Sonoma County Food and Wine Pairing
Many Sonoma County wineries are stepping up their wine and food pairings—from cheese plates and small bites to sumptuous five course mini-meals—to highlight this region's sustainable relationship to the land. The fun lies in tasting how the flavors of the place interact between the offerings on your plate and in your glass. Learning about food pairing is a puzzle to enjoy solving, as travel expert Emily Kaufman shows us in her Wine, Two, Three series.
Learn about Sonoma County Wine and Food Pairing with The Travel Mom
Seghesio Family Vineyards knows Zinfandel. The winery was founded during the original heyday of California Zinfandel, in 1895, by Edoardo Seghesio, who came to work at the Italian Swiss Colony (a few wine lovers may still recall the winery from touring in the 1960s, or from TV commercials). And they know food—that’s their Italian heritage! Today, Seghesio’s Sonoma County Zinfandel is one of the most popular wines seen on Sonoma County wine lists and elsewhere, but ideal food pairing can be found right in the tasting room: the winery’s executive chef, Peter Janiak, helped to create a Zinfandel mustard, Zinfandel barbecue sauce, and an artichoke and piquillo pepper tapenade, specifically to pair with their Zinfandel wines. They are delicious, one of a kind, and available for purchase at the tasting room in a tree-shaded setting just north of downtown Healdsburg.
Zinfandel with barbecue, that’s easy, one might say. But what about cured California sturgeon with garden-fresh radish? Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens has got that covered, with their five-course wine and food pairing. Although the food pairing creations, arriving on a small platter to complement a few of KJ’s more limited-release wines, at first look just a size up from an amuse-bouche, they’re intricately, flavorfully designed by longtime KJ chef Justin Wangler, and contain seasonal highlights grown onsite by head gardener Tucker Taylor. A recent course included roasted salmon, artichoke barigoule, and sorrel aioli paired with Chardonnay—probably easier to enjoy the synergy of food and wine than to pronounce the whole menu!
Small plates add up at J Vineyards’ Bubble Room. Beloved locally for their distinctively packaged Sonoma County sparkling wines, including the popular “J Cuvée 20,” J Vineyards was also an early innovator in the small bites scene, employing the culinary arts to show off their wines. While the Bubble Room and J’s other food pairing options cannot be considered a restaurant, you may certainly think of the one-to-two-hour seating tasting as lunch by any other name.
The treats start before the first course is served, with an amuse-bouche (delightfully translated from the French, “mouth-amuser”) like, perhaps, triple-breaded fried squash blossom. Next up, a tender slab of white sturgeon ringed with tiny cubes of radiantly green “toad skin” melon topped with caviar and garnished with nasturtium. Second course may find a leg of rabbit, raised just a few hops away at a heritage rabbitry in Sebastopol, mingling with chanterelle and black garlic. Vegetarians need not miss out on wheat berries and leathery winter truffles in the third course, and they’ll get roasted eggplant as a substitute for medium-rare beef ribeye and tongue. The kitchen is happy to accommodate other dietary restrictions.
There are many other food and wine pairing opportunities like this offered at Sonoma County wineries, and they deliver much enjoyment for only a modest multiple of the regular tasting fee. They may even break a few wine and food pairing “rules” you may have heard about—even more inspiration to bring a bottle or two of Sonoma County wine home, and start experimenting in the kitchen.
Lodging in the area: Vintners Resort
Written by James Knight