Food and wine are a team. And there’s much, much more to know than “whites for fish, red for meat.” From playing chef to creating a stellar picnic basket, here’s three food and wine experiences in Napa & Sonoma destined to expand your palate. Trust us, mealtimes are about to get a lot more interesting.
Chef-Style Cooking at Cakebread Cellars
At Cakebread Cellars, Chef Brian Streeter can take your basic cooking skills and transform them into weapons to impress your next dinner party guests. And this is no Hell’s Kitchen–you’ll have fun while you learn, surrounded by scenic vineyards. “Our cooking classes are about making the entire process fun, as it should be,” says Streeter.
Having been at Cakebread for an impressive 27 years, it’s no surprise that Chef Streeter has cultivated a foodie’s dream kitchen garden. “With such a long growing season in Napa, I have access to some of the best produce in the world,” he says. “Everything I make in cooking class is seasonal and fresh, whether it’s asparagus and peppers from the garden, free-range meat from a nearby farm, or fresh, local cheese.”
As you cook, Chef Streeter reveals some important pairing secrets. “The first thing you should think about is the intensity of the food, and then match that with the wine. A really heavy wine goes well with a hearty meal; a dish with high acidity requires an acidic wine.” Though he’s an expert, Streeter is the first one to bring the pairing process back down to earth. “At the end of the day, everyone’s palate is different, and there isn’t a right or wrong answer.”
Once you’ve done your chopping and marinating, Chef Streeter will put the finishing touches on your meal while you relax with a glass of wine around the beautiful outdoor table. For Summer, a favorite dish at the cooking school is a roasted leg of lamb with whipped feta, paired with Cakebread’s much-decorated Cabernet Sauvignon. After a hard day’s cooking, dinner with the vineyard as your backdrop tastes even better.
The Perfect Picnic at V. Sattui
The charm of a classic picnic never fades. However, you can up your picnic game from good to gourmet at V. Sattui. With over two acres of picturesque grounds, there’s many pretty places to lay your checkered blanket.
Tyffani at Sattui recommends visitors taste first, then snack: “Do a tasting to get a good idea of what we’re about, and then go to the marketplace to design your meal. Pick your bottle, then pick your snacks.”
Once you’ve chosen your wine, it’s time to fill your basket. We love the Dancing Egg dry Riesling which goes perfectly with one of their cured meats, made in-house by Head Chef Gerardo Sainato. “We meticulously cure and age all of our own meats, and we even pull our own mozzarella. It’s fresh, fresh, fresh” says Tyffani. On weekends, Sattui has a mozzarella bar where you can treat the cheese like a savory ice cream sundae, topping it with a selection of goodies such as olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Other fan-favorites from the marketplace include truffle mac and cheese, fluffy crab cakes and a succulent meatball panini.
If you’re stuck on what to choose, just ask anyone with a Sattui uniform, “We’re all experts – it’s what we do here!” And don’t forget to BYOB and BYOG – bring your own blanket and bring your own wine glasses!
The 5-Star Experience at Ledson Hotel’s Zina Lounge
Enter the Ledson Hotel lobby and the words charming and elegant come to mind. Located in downtown Sonoma, the hotel’s charming glass-paneled doors open to reveal the Zina Lounge. Right away, you’ll wonder if you’ve landed in a Tuscan retreat, although the friendly California vibe remains.
Steve Ledson, owner and head winemaker of Ledson Winery, has created a food and wine pairing experience that goes beyond taking a recommendation from a waiter. “My vision was to have multiple courses – about six – showcasing a different wine with each course. And it would be an interactive, private meal with just one or two groups,” he explains. So the lobby of his world-class hotel doubles as a beautiful wine and food tasting lounge, where he showcases both Ledson wines and its sister label, Zina Hyde Cunningham.
Steve recently traveled to Hawaii to recruit chef Yoshi Sogi, formerly of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, whose resume fits Ledson’s vision of “Asian-inspired French cuisine” perfectly: he’s from Japan, and has trained in both France and Switzerland, and lived in California and Hawaii. Earlier this month he returned to Cali to lead the Zina Lounge tasting experience. “What’s best about the food we offer is that it’s farm-to-table” says Steve. A fast-favorite among their first round of guests has been Yoshi’s Miyagi oysters paired with Zina Hyde Cunningham Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
From oysters to succulent pork with Zinfandel and finishing with port and sweet chocolate terrine, prepare to be delighted at every course. “We’ve created an experience that really lets the wine shine” says Steve. “When you’re exposed to carefully curated pairings, you can discover entirely new aromas, flavors and textures within the wine – even if you’ve drunk it many times before.”
Ledson usually welcomes one group at lunch and two at dinner, but they’re more than willing to cater to your every whim. “If you come to us and say, ‘I want to do a pairing of only Pinots,’ we’re up for the challenge,” says Steve. But once you get a taste of that too-good-to-be-true oyster and Sauvignon Blanc, it may be wisest to go with whatever Yoshi has in mind.
See all our vacation rentals in Napa & Sonoma