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Sommeliers Recommend Perfect Wine Pairings for California Restaurant Month


California Wine & Cuisine Inspires
Chefs, Somms & Home Cooks in January & Beyond

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s chefs and sommeliers have created an unforgettable culinary scene!  The Golden State’s diversity and abundance of wines and fresh ingredients gives them a vast array of ways to dazzle their dining guests with perfect pairings.

With California as the nation’s top agricultural state producing 100 winegrape varieties and more than 400 crops—as well as artisan cheeses, meats, olives, honey and more—the possibilities are endless for chefs and sommeliers to unleash their creativity on diners’ palates.  If you’re a wine and food lover, one of the very best times to experience their creations—and pair them with a great local wine—is California Restaurant Month in January, when chefs bring their top “game on” to leading restaurants all over the state with special offerings and fabulous great-value meals.   In honor of this special month, Wine Institute asked some of California’s best sommeliers to share their personal favorite pairings, offering inspiration to diners and home cooks alike.

To view all the sommeliers’ suggestions—and delicious wine-friendly recipes—visit Wine Institute’s website!  You can enjoy California’s delectable food and wine first-hand this month with special offerings such as Dine LA, San Francisco’s Dine About Town, San Luis Obispo’s Restaurant Month, week-long events in Newport Beach and San Diego and more!  To learn more about California Restaurant Month and find participating restaurants check out Visit California.

San Francisco Bay Area
Food and wine lovers flock to cuisine-centric San Francisco and the North Bay’s wine regions.  At One Market Restaurant in San Francisco, sommelier Tonya Pitts enjoys creating surprising pairings, especially during California Restaurant Month. She favors Dungeness Crab with the broccoli stem-like Kohlrabi and pickled mustard seeds paired with Chardonnay from Russian River Valley. “The wine is bright and crisp with fresh stone fruits, orange citrus notes and soft acidity,” she says. “Delicious!”  Crab is in season, so get cracking with this recipe for Fresh Dungeness Crab with Three Dipping Sauces.


Across the Golden Gate Bridge and heading north into wine country is Sonoma’s Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, where sommelier Allyson Gorsuch finds inspiration from local ingredients and the region’s diversity: “The beauty of Sonoma County lies in the fact that we have American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that showcase very different varietals and styles of wines,” she says.  And her favorite pairings?  “Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Sonoma County duck are a perfect match,” she notes.  “But our signature dish is ‘rabbit, rabbit, rabbit’—rabbit prepared three ways. We have found the perfect light-bodied red: a Grenache from a local producer.”  Want to try your hand at pairing Sonoma Pinot Noir?  Here’s a great recipe to get you started: Pan-Seared Duck Breast with Cherry Pinot Noir Sauce.


Napa Valley has become a paradise for wine country dining and the tiny town of Yountville claims the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita in the world. At top restaurant Redd, sommelier Ryan Stetins delights guests with his innovative picks by talking and tasting first with Chef Richard Reddington and his team.  “I ask him how the food is prepared, what the major flavors are, and what his inspiration was. This helps me to concentrate on what flavors to focus on and then what wine to source,” Ryan explains. He notes, “There is a movement now toward unoaked or lightly-oaked early-picked Chardonnay. These wines with our Maine Lobster Truffle Risotto, Meyer Lemon Confit, Watercress and Lobster Roe are awesome. I think 2010 was a great vintage for Napa Chardonnay.” Complex, Asian-accented flavors come into play with his next pairing: Braised Pork Belly with Chinese Five Spice, Burdock Root, Grannysmith Apples and a Miso Carmel Glaze.  “I find it to be very versatile,” he says. “It can be paired with a classic smoky Syrah from Napa, or a light bodied, higher-acid style of white, such as a Spring Mountain Riesling.”  Play with these flavors at home with this recipe for Rice Noodles with Five-Spice Pork and Braised Leeks in Anise Broth.

Central Coast
Paso Robles is known for richly flavored reds and an exciting boom in California wines made with Rhône grape varieties. At Cass House Inn & Restaurant, Chef Jensen Lorenzen sources everything on the menu from the local area. Sommelier (and his wife) Grace Lorenzen says, “One of his favorite products to work with is Boer goat from Old Creek Ranch in Cayucos. I love it when he braises it in our wood oven, a preparation that pairs beautifully with the red varietal wine Mourvèdre from Paso Robles.” And when winter arrives, Grace says, “I love to pair persimmon and apple desserts with Paso Robles late harvest Viognier (or any late harvest Rhône white). They aren't very easy to come by, but there are a handful of producers in the area that are worth seeking out just for their late harvest whites.”  Try one with this Caramelized Pear and Pastry Cream Tart!

Lodi is home to Randy Caparoso, a 25-year veteran wine consultant who lives in the middle of a 50-year-old, own-rooted Zinfandel vineyard. Lodi is justly renowned for its Zinfandels, and Randy has discovered the nuances among them, from ripe and fruity to supple and earthy. Randy enjoys talking about local wines and discovering new pairings with the area’s sommeliers.  “In a recent conversation with Ricki Flores, the sommelier at Wine & Roses Hotel’s Towne House Restaurant, she told me that an ideal match for braised short ribs of beef with creamy polenta is a West Side Lodi Zinfandel,” he says.  “She thinks these are some of the few Zinfandels in the state that have the evolved, earthy qualities to go with complex, caramelized flavors in a braise.” One of Lodi’s best known chefs is Ruben Larrazolo, owner of Alebrijes Mexican Bistro, who fuses pure Mexican ingredients into more classical cooking styles.  “He does Colorado lamb chops, for instance, with a chipotle demi-glace, and garnishes it with green apple pico de gallo,” Randy explains.  “When you get sweet/peppery sensations in a meat dish like this, you really start to appreciate the lusher, ripe styles of the spice varieties—such as Zinfandel, Petite Sirah or Syrah— grown in Lodi.” Try your own pairing with Braised Beef Short Ribs with Roasted Beets and Yukon Gold Potatoes.


Southern California
San Diego’s Marina Kitchen is a pairings paradise for sommelier Joshua Orr, who likes to surprise guests with what he calls “Even though you think this sounds crazy, trust me, it’s amazing!” pairings.  One of them is Pan Roasted Salmon with local cranberry beans, guanciale and red wine reduction paired with Central Coast Zinfandel. “This is one of my favorite ‘what the what’ pairings because it is so counter-intuitive,” Josh enthuses. “We used this in a winemaker’s dinner and the winemaker was utterly shocked at how the fish with its accompaniments went so well with a wine that typically never gets mentioned beside anything but the barbecue grill. A very cool pairing that needs to be experienced firsthand to truly be appreciated.” Another of Joshua’s favorites: Coffee-Crusted Venison paired with an Atlas Peak AVA  Cabernet Sauvignon. “This is a very hedonistic pairing, with lots of gritty albeit bitter characteristics,” he says.  “Let all the bitterness cancel out and what you have left is the beautiful fruit and hint of herbal character from the Cab balancing beautifully off the hearty and slightly gamey character of the venison. For such a big wine and heavy dish you will be finished with it before you know it.” Enjoy this hearty Marinated Grilled Rib-eye Steak with Roasted Pepper Salsa and Fresh Corn Fritters on your own table.

About Wine Institute
Wine Institute is the association of 1,000 California wineries and wine-related businesses dedicated to enhancing the environment for the responsible production, consumption and enjoyment of wine.  California is the fourth largest wine producer in the world, making 90 percent of all U.S. wine and three out of every five bottles enjoyed in the U.S.  Each year, 21 million tourists visit wine regions throughout the state to explore and enjoy the wines, the cuisine and cultural offerings associated with California’s signature industry. Go to: for more information. 

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(Editors: photos available upon request or go to: )

Sommeliers Recommend Perfect Wine Pairings for California Restaurant Month
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