Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pairing Sonoma Wine with Food

By Liza B. Zimmerman

We are spoiled by the enormous selection of great local wines living here in California. Some of my favorites have long been those found off the beaten path: Paso Robles, Anderson Valley and numerous impressive producers in Sonoma County.

A huge shift in day to night temperatures can produce subtle wines, with balanced acidity that are often reminiscent of Old World vintages in Sonoma. I had the pleasure of dining at the Dry Creek Kitchen, chef Charlie Palmer's restaurant within the Hotel Healdsburg, where sommelier and writer Courtney Humiston is incredibly passionate about the local wines.

She is also lucky enough to have an all-Sonoma list to showcase with the restaurant's locally sourced  and French-influenced food. Scallops en croute and truffles shaved on dishes upon request: just say yes! If I can have a peanut butter-parfait afterwards for dessert then I will feel if I have flown across the Atlantic and back during lunch.

A Closer Look at a Diverse Growing Region
"Sonoma  County is a very large and geographically diverse region -- from coastal ridges to Redwood forests to volcanic mountain ranges -- which lends itself to many different grape varieties and wine styles," says Humiston.

"There are so many different micro climates and different grape varieties growing here, I have fun introducing my guests to wines they have never had before [or heard of!]. ... so I appreciate having such a wide range of wines to play around with." She adds that many of these wines manage to combine the incredibly food-friendly flavors of purity, freshness and vibrancy.

A Passion for Pinot
Pinot Noir is often the go-to wine in this region. It can range from big, corpulent and meaty to sometimes reminiscent of Burgundy. Hot days and cool nights make for some powerful Pinots that hit some high alcohol levels and even stand up to steak. I often find them better pairings for dense and intense red meat than the region's Cabernet Sauvignons, which can sometimes be green and a bit tannic.

Anything with truffles on it, such as those being served in many restaurants this fall, ups the pairing potential enormously with Sonoma Pinot Noir. The funk and earth found in both of them brings out layers of flavors in the other. "You smell some wines from the Sonoma Coast and  'it's like being in a forest'--pine duff and crisp fall air--they capture the terroir perfectly. "

Humiston confirms that, "Pinot Noir is commonly considered the go-to wine for pairing with food because of its great versatility." She is lucky enough to offer four pages of local options, of just this one grape, on her list at Dry Creek. The Valley is famous for all kinds of mushrooms, not just those brought in from France and Italy. So restaurants often feature, where legal, local mushrooms and hotels often offer foraging trips.

Not all of the region's Pinot Noirs are expensive either. Mark West is a great example of an affordable and food-friendly wine.

Sonoma also produces some impressive Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. Many have great ribbons of acidity and balanced alcohol, making them ideal pairing partners for all kinds of food parings.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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