Best Wine and Food Pairing at St. Francis Winery
You can call me anything you like, just don’t call me late for the wine and food pairing at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards.
For the second time in three years, the good people at OpenTable, the online restaurant reservation service, have named St. Francis “Best Restaurant in America” in a survey of their users.
It’s quite the commendation. But how can a five-course wine and food pairing, offered several times daily, just five days a week, have met and exceeded the midday repast requirements of so many a digitally connective wine country wanderer? Let’s go and find out.
Recently, I landed a seat at the table during a press tour of Sonoma Valley (not hosted by or affiliated with the winery). Unlike a few of wine country’s most coveted tables, seats are not reserved six months out—although, using OpenTable’s online reservation tool, I found there can be a wait of a few days for prime mid-day seatings. And remember, you’ve got to search in a 2.5 hour range of the winery’s daily seatings at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm.
Here’s the setup: Guests are ushered from the main tasting room, which is all decked out in holiday tinsel, into a spacious annex with views of the vineyard and Hood Mountain. With Persian rugs underfoot and recessed ceiling overhead, the effect is like dining in a country manor. Light, jazzy piano tunes play in the background.
As the group settled into 16 place settings at two horseshoe-shaped tables that form donut, our hostess ventured to read the temperature of the room’s gregariousness, which read: not too gregarious. We did learn that one couple had come here just for the famous cuisine—they didn’t drink wine at all! If everyone else had gone light on brekkie like I had, in anticipation of the event, they were thinking about the gourmet bites, and would they indeed add up to a sumptuous meal?
To thoroughly appreciate this experience, I had to throw my usual habits as a wine writer out the nearest window, in the general direction of Hood Mountain. Swirling, sipping and then spitting doesn’t work so well when there’s a pan seared day boat scallop swimming in their with the 2014 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc ($14.95), as well.
Bottoms up: a modest pour of 2014 Sonoma Valley Viognier ($24) is just enough to revisit several times, and compare notes with your neighbor as to whether the cool, cucumber gazpacho complements or kills the wine’s delicate apricot note. The conversation got going as the wines were poured, and another presenter described the chef’s thinking behind the menu, striking a balance between offering details on the wine, while not telling tasters what they should be tasting.
Executive Chef Bryan Jones changes the tasting menu seasonally, and sources some produce from a two-acre garden located in front of the winery.
After cocoa-infused tortelli pasta paired with a vividly purple Rockpile Cabernet Blend ($60), I’m beginning to feel less peckish. That’s when the grilled flat iron steak with chanterelles and smoked smashed potatoes comes out. This is not one wee morsel, but, as photographic evidence attests to, a reasonable helping of choice cuts—albeit served on a rather oversized plate, as is the fashion. It may have been a requirement of my job to finish off the plate, accompanied by a cocoa and boysenberry scented 2013 Banti Vineyard Zinfandel ($45), but I was happy to do it.
After the dessert and port pairing, the experience was over all too soon, and the now happily murmuring, pleasantly sated group ajourned.
Feeling well-indulged? Continue up the road to Hood Mountain Regional Park for a steep hike and views, or down the road to Sonoma Valley Regional Park for an easy stroll through the oaks.
Local accomodations include the Kenwood Inn and Spa, Glen Ellen Inn, the Gaige House, Jack London Lodge, and the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. Further on in downtown Sonoma, I found the Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn to be a recently upgraded and convenient base for exploring Sonoma Valley.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, 100 Pythian Road at Highway 12, Santa Rosa, CA 95409. Tasting room open daily from 10am–5pm. Wine and food pairing: three seatings Thursday-Monday, 11am, 1pm and 3pm; $68.