Serving wine with food is nothing new, but wineries are now taking these pairings to a new level and creating an experience for visitors to their tasting rooms. Food and wine pairings have become so popular, it’s difficult to find a winery that doesn’t have a full-time chef charged with creating this type of experience. After all, why just belly up to the tasting bar for half a dozen or so sips when you can sit in a beautiful setting, and be served food along with that wine that enhances both? Suddenly, to only taste seems almost rudimentary.
Situated on a hill with sweeping views of the Carneros AVA and housed in a modern weathered farmhouse-style structure designed by world-renowned architect Howard Backen, Ram’s Gate offers superior food and wine pairing experiences. Choose from a picnic; “Behind the Gate,” a demonstration/lecture with the executive chef and head sommelier; and “Palate Play,” a seated pairing. (Tasting-only options are also available, which simply by the venue makes them a cut above the rest.)
A giant outdoor fireplace and inviting seating area provides a greeting, with expansive vineyard views through floor-to-ceiling doors; the space is designed with an indoor-outdoor aesthetic. Acclaimed San Francisco interior designer Orlando Diaz-Azcuy has created an elegant, contemporary yet inviting space in a neutral palette among the rooms in what is called The Tasting Hall.
Winemaker Jeff Gaffner crafts estate and single vineyard wines from the Carneros region and select vineyards in Sonoma. Bottlings are small, averaging about 300 cases of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and sparkling.
The food for Palate Play changes seasonally, and features five pairings. Highlights of the fall pairing:
- Dungeness crab, citrus, frisée, pink peppercorn, and candied fennel/2014 Hudson Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay. Tasting note: The wine does not go through a final filtration to maintain the Chardonnay characteristic, and paired with the crab, brings out its minerality.
- Duck confit dumpling, fermented golden beets, pomegranate, miso dashi broth/2014 Roberts Road Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Tasting note: The grapes for this wine are from the newly named Petaluma Gap AVA, where the ocean breezes thicken the grape skins to produce an aromatically complex, smooth, elegant, low tannin pour that balances the richness of the duck.
- Duck fat shortbread, smoked brown sugar caramel, coriander lime shortbread, blueberry jam/2015 Hyde Vineyard Carneros Syrah. Fun note: When our server delivered these to the table, he said, “These will change your life.” Tasting note: This visually inky thick wine spends 18 months in oak to produce a rich and earthy wine with tobacco and blueberry notes.
In addition to its excellent wines as well as pairings, Ram’s Gate is the closest Wine Country tasting room to San Francisco, making it a perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Ram’s Gate Winery: 28700 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-721-8700, ramsgatewinery.com, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Thursday–Monday, reservations recommended.