Posts Tagged ‘food’

Don’t Miss! The Wine Road’s 11th Annual Wine & Food Affair. (tips inside)

Northern California Wine Country has many events, and its been a passion and pleasure of mine to attend many. While there are many good ones, there are a few that are GREAT. One of my favorites is this weekend’s Wine Road’s Wine & Food Affair. I feel some events are becoming a bit pricey for what they deliver; the Wine and Food Affair is one of the best values, and experiences Sonoma that Wine Country has to offer.


This special “Tasting Along the Wine Road” is November 7 & 8,  Saturday & Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm.  A Wine & Food Affair is the “premier event for the Wine Road, featuring a weekend of wine and food pairing in the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys.”

So what is this about? 80 wineries along the Wine Road (aptly named ‘Heaven Condensed’ ) offer food pairings to go along with their wines being poured. This is a ‘passport’ event – meaning you pay one fee, and can visit as many participating wineries as you wish. At just $60 for the entire weekend,or $40 for Sunday, this is an amazing value. People who pre-registered also get a great cookbook of the recipes.

So 5 hours a day for 2 days, and 80 wineries. How do you pick?  I have a (longish) list of Wine Road favorites, but rather than rattle those off here (email me), I am going to try and stay neutral, and offer other suggestions to enjoy this event. And this is about food pairings, not just wine.

planThe Golden Rule:  PLAN! Plan, plan, plan, plan. Did I say plan? Do you close your eyes at Safeway and throw random articles into your cart? No. So, don’t just drive down Dry Creek, or Westside Road and stop anywhere. There are great resources on the Wine Road website I am going to suggest – follow and use them.

So where do you start?

First are you going for one day or both? If only one, then its really important to map out a hit list, and start early.

1. What varietals (wine types) do you prefer?

You can partially match areas to this. Of course some wineries produce from all over, but generally if you prefer say, Pinot Noir map-homeand Chardonnay, you should spend time in the area around Forestville – Sebastopol and visit places like Lynmar, Moshin, Balleto etc. These geographic lines do get a bit blurry though, as great Pinot houses like C. Donatiello, Thomas George, etc. are further North. Dry Creek Valley is known as Zin country, but many wineries produce a host of other varietals, especially Syrah, and sometimes Cab, Petite Syrah, and others, as does Alexander Valley. You may want to consider focusing on lighter varietals, like Pinot, in the morning, and then try more full-bodied wines in the afternoon.

(2) Use The Wine Road web site to assist you.

It has many great maps and sorting tools. My favorite page allows you to click and sort by varietals (wine types), region, and amenities. This latter one is very useful for identifying wineries that are open ‘By Appointment’ only. There are a number of wineries participating such as Acorn, John Tyler, Windsor Oaks, etc that normally are open to the public only by appointment, so this event is a great way to just pop in and experience those wineries without having to plan ahead a make an appointment.

You can also use the amenities sort feature to identify the wineries with picnic facilities,  If you are really organized in planning your route, you can land at a good picnic spot right around lunch time.

(3) Consult the Participating Winery List.

Eighty wineries are participating – but the Wine Road has over 150 wineries, so don’t assume, double check. Especially for the wineries that are open by appointment only -some of these aren’t participating. It also doesn’t hurt to check with your favorite wineries if they don’t show up as participating. Mounts Family Winery in Dry Creek for example, isn’t on the official list, but will have free tastings for ticket holders, and is offering a food pairing.

(4) Bring a Spit Cup. redcup

If you are serious about tasting wine, and hitting as many wineries as you can, I strongly urge you to bring your own spit cup. Spitting into a dump bucket in a crowded tasting room isn’t something I recommend, and many people find it unpleasant which is one reason why more people don’t. That’s why at industry events and wine classes, red plastic spit cups are usually available. They’re easier to use, unobtrusive, and allow for discreet spitting for those who are shy about spitting in public. I can’t underscore this enough – if you taste 4-5 wines at each location, you may not realize that you are easily consuming 1-2 glasses of wine per locale. However, as little as 5-6 ounces of wine is a enough to start to impact your palette and judgment. Yes the food will help a bit, but not enough, if you are making many stops. At a bare minimum, dump varietals you don’t care for. But that is only going to help a bit. Give spitting a try — for the morning at least.  You will be glad you did!

(5) Bring a cooler. And your wallet.

If you like a winery, or they treat you extra special, buy something (or a few somethings!). They are artisans, but this isn’t charity. Weathermen are calling for mild weather this weekend according to the current forecast. It is supposed to be cloudy and 69 on Saturday, and 70 and sunny on Sunday. But these forecasters are the same guys that predicted that the harvest rain would only last one day.  Heat is the enemy of wine…even a few hours of heat and sun will negatively impact a bottle. Bring a cooler just in case, and you can stock it with water, red bulls, and nibbles.

6. Start Early, hit off the path wineries later.

The well-known wineries, closer in, can get quite mobbed, especially by mid afternoon. Try and be there when the bell dings, and get an early start. When you map out your route, perhaps do the less familiar wineries, or those off the beaten path, later in the day.

7. In the event you DON’T Pre-Plan (tsk tsk) at LEAST print out the event page which lists the food pairing, and the participating wineries, AND the modified Wine Road map that shows ONLY the participating Wineries.

8. Be Courteous,  Pleasematt at dutton

Some wineries are going to get busy. Try and be respectful of sharing the tasting space (do not stand 4 together at the bar, talking about your shoe purchase). Bond with your significant other and share the space one behind the other, thus doubling the space. Wearing perfume, talking at 120 decibels on your cell, chewing gum, trying to steal wine (true story), or being inebriated and harassing a tired pourer are all faux pax.

(Note to Winery owners and staff – I know it’s a trying,  long weekend; but I have witnessed some appalling treatment at ‘bracelet  events. In a down economy, and a push to sell Direct to Consumer (DTC), a little pre-event pep talk to your team may be in order. In years past, events like this were where I discovered some of my favorite wineries and – as a result of positive experiences –joined the wine club. )

Let’s all have fun – we are blessed to be surrounded by good people, good food, good wine; and this weekend is a culmination, and celebration of all three.


Great New Restaurant & Wine Bar opens in Healdsburg – Affronti

When Palette Art Café in Healdsburg closed before I could even try it, I was bummed. So, I was glad last week to learn via Facebook that a new wine bar and restaurant had opened in the same space – Affronti.

You don’t believe Social Media helps small businesses?  Think again.  If it hadn’t been for the post about Affronti by the “What’s Happening Healdsburg” Group ( it may have been months before I found it. I decided to check it out Friday night after flying back from Portland on business.  Since it would be late and I’d be hungry, cooking would not be on the agenda that night.

It’s in a good location in Healdsburg in that it’s only a block from the square, and right as you come into town.  Although, it’s hidden mid-building, so signage, visibility, and word of mouth are going to be important for success. They have a website, and a Facebook fan sight just started. Initial buzz has been good.

Affronti dining roomI really like the layout of the place. Outside, there is a big courtyard (great in summer, and could be used as spillover in warmer nights, with heat lamps).  The inside space is warm, open, and inviting. The bar is comfortable. There is also a section with cozy couches for hanging out with cocktails. If this place takes off, it will need more space like this….Healdsburg desperately needs more places where you can lounge on a comfy couch with a cocktail.

The server was prompt, courteous, knowledgeable, and attentive throughout the evening – as soon as a plate was done, or a glass empty, he was there intuitively to serve.

I really like the wine menu.

Huge kudos for offering mostly, but not all, local wines.  And yet finding interesting varietals and blends to pour, instead of the standard tired list of Pinot, Chard, Zin etc. zzzzz.

These included a Roussanne/Marsanne from Arrowwood, Fiano from Seghesio, Grenache Noir from Unti, to name a few – Bravo. Their unique wine cocktail list looked great too with creative libations made from wine, and sake, like the Alexander’s cup – viognier, ginger beer, cucumber, and strawberry.Affronti bar

Chef-Owner, Jude Affronti, has quite the pedigree of experience, and doesn’t disappoint.

The menu offers something for all appetites. The ‘bits and bites’ are great single serving nibbles. I highly recommend the flakey tartines. The spinach salad was big and well done with nice chunks of savory bacon. Soup of the day was a creamy leek and parsley that was delicious and not too heavy. The only dish that didn’t float my boat was the rillettte slow cooked duck small plate. Besides the bits and bites, and the single small plates, the menu at that time had four choices for dinner-sized plates as well. Included was a local fish ‘en papiote’ that sounded tempting.  The menu on their website as of time of this article only had a fraction of what the printed menu had, so don’t let that dissuade you.  There were also some tasty look desert choices – the chocolate terrine has my name on it for next time.

Affronti loungey areaTheir description via the website: “Affronti brings a unique “mix and match” menu format to the downtown restaurant scene; allowing diners to experience a wide range of sophisticated, yet accessible tastes without breaking the bank. From the colorful eye appeal of bar bites and small plates to the intriguing combinations of flavors and textures found in ”something bigger to share” selection, Mediterranean cooking influences fuse with local ingredients to reflect both the bounty and heritage of Sonoma County.”

I’d have to concur with this – reasonable prices, quality food, good ambience, creative cocktails and wine selections – finally! They have “social hour’ specials 4-6:30 pm, Jazz brunch on Sundays, and live Music Thursday nights.  This is my new hangout of choice – check it out, support it, so great venues like this stay in business. (p.s. check out my other new favorite in Windsor – Vine Tastings – I plan to review their great new menu next week.)  235 Healdsburg Ave, #105, Healdsburg.


The Annual Taste of Sonoma at MacMurray Ranch

Saturday, September 5, 2009
MacMurray Ranch, Healdsburg

The  Annual Showcase Taste of Sonoma was a culinary, hedonistic heaven, and one of the best organized food/wine events I have ever attended. (and I have attended a LOT.) This event is part of series of Sonoma County activities hosted all weekend.

To start, it’s hosted at the beautiful MacMurray Ranch a venue only open for special events. Hidden from the road, nestled amongst hills, is an amazing valley with gorgeous views. It’s a picture perfect post card-like vista of Sonoma County.
sonomawine country weekend2
It’s amazing how an event with 2,400 attendees, 120 wineries, and 60 chefs can feel so unhurried and un-crowded. Huge kudos to the organizers for their execution.

I loved the layout. Food and wine was organized into four main tents, one for each of the primary Sonoma regions: Dry Creek, Russian River , Sonoma Valley, and Alexander Valley. Since I live in the area and explore here often, I was more inclined to focus on Sonoma Valley , since it’s an area I get to less. Of course I went through all four tents. Repeatedly. Started with whites….made the rounds, paired with food. Next, Pinots. Rinse repeat. Then on to bigger reds, and I focused on less common varietals.

If you are a Signature Visa cardholder (like my United Visa) not only was the event discounted $50, you were also treated like royalty with a special area and gift. This event was a bargain at $95. (anyone who lives/visits Sonoma should have one for the winery bennies – click the link for details.)

Gloria Ferrer Bubble Lounge: REALLY nice setup area, right at the entry, complete with comfy What better way to start with bubbles and food pairings?! Gloria Ferrer was a class act as always, with three different bubble offers and food pairings. Pizza Politana had an INCREDIBLE thin crust fig pizza that was to die for, and paired well with their Royal Cuvee. Gloria Ferrer’s new Va Da Vi cuvee has been a smash hit for them. Production is currently ramping up, and is also just now hitting some retail venues. Its Cuvee Club pickup month, so looking forward to another visit soon!

There were also a number of seminars, chef contests, and other interesting activities if you could break away from eating and imbibing. tasteof sonoma chef

To keep up with Social Networking, there were ten laptops for patrons to update Facebook, Twitter, Snooth, and also to upload pics. For the technically challenged, friendly assistance was on hand. This turned out to be a godsend for any AT&T user, as there was almost no signal anywhere, and my iPhone was demoted to picture taking.

I was somewhat surprised to see people walking around with beer(!). Stella Artois was pouring Stella, Hoegaarden, and Leffe (the latter two being great beers) served in a free proper-style Belgian glass, with logo.

I will make a quick mention for some special things that caught my eye. My apologies to the many great others I didn’t get to. It may have been that I just got too carried away enjoying the event to take anymore notes.

– Autumn Barber at Aioli Deli/Catering did a delicious pulled pork slider with slaw. As a six year resident
of the Carolina’s, this was noteworthy stuff. Go Aioli!
Epicurean Connection: Sheana again had great food, and a gelato people where hunting everywhere, and a line always in queue
– Hopmonk Tavern had a yummy lamb bite with pureed squash.
Many others as well. Everything I sampled was creative and delicious.

Sadly, I didn’t get to taste the fried chicken from Susan/Jeff Mall’s Zin Restaurant. The line was always long and I forgot to circle for the third time. (But I frequent Zin regularly, so I don’t feel too deprived.)

Again, a dizzying array of choices. I tried to stay away from usual faves, and explore new. I was pleased that I was usually able to engage in meaningful dialogue. Its always great to meet owners, wine makers, and other knowledgeable staff, and I enjoyed the chats almost as much as the wine.

Spann Vineyards: I made up for my faux pas of not tasting Spann at the Family Winery event, and was pleased to meet Peter in person. The chard/viogner blend was a hit on my palette, all fruit, great balance…will be coming soon to purchase. The Mo Jo Super Tuscan red blend was also great…but then I am a sucker for well- made Sangiovese. I wish I could attend Spann’s tasting event Sept 12th, but that Saturday is already quadruple booked. Do treat yourself if you can make it.

VJB Cellars: great Italian varietals: Barbera, Sangiovese. Well made, neutral oak, all fruit, palette pleasers. They also make (weren’t pouring) a Montipulciano. Guess I will be making a visit soon.

Soujorn Cellars: Three great Pinot offers, but hands down the Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast. They were just awarded a 95 score by the Pinot Report, was a crowd pleaser, and my Pinot pick of the day. (Amongst many stunning choices.) This Pinot is under allocation, only three per purchaser – hurry!

I, of course, did stop for quick tastes of some of my usual Russian River and Dry Creek favorites that were there (some weren’t) including Kokomo, Acorn, Lynmar, Thomas George, and more…

I was thinking this morning on how fortunate I am to live in such beauty and great culture. To be surrounded by warm, fun people who love life is a blessing. Kudos to Signature Visa for pulling this together and to share with so many people the jewel that is Sonoma County is.

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