November is a magical and sensory time in the wine country. The vineyards are exploding in the fall colors of reds, browns, oranges and yellows. The smell of harvested grapes permeates the air as they are pressed and the juice is put into barrels teasing your senses. Time for the harvest parties has arrived! It is during this Season of Sonoma that the Wine Road appellations of Russian River, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley pause and invite the world, or at least the rest of Northern California to come and enjoy the fruits of their labor with fine pairings of food and large servings of congeniality….the 13th Annual Wine & Food Affair.
The year’s event, the 13th annual, encompassed the usual Saturday and Sunday and included a broad selection of large, medium and small vineyards, estates and wineries. Over 100 of the 190 wineries situated in the three appellations participated and each brought a special bit of their personality and wine making philosophy to the event.
Even with a two-day event and 10 hours available for tasting and pairing, with the time and distance constraints, the three appellations encompass nearly 400 sq miles, and the human factors of how much of a good thing one can ‘swallow’, visiting more than 6 or 7 wineries a day is a sprint which tends to defeat the purpose of ‘enjoying’ the wine country.
Keeping that in mind, each ticket holder ($70 per person and $30 for Designated Drivers – a Sunday only ticket was available for $50) had a ‘home’ winery where they would check in, receive their wine glass, wrist band and a magnificent cookbook with all the recipes being highlighted and paired at the participating wineries. Très Magnifique!! In light of all of the above, the highlights of two days of food and wine follow.
Day 1 – Saturday, 5 November was partly cloudy with intermittent rain showers. This day’s focus was Dry Creek and mostly smaller and lesser traveled venues.
Best Wine Surprise: Martorana Family Winery off West Dry Creek Road. Gio (wine maker) and Tony Martorana run this, soon to be organic certified, winery integrating the Piedmont and Sicilian traditions they inherited from their grandparents with the modern techniques that have made California wines the envy of much of the world. They paired their 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel with an Italian Sausage and Peppers Slider created by Gio himself. Wonderful flavors melded perfectly between the food and the wine. Their 2007 Dry Creek Valley Merlot was another exceptional offering! If you haven’t been there, it is well worth the deviation but you must call for an appointment. Well worth the effort!!
Best Food Surprise: Affronti Wine Bar and Restaurant provided the catering at Mounts Family Winery. Jude Affronti is classically trained (CIA) and has also chefed in Manhattan within the Mario Batali Empire and locally at Stars and Zuni in San Francisco and in Sonoma at Charcuterie and Santi. This pairing was a Khoresht Fesenjaan (Persion Chicken Stew) with an 2008 Cypress Zinfandel. An excellent match for sure truly showcasing the wonderful Persian spice flavors. David Mounts, winemaker at Mounts Family Winery, produces a very flavorful and rich Petit Syrah. The winery is located off Wine Creek Road in Healdsburg and is open for tasting on weekends and during the week by appointment only.
No Surprises – Well Known Winery Food and Wine Pairings:
Pedroncelli Winery, a Sonoma County tradition since 1927, served a Manzo Brasato Alla Lombarda (Braised Beef in stock and red wine) created in the family tradition by Julie Pedroncelli St. John and paired with their Dry Creek Valley Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Wonderful combination of flavors and gusto!
Geyser Peak Winery has been in the Alexander Valley since the 1880’s. It is very well-known for its moderately priced and widely distributed wines, but its premium wines, sold only through the tasting room and wine clubs are exceptional. The wine and food pairing combined a Cabernet Braised Angus Beef Sugo Ziti, created by Tim Vallery of Peloton Catering, another CIA alum, with the Geyser Peak 2007 Reserve Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Another awesome combination of food and wine that had many going back for seconds.
Day 2 – Sunday, 6 November was partly sunny and warm enough to skip the jacket. The focus was the Alexander Valley and, again, mostly small lesser traveled wineries and, off course, the food pairings.
Best New Winery or Tasting Rooms:
Starlite Vineyards began growing grapes and making wine in 2003 with, legendary, Merry Edwards as their consulting winemaker. In 2007, current winemaker, Julia Iantosca took the helm and continues making beautiful small production wines focusing on Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier. Located on Highway 128 in Geyserville, Starlite has beautiful vineyards and grounds. A great picnic spot in warmer weather.
Medlock Ames has a fairly new tasting room (6-9 months old) at the corner of Highway 128 (near Jimtown) and Alexander Valley Road in Healdsburg. The uniqueness of this spot revolves around their Sleek Tatsing Room and the Alexander Valley Bar which has a full liquor license. When the tasting room closes at 5PM the bar/lounge opens. A pretty unique setting in the middle of the vineyards!! It is small but very nicely appointed with a rustic recycled look which is one of the owners hallmarks…green planning. Especially enjoyable was the 2008 Merlot. The food pairing was the Bell Mountain Red blend. Like Saturday, the best foods seemed to come from Peloton and at Medlock Ames that food was Pulled Pork Sliders – Yum!!
Peloton also provided the Lamb Kabobs at Alexander Valley Vineyards a perennial favorite in the valley and the Cremini Mushroom Royale with Pork Tenderloin at Trione Winery. Trione Winery is worth a visit not just for their excellent wines but for a walk through the history of wine making in the Alexander Valley via the Old Stone Winery built in 1908 and visible from Highway 101 north of Healdsburg.
Most Fun Tasting Room:
deLorimier Winery, one of several excellent wineries in the stable of Ken and Diane Wilson, provided one of the most enjoyable stops. Excellent wines, very good food and a team of very, very friendly and helpful tasting room folks. The 2006 Crazy Creek Vineyard, Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon paired very well with the Grilled Tri-tip with Bacon Chimchurri created by “Chef Ryan Waldron” who appears to be a member of the Hospitality team at deLorimier Winery.
The Wine Road, Wine & Food Affair, 13th Annual edition was a perfect Seasons of Sonoma hit. Mark your calendars for this and other events, like Winter Wineland in January and Barrel Tasting the first two weekends in March. These Wine Road events are must do events in Sonoma County.