01 May Napa Valley’s Best Food and Wine Pairings
Wineries boast a fresh new crop of tasting experiences
Wine is best enjoyed with food, but for many years an arcane ordinance kept Napa Valley wineries from serving much more than cheese and crackers in their often spectacular tasting rooms. More recently, many of the region’s wineries have found a workaround under the umbrella of educational food and wine pairing, investing in high-end chefs to cleverly marry their wines with culinary offerings. Embracing a “what grows together goes together” strategy, these kitchen magicians turn out tasty treats from small bites to multi-course meals, often served in serendipitous spaces. Note that these so-called elevated experiences all require advance reservations.
Here are a few of the many Napa Valley winery offerings, from north to south:
Surrounded by stunning views of Mount Saint Helena and the Palisades, Tamber Bey visitors can sip on Burgundy and Bordeaux-style wines while meandering amidst an elite equestrian facility that’s also home to a horse rescue organization (the winery’s president and general manager, Jennifer Waitte, is a past winner of the 100-mile Tevis Cup endurance ride from Truckee to Auburn). Pair the Thomas Rivers Brown–produced wines with a lineup of savory cookies that range from cherry pepper to cardamon, or pre-order a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds overlooking the paddocks. Leashed dogs are welcome and get their own drink and treat.
Calistoga is also home to the recently opened family-owned Davis Estates where the Historic Tour and Tasting provides a behind-the-scenes look at the property, including a walk-through of the vineyards and beautifully restored barn space. Then return to the stunning Howard Backen–designed tasting room and its open kitchen. There, a wine educator will guide you through a flight of flagship Cary Gott–crafted wines paired with chef Mark Caldwell’s artfully presented small plates, such as roasted wild mushroom and pecan pate crostini with honey, red wine, glazed onions and Greek spiced lamb on seared polenta with mizithra cheese. Leave time to drink in the sweeping views of the valley below, perhaps from the porch swings on the open-air terrace.
Just north of the town of St. Helena, Brasswood is a complex containing a winery, caves, bottle shop, bakery and restaurant, Brasswood Bar + Kitchen, whose menu and staff largely migrated from the much loved and now closed Tra Vigne. The daily Brasswood Lunch Pairing begins with a tour of the winery and caves, then retreats to a communal table where four wines from the estate vineyards are paired with seasonal rustic Italian dishes from chef David Nuno. Look for a menu that typically starts with melty hand-pulled mozzarella a la minuto and grilled sourdough (made famous at Tra Vigne) and ends with the signature butterscotch panna cotta.
Round Pond Estate
At Rutherford’s Round Pond Estate, chef Jamie Prouten forages the estate’s gardens, olive oils and vinegars to prepare a multi-course meal paired with the winery’s award-winning lineup. The Il Pranzo (“lunch” in Italian) includes a tour of the winery garden and olive grove, followed by lunch served on the second-story terrace overlooking the vineyards and Mayacamas Mountains. The long and lovely, four-hour Garden-to-Table Brunch on Sundays features a winery tour and comprehensive tasting of estate wines complemented by a multi-course family-style brunch.
B Cellars’ Oakville Trek, curated by co-founder Jim Borsack (fondly known as “the mad chef”), visits the property’s vineyards, gardens, winery and caves, including a barrel tasting. Back at the Hospitality House’s open kitchen, Brix alum chef Derick Kuntz preps bites to go with five award-winning wines, using ingredients from onsite stone fruit orchards, olive trees, the garden (including herbs and edible flowers) and honey from the bee apiary. Homemade breads, crackers and pasta are made with eggs from resident hens.
Piazza del Dotto Vineyards
Also in Oakville, the new Italian-inspired Piazza del Dotto Vineyards Delicacies Experience begins with a barrel tasting of five wines in the property’s marble-lined caves. It continues at a communal table where chef Joshua Schwartz—formerly of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon and Bouley—pairs five wines with small plates like Plaza reserve caviar, green tomato relish, corn fritter and coriander crema with their Piazza Sonoma Coast Fort Ross Seaview Rosé. For something more casual, the Cave Experience & Barrel Tasting concludes with pizza made with house-cured salami and a sourdough crust that uses cultured yeast from the property’s grapevines.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
The venerable Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars soars with the Cellarius Kitchen Experience, named after the German-Dutch cartographer whose works hang in the contemporary exhibition kitchen. A property and cave tour leads to a multi-course meal prepared by chef Travis Westrope, who worked with Michael Chiarello at Bottega. Westrope’s innovative cuisine may include dishes such as Niman Ranch lamb chop, green garlic and olive pistou, licorice salsify and Cabernet gastrique, paired with the Judgement of Paris winner’s highly sought-after wines, including the flagship Cask 23 estate cabernet sauvignon.
Food & Wine editor Susan D. Rock thinks these elevated tasting experiences are far superior to drinking on an empty stomach.