage to a refreshing cucumber gazpacho with mint granita. The large, airy tasting room is inviting any time of year. In the summer, you can partake in the food pairing on the relaxing patio while, in the winter, a large circular table is set inside, where you’ll find a roaring fire and high ceilings.
Pine Ridge Vineyards
If you’re not in the mood for a decadent, multi-course lunch, Pine Ridge Winery has a number of different food and wine pairings to choose from. We recommend reserving the 5×5 tasting that involves five different wines and five perfectly paired bites. The tasting starts with a walk-through of Pine Ridge’s maze-like wine caves. Then you’re whisked into a chic, dimly light dining room where the table is set with rows of glasses and rectangular platters with adorable finger foods — which all makes sense, as winemaker Michael Beaulac says that his Cabernet Sauvignons are meant to be enjoyed with food. A flavorful bite of crisp crostini and rich duck rillette will enhance the nuances of wine. By pairing each pour with a thought-provoking food item, the taster is better able to notice the subtle differences in Beaulac’s wines. The five bites, which change according to the calendar, make for a wonderful grown-up snack. On a recent Sunday, there was a beef empanada with wildly flaky pastry crust; a meaty mushroom tortilla with pistachio salsa verde; and a little-known French sheep’s milk cheese called Ossau-Iraty with a dollop of orange blossom honey.
Just off of Sonoma Square, you’ll find Three Sticks’ sumptuous, appointment-only tasting room, The Adobe. Literally an adobe that was built in 1842, the house was completely retrofitted and restored by the Three Sticks team and interior designer Ken Fulk just two years ago. Earlier this year, the winery partnered with nearby El Dorado Kitchen to offer a private wine and food pairing. Wine lovers can choose between a three-course lunch paired with six current Three Sticks selections and one limited release, or a seasonal culinary flight of small bites paired with 2013 bottles. The current menu has an appetizing roasted beet salad with horseradish fennel, beef short ribs with peas and leaks, and pork rillette with whole grain mustard.
In Santa Rosa, Kendall Jackson’s flagship winery offers three different food and wine pairings. There’s a reserve wine and food pairing that marries smaller batch wines with original creations from the winery’s chef; a wine and cheese pairing; and a wine and chocolate pairing. Obviously, the folks at Kendall Jackson take food and wine very seriously. This fall alone, Tucker Taylor, the estate’s farmer, grew at least 10 different varietals of pumpkins, which will be used by the culinary team to make tasty fall dishes to pair with Kendall’s extensive wine offerings. (Sidenote: Taylor’s spectacular photos of seasonal vegetables have made him somewhat of an Instagram sensation.) There’s also a tasting room and restaurant, Partake by K-J, in Healdsburg that showcases the affinity between wine and food. This more elevated experience offers a wide range of seasonally driven food and wine flights (see: hearty greens and poached eggs accompanied by Jackson Estate Seco Highlands Pinot Noi, 2013).