I turned 40 earlier this month and spent my birthday with my best friend on a walking food and wine tour in Healdsburg, a marvelous city in Sonoma County, California.
There are a couple of food and wine tour options, but we selected Wine Country Walking Tours, owned by Harold and Kirsten Jones. The couple had worked in finance and tech for more than 17 years and then read the book “One Year Off,” by David Elliot Cohen, which inspired them to take a year off and travel around the world. They visited more than 20 countries. When they returned, they didn’t want to go back to their day jobs, so they started a wine walking tour, which has continued to expand. They offer a variety of experiences, but we signed on for one that explores food and wine pairing.
Harold was our guide, and if you ever visit, I highly recommend the tour because it was educational, delightful and delicious. He paired nontraditional food and drink combinations.
Our first stop was at Mateo’s Cocina Latina Restaurant, where we sampled olive oil guacamole with lemon. The owner was kind enough to share the recipe with me so I could share it with our readers. He served it in a fried corn tortilla in the shape of an ice cream cone, then scooped the guacamole in to make it look like green ice cream. It was lovely.
Next, we stopped at Thumbprint Cellars Tasting Room, and the wines were paired with locally made kielbasa, caramelized onions and hot peppers. The kielbasa and caramelized onions were particularly fantastic with the Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon — FYI for your next barbecue. I learned a fascinating detail at this wine tasting: Malbec will reduce the effects of spicy food in your mouth, whereas a Cabernet will increase it. Cabernets tend to bring out the flavor in food, and that includes heat. I am a wimp when it comes to spice, so after pairing a Cab with hot peppers, my mouth was on fire, and Harold gave me some Malbec to sip on, which reduced the effects of the heat. It was amazing. That was my favorite tidbit of the day, and I’ve been sharing that knowledge ever since.
After that, we had a more traditional wine and cheese pairing at C. Donatiello Winery, a spectacular winery. I particularly loved the Maddie’s Vineyard Chardonnay, which was paired with dried pears and dried apples. When I took a sip of the Chardonnay, then started chewing the dried fruit slices and then sipped the Chardonnay again, the taste of the fruit exploded in my mouth. I would never have paired Chardonnay with dried fruit slices, and it was a wonderful combination.
The last winery we visited was Spicy Vines, a boutique winery that produces both spiced and traditional wines. They paired pulled pork and various barbecue sauces with their wine, and it was excellent. This was our second experience at Spicy Vines. The day before, we had signed up for a tasting at the winery, and that was fantastic, too. At that tasting, they served Crostini with Goat Cheese, Olive Tapenade and Truffle Oil and I have recreated something similar — it’s not their recipe but my variation. However, they did share their recipe for their wildly popular sangria, and it’s lovely and much easier to make than a lot of sangrias (and makes enough for a crowd).
It was a spectacular birthday. If you ever visit Sonoma County, I highly recommend spending an afternoon with Harold — he knows the town very well. Some of these recipes came from the tour and others were inspired by it. I have drink pairing suggestions with all of them that you can use at home or when entertaining. I hope you enjoy the recipes.
Crostini with goat cheese, olive tapenade and truffle oil
4 ounces of chèvre (soft goat cheese)
2 tablespoons white truffle oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 jar olive tapenade
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Stir together goat cheese and truffle oil and set aside. Truffle oil can be found at specialty oil and vinegar stores or sometimes in gourmet food section at a local grocery store.
Slice about three-fourths of the baguette and brush slices with olive oil. You won’t use the entire loaf. Spread the bread out on a baking sheet and bake for five minutes. Remove and spread the goat cheese on each slice. Use a spoon to put a dollop of olive tapenade on each crostini and serve.
Pair with a Cabernet Sauvignon
This appetizer is quick and delicious. It was inspired by a dish from Spicy Vines.
Mateo’s olive oil guacamole
4 medium avocadoes, diced
¼ cup diced radish
¼ cup diced seedless cucumber
¼ cup diced red onions
½ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
Juice from one large lemon
Salt to taste
Garnish with cherry tomatoes, sliced
In a large bowl place the diced avocado, pour the olive oil around the bowl and fold with a spatula until combined. Add the radish, cucumber and onion and fold again. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste and fold again. Garnish with sliced cherry tomatoes and serve. If using tomatoes, fold in at the last minute.
Pair with natural lemonade
Recipe courtesy of Mateo’s Cocina Latina Restaurant
Mixed mushroomswith roasted garlic
11/2 cups sliced Baby Bellas
11/2 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms
11/2 cups sliced oyster, cremini, button or any combination of mushrooms
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
¼ cup chicken stock
1/4 cup red wine
6 roasted garlic cloves
½ cup fresh spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup pistachios to garnish
1 head of garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sprinkle of salt
First you must roast your garlic. This can be done a day in advance, if you prefer (or just an hour before you make the mushrooms).
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Take the entire head of garlic and cut off the top so that the tops of the cloves are exposed. You don’t need to peel the garlic, you just want to be sure you cut into the white flesh so you can see the cloves.
Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the garlic so it goes between the cloves. Sprinkle a little salt on top. Place it in a baking dish and cook for 45 minutes.
Remove and cool. When cool, squeeze out six garlic cloves.
The leftover garlic should be wrapped in foil and stored in the fridge. Roasted garlic is excellent in mashed potatoes, in pasta sauces, on pizza, or mixed with olive oil and spread on French bread.
Directions for the mushrooms:
In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil. When it’s hot, add the mushrooms and cook for five minutes. Then add rosemary, stock and wine and cook another 10 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Next, add in the garlic and spinach and cook just until the spinach wilts. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with pistachios before serving.
You can serve this as a side dish or serve it with French bread as an appetizer.
Pair with a Zinfandel or Shiraz
Inspired by a dish at Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar, a restaurant in Healdsburg
Spicy vines summer lov’n sangria
2 bottles Spicy Vines Original Blend*
1 bottle chilled sparkling wine
1 can San Pellegrino, grapefruit
375 ml of Bundaberg ginger beer (or any available brand)
1 cup orange mango juice
6 ounces St. Germain liqueur
2 cups of halved strawberries
1 cup halved grapes
1 orange, halved and quartered
*If you can’t find Spicy Vines wine, a Zinfandel would be a good substitute.
Combine all ingredients in a 2.5-3 gallon container. Refrigerate 12-24 hours before serving.
Recipe courtesy of Spicy Vines
Want to go?
I have made several trips to California wine country and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you visit Sonoma County in the future, you should consider taking Wine Country Walking Tours. https://winecountrywalkingtours.com. If you are interested in learning more about any of the aforementioned wineries or ordering the wines: Spicy Vines: https://spicyvines.com/; C. Donatiello Winery http://www.cdonatiello.com/; Thumbprint Cellars https://thumbprintcellars.com.
Juliana Goodwin is author of “Rotisserie Chicken Queen: 50 Fabulous Recipes That Start With Rotisserie Chicken.” If you have a question, email her at email@example.com.