Unique Sonoma County Food & Wine Pairings for Winter

Sonoma County is known for its delicious, fresh, farm-to-table food, which includes many unique dishes that are special to the area, such as Dungeness crab caught straight from the Sonoma County Coast. Of course, Sonoma County is also known for its amazing wines. So, when it comes to a unique winter Sonoma County meal, how do you make the perfect pairing? Here’s our winter pairing guide: 

Dungeness Crab and Caesar Salad 

Willi's Seafood Crab
Willi’s Seafood Crab

Dungeness crab and Caesar salad is a winter (and holiday) classic in Sonoma County, as our crabs are pulled right out of the water in Bodega Bay so they’re served the same day or almost immediately after they’re caught.  

Chardonnay is the classic white wine pairing for Dungeness crab. As a fuller-bodied white wine that has some creaminess as well as minerality and acidity (in the best Chardonnays), Chardonnay pairs well with the richness and sweetness of Dungeness crab and can also hold up to the melted butter that is the classic Dungeness Crab dipping sauce. 

A well-balanced, crisp Chardonnay with freshness, acidity, creaminess and minerality also works equally well with the creamy, garlic, and anchovy flavor profile of Caesar salad dressing.   

A great Sonoma County Chardonnay to pair with Dungeness Crab and Caesar Salad is the 2020 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay. Clean, crisp and citrusy, with a light and balanced oak presence, it complements the crab flavors perfectly. The lemony persistence and very subtle richness from the oak allow the delicate crab flavors to shine, while the fresh lemon, lime and stone fruit flavors can cut through the fatty butter often served with crab.  

It is also a good match for a zesty and creamy Caesar salad. The bright citrus flavors and vibrant acidity can cut through the rich mayonnaise and Parmesan cheese, allowing the garlic, anchovy and peppery flavors to stand on their own. 

Rib Roast 

Glass of Wine
A glass of wine to compliment rib roast.

When it comes to rich, fatty cuts of beef like rib roast, the best wine pairings are usually bolder, richer red wines and blends. This doesn’t mean that you can only pair rich, red meats like rib roast with heavy, oaky Cabernets though. A few wines that can hold up to a rib roast include Bordeaux blends (blends containing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec in varying quantities) from either the New World or the Old World, Super Tuscan or Super Tuscan-style wines (blends that include both Tuscan grapes as well as non-Italian grape varietals such as Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah), a well-structured Zinfandel, and of course, Cabernet Sauvignon.  

  A couple of our favorite Sonoma County wines that pair really well with rib roast are:  

  • Aperture Cellars Bordeaux Red Blend, Alexander Valley: Earthy with notes of granite, dusty earth, and dark fruit with plenty of freshness, acidity, and structure, it is both powerful and elegant, with silky edges and well-rounded tannins. This is a flawlessly balanced, site-expressive blend that will pair well with rich dishes such as cassoulet or shepherd’s pie, red meat, mushroom risotto, and other rich, earthy dishes. 
  • Muscardini Cellars Zinfandel, Los Chamizal Vineyards: This robust yet elegant Zinfandel boasts aromas of wild berries, baking chocolate, licorice, fresh tobacco, savory spices, and smoky cedar. On the palate, it has concentrated but lively flavors of briary blackberry, raspberry, dark cherry, and fresh huckleberries, which are layered with notes of fresh sage, black pepper, cardamom, and roasted black walnuts, making it a great Zinfandel to pair with rich mains such as rib roast, burgers, or beef stew.  

Honey-Baked Ham 

 When choosing a wine that pairs well with honey-baked ham, the options are diverse. As honey-baked ham is both salty and sweet, it can pair very nicely with white wines that have both high acidity and a tiny touch of sweetness such as Riesling, Moscato/Muscat, or other aromatic, high-acid, fruity white wines. It can also pair well with lighter-bodied, fruity red wines such as Dolcetto, Lambrusco, or Rhone style wines made from Grenache or Syrah.  

Keep in mind that crisp, lighter-bodied, fruity white wines might not pair quite as well with rich side dishes such as mashed potatoes and gravy, cheesy potatoes, green bean casserole, etc., while pliable wines such as Dolcetto and Rhone-style blends normally pair effortlessly with everything on the table. You may want to start with white wine and then move to red wine during your meal. Or simply offer both. 
 
The following Sonoma County wines pair well with honey-baked ham:  

  • Cruse Wine Co. Sparkling Valdiguié: This Pet-Nat-style dry, fruity, sparkling rose wine from Cruse Wine Co. displays aromas and flavors of rose, watermelon, and fennel and has a nice minerality and savory finish. The flavor profile of this wine makes it perfect for fatty-salty-sweet dishes such as honey-baked ham, but it can also pair effortlessly with pre-dinner cheese plates and nibbles like marcona almonds and olives. 
  • Idlewild “The Bee White,” North Coast (56% Arneis, 42% Muscat, 2% Cortese): This aromatic and dry, yet fruity and floral white wine made from Piemontese white wine grape varieties offers exotic aromas and flavors such as orange blossoms, spiced honey, white gardenias, lemon zest, and chalk. The texture is medium-bodied, both lush and fresh with layers of concentrated flavors. The flavor profile of this wine makes it perfect for spicy foods, Asian food, and salty-sweet dishes such as honey-baked ham, but it can also pair effortlessly with pre-dinner hors devours such as prosciutto and melon or dried fruit, cheese and nuts.  

Additional wines that pair well include Idlewild Dolcetto and Meyer Family Vineyards Dolcetto.  

Vegetarian Meals 

Vegetarian Meal
A vegetarian meal is a great compliment to wine.

When it comes to meals that are veggie-based or include a lot of roasted vegetables and other savory non-meat dishes, it makes sense to choose a wine based on the following criteria: 

For a meal that features a lot of rich, cheesy dishes, it’s important to pick a wine that can hold up to fatty, rich dishes, which means it needs to have enough body, richness and acidity to both complement the food but not be overshadowed by rich ingredients like cheese and butter. For whites that pair well with rich dishes, a slightly creamy Chardonnay with good acidity is a good choice, while for reds, anything from a Pinot Noir or Sangiovese to a Cabernet could work nicely. Most importantly, it should have good acidity and not be too light and fruity (i.e., it should have a little bit of weight and complexity).  

The beauty of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is that they can pair really well with both rich, cheesy dishes and mushroom-based dishes. Consider one of the following Sonoma County wines: 

  • Fort Ross Vineyard Chardonnay 
  • Gary Farrell Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir 
  • Pellegrini Carbonic Pinot Noir 

For a meal that features more roasted veggies and starches (Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, beets, onions, etc.) vs. rich, cheesy dishes, it’s a good idea to select a light-bodied, soft, easy-drinking red that works with any kind of food that may be on the table. While it’s true that white wines pair better with roasted green veggies such as Brussel sprouts, artichokes, spinach, and/or green peppers, it’s easier to select a light-bodied red wine that can hold up to heartier root vegetables, casseroles, and roasted veggies so that the wine doesn’t get overpowered by the food. Two good options are the below Sonoma County wines: 

  • Klint Vineyard Coferment “Serendipity” (a Pinot Noir-Pinot Gris co-ferment) 
  • Idlewild Wines Grignolino 

When in doubt, select a nice, light, bright, acidic white, such as one of the below, to serve with the crudité or pre-dinner veggie platter, and then move to a light-bodied, balanced, fruity red for the main meal. 

  • Unti Vineyards Fiano 
  • Orsi Vineyards Biancolella 

Chinese Food 

Chinese food has become a bit of a winter classic for many families in the U.S. But what kinds of wine pairs with dishes like Peking Duck, Kung pao chicken, or dim sum? 

When it comes to dishes that have lighter sauces and are spicy, try a refreshing off-dry or fruity white wine with good acidity such as Riesling, dry Moscato/Muscat, or Alberino. A fruity rose is also a great pairing.  
 
The following Sonoma County wines would be great choices: 

  • Idlewild ‘The Bee White’, North Coast (56% Arneis, 42% Muscat, 2% Cortese) 
  • Smith Story Rosé (a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Barbera) 
  • Dutton-Goldfield Shop Block Pinot Blanc 
  • Radio Coteau Riesling 
  • Marimar Estate Albariño 
  • Pax Wine Trousseau Gris 

For dishes with richer flavors and hoisin or soy sauce-based sauces as well as some sweetness such as Chinese spareribs or Peking Duck, try a fruity, light-bodied or sparkling red wine like one of the following: 

  • Idlewild Grignolino 
  • Meeker Vineyard Dolcetto (carbonically macerated so it’s light, fruity, and smooth) 
  • Two Shepherds Grenache Noir 
  • Two Shepherds Bucking Luna (a sparkling Carignane-Cinsault) 

Written by Brooke Herron

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