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by Erika Lenkert



Food & Wine Tastings


I don't care what anyone says. The longstanding tradition of serving wine with oyster crackers or other flavorless palate cleansers is just plain boring. So what if offering something like stinky cheese, salty charcuterie, or even gooey pizza will alter the true flavor of the wine. The clinical approach isn't the only way to appreciate a glass of vino. Besides, last time I checked even my most serious wine-professional friends happily paired the likes of $1,500 bottles of Chateau d'Yquem with whatever dessert happened to be on the table. Thankfully, more and more wineries are getting the idea that serving snacks with wine does more than help soak the alcohol in visitors' tummies before they get back into their cars—it heightens wine-tasting enjoyment. Should your Northern California itinerary demand a doubly delicious palate adventure, check out the following wineries, which celebrate the enjoyment of wine with food.

Domaine Carneros: Located at the southern end of Napa, this chateau specializing in sparkling wine knows that there are few better ways to compliment a day than with a bottle of bubbly and a jar of caviar. But if that doesn't rock your world perhaps one of the cheese or smoked salmon plates will. Find a seat on the terrace and toast the good life as it should be savored. 1240 Duhig Rd., Napa, 800-716-BRUT, www.domaine.com.

Pine Ridge Winery: This serious winery may be known for its Cabernet, but if you are planning to visit during a summertime weekend and book in advance, you can also hang out among the hillside vineyards for a sophisticated food and wine-pairing seminar. The alfresco affair is led by the winery chef who demonstrates how to prepare three appetizers, pairs them with three wines, and then lets guests taste the results. 5901 Silverado Trail, Napa, 800-575-9777, www.pineridgewinery.com.

Domaine Chandon: It's all about the high life at this elegant and sprawling sparkling wine house, which also makes fine still wines. Order a flute of bubbly, select from the decadent snack menu (think pate, bread, and cheese), and kick back with the rest of the revelers on the patio overlooking the lush grounds. 1 California Dr., Yountville, 707-944-2280, www.chandon.com.

V. Sattui Winery: The wine and food experience doesn't get more relaxed than it is at V. Sattui. The veteran winery with the only food permits in the valley satisfies sippers with a giant tasting bar at one end of the winery and snacking guests at the other with one heck of a deli selection. Tying it all together are perfect picnic grounds and an overall jovial and family-friendly atmosphere. 1111 White Lane, St. Helena, 707-963-7774, www.vsattui.com.

Ravenswood Winery: The winery famous for its zinfandels and "no wimpy wines" motto isn't shy when it comes to wine and food, either. Come any weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day and you can see how and why their big, juicy wines pair perfectly with barbecue. 18701 Gehricke Rd, Sonoma. 888-NO-WIMPY, www.ravenswood-wine.com.

Preston of Dry Creek: It isn't just the hip Victorian farmhouse tasting room, wisteria-draped picnic area, or Rhone varietals that make this spot one of California's most charming wineries. It's the winemaker/owner Lou's fresh baked bread, fresh-plucked produce, and condiments that push this slice of Healdsburg heaven into must-visit territory.
6192 Westside Rd., Healdsburg. 707-433-2305, www.prestonofdrycreek.com.

J Vineyards & Winery: No winery makes as much of an affair out of pairing delicacies of the glass and plate like this Healdsburg destination. Head to their tasting bar to sample four current release wines paired with elaborate appetizers such as broccoli feuilletage,
blue claw crab alla Pescatora, tomato fennel risotto, and black mission fig on Belgian endive—all for a mere $20. 11447 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, 707-431-3646, www.jwine.com.