Matchmaker Pairings for Valentine’s Day

I have spent many a Valentine’s Day playing matchmaker – not matching the dates, but the plates. My historic home restaurant Windows on the World, which many remember fondly atop the World Trade Center before 9/11, played host to countless romantic trysts where I was responsible for at least the flavor fireworks–the rest being up to the romantic instincts of the couple. Naturally I wanted  their memories of our night together to be perfect, at least from a pairing perspective, so I had my go-tos which I will share with you now. You don’t have to go out to a fancy restaurant to make them happen and let’s be honest, staying home has its advantages (if you know what I mean). So here they are, just in time for Valentine’s Day:

Bubbles and bivalves – Oysters in particular are known as aphrodisiacs, and since they are at home with the foam of the ocean as I like to say, you should pair them with bubbles–sparkling wine or Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) Champagne, depending on your budget. Raw on the half-shell is my favorite way to indulge, but another delicious option is to top them with a mix of panko breadcrumbs, butter and parmesan, run under the broiler until the topping is light golden. A Prosecco such as Mionetto makes a great budget option, or go with a Chardonnay-based Champagne such as Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.

Rose and artichokes – Artichokes are notoriously nasty wine partners, but I don’t buy all the bad-mouthing. You just need the right wine, and that is dry rose. Make it a love-fest by eating the artichokes grilled or roasted with olive oil, sprinkled with a little Asiago or Parmigiano cheese for extra umami. The spice in the rose stands up to the peppery/metallic notes in the artichokes, and cuts right through the saltiness of the cheese. I suggest Chateau d’Aqueria rose, or Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel.

Malmsey Madeira and dark chocolate – YOU MUST TRY THIS. Warm flourless chocolate cake is the killer pairing because of the added temperature (warm chocolate) and texture (runny chocolate) dynamics, but a simply decadent chocolate bar such as as Lindt Excellence 90% cacao is also a knee-buckling great option. Try Broadbent, or Blandy’s 10 year old Malmsey Madeira, and know that it will hold up great for a week or two after opening, so you can come back to this pairing. Trust me, you’ll want to!

As always I would love to hear what you think!

Super Bowl 2018 Wine Pairings

Even if you’re not an Eagles or Patriots fan, or just an NFL geek like my whole family, there’s a lot to love about Super Bowl Sunday: the commercials, the halftime show, and of course the food. This year like every year I will be pairing our gridiron grub with wine, and thought I’d share my winning match-ups with you. So here goes:

2017 Review – The Year in Wine

To reflect on the 2017 year in wine is to contemplate fires and fizz, roses and red blends, cans and consolidation.  As we dive into 2018, here’s my take on some of the most significant wine world happenings of 2017.

White Christmas: Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay with Lobster-Vanilla Pasta

Among the pulled corks of special bottles lining the path to our traditional Christmas dinner pairing of red Burgundy and duck breast, is always a decadent barrel-fermented Chardonnay to accompany one of my favorite date-night dishes: John’s Lobster Pasta with Vanilla Bean Beurre Blanc. Tonight’s the night! Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be dreaming of this white Christmas pairing any time you have access to lobster. We use thawed frozen lobster tails and it works beautifully, and have also substituted Dungeness crab and seared scallops for the lobster with great results. We  paired ours with Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay, a truly great buttery Chardonnay for the price and a great way to dollar-cost-average your pairing against the pricey lobster.

In fact, you could even skip the seafood and just enjoy the pasta pairing, because it’s the butter sauce that really drives the match.  It’s not a traditional beurre blanc, but rather uses sweet butter and some of the pasta cooking water to make a hedonistic, clingy robe for the pasta that’s a perfect foil for Chardonnays with a buttery-tropical bent. A scraped vanilla bean yields flavor flecks throughout the dish that pick up the vanillin notes imparted by oak barrel fermentation and aging. Here’s how to do the pasta and sauce:

Cook some fettuccine according to the package directions. While the pasta is cooking, mince a shallot and sweat it in a wide skillet over low heat in several tablespoons of butter, until soft and translucent. Finely chop some parsley and reserve. With a paring knife, split a vanilla bean pod and scrape out the seeds. They will be sticking to your knife, so cut another knob of butter and scrape the vanilla bean pods onto the butter so they stick to that instead. When the pasta is done, use tongs to add it to the skillet with some of the water that clings to the pasta.  Increase the heat to medium and add the vanilla bean butter, mixing with tongs to melt the butter and thicken the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste, garnish with chunks of cooked lobster or other seafood if desired, sprinkle with parsley, and serve with your barrel-fermented Chardonnay. Enjoy!

The First Date of Christmas – Labor-of-Love Black Beans and Pork Tenderloin

If a dish is a labor of love does that qualify it as date-night food? In my book, yes–and my husband John’s lovingly flavor-layered black beans are exactly that.

And of course tenderloin is just plain sexy in both name, and in nummy-ness, when he prepares it this way: the loin is split and scored to create nooks and crannys that take up the seasoning and increase the surface area available for the char imparted on a white-hot grill.

Paired with a very singular wine – a Barboursville Vineyards Reserve Nebbiolo 2012 from Virginia – it makes for a memorable first-date-of-Christmas meal. Why the Nebbiolo? Well, it has the bewitching earth-tobacco-gamy savor of great Nebbiolo (think Barbaresco from Italy) that’s perfect with the lusty earthiness of the beans and the crunchy-silky tenderloin. And, it’s from Enoteca Wine Shop in Calistoga, where the great wine merchant Margaux Singleton’s sublime tastes and discovery talents have made her selections frequent features on our date nights. The wine’s spice notes perfectly parallel the spices in the dry rub John uses on the pork…

… (and another John tip: season with smoked salt to further enhance the wine affinity), and its bracing acidity helps to pop the flavors in the rub, as well as the bacon-y-earthiness of the beans. Because it’s tenderloin, a hot, quick fire is key to wrapping the meat’s interior tenderness in a crunchy-smoky char. It all adds up to a heavenly marriage between the plate, the glass, and the couple. Here’s to a lusty first date of Christmas (and hopefully, many more to come–the kids’ activities make it a busy time of year so we’ll squeeze in as many “dates of Christmas” as we can!)

A perfect wine and cheese pairing for holiday gifting.

Whether there’s a wine and cheese lover on your gift list, a gourmand, a boss for whom you never know what to buy, or you’re invited and want to show up with something thoughtful and festive for the host, I have the perfect pairing for you–Pinot Noir and Comte cheese. I discovered this pairing on our recent trip to Burgundy for the Hospice de Beaune wine auction. It was four days of vineyard visits, tastings and meals that always, always ended the deliciously traditional way–with a course of local cheeses as the last pairing for the marquee wine of the meal, a French red Burgundy which is of course, Pinot Noir at its ultimate. This mind-blowing pairing defines synergistic, teasing more from both the wine and the cheese than either reveals on its own–and given the legendary complexity of Burgundy and the flavor-packed Comte, that’s saying something. Here’s the lowdown on both the cheese and the wine:

Pinot Noir – Make it a French red Burgundy if you can because the subtlety and firm acidity make Burgundy the perfect Pinot choice for this match. I chose Jean Bouchard Santenay for this pairing because it’s fairly broadly available and doesn’t break the bank the way Burgundy can, and if you do want to splurge on the wine, Burgundy is a pairing that will make the most of it. As a backup plan to Burgundy, a structured and subtle Oregon Pinot Noir such as Sokol-Blosser would be perfect. Either way, you’ll get abundant sour cherry, red currant and pomegranate fruit, and subtle sweet spice and mushroomy earthiness, all of which scream, “Pair me!”

Comte cheese – Also called Gruyere de Comte, this protected-origin cow’s milk cheese comes from the Franche-Comte region of France. It is a firm, pressed cheese with a brushed natural, inedible rind. Eaten straight as a partner to the wine (with a hunk of crusty bread if you like), the cheese smells both nutty and a little tangy like buttermilk. The crystals crunch gently in the mouth and then the cheese melts and spreads as you chew, tasting at once nutty, mushroomey, and buttery-sweet. (Yes, please!)

During the Hospice festivities I also had the chance to taste Comte paired with Burgundy’s benchmark Chardonnays – both a powerful barrel-fermented Albert Bichot Corton-Charlemagne, and the more elegant Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru. Both were marvelous matches with the Comte, and worth the splurge. I hope you enjoy this wine and cheese pairing, and I look forward to hearing what you think!

My Napa: Visit some of my favorite wine country stops this holiday season.


As a Napa Valley local, I am always proud to show off our beautiful home to visitors. Any time is a great time to be here, but this season is especially nice because the valley is beautiful, wineries have decked the walls with festive lights and greenery, and many are donating tasting room fees to fire recovery–a way for you to help!

Old School Wine Growing At Bichot in Burgundy

Four days in Burgundy for vineyard visits, technical tastings, more than a few decadent meals (bookended by foie gras and bewitching cheeses) and the Hospice de Beaune wine auction, reminded me why this region and its wines are so special. From the limestone in the Cote de Beaune to the marl of the Cote de Nuits, it’s about the soil, and farming the fruit in that soil to optimize the potential of each distinct plot. Here at Chateau Gris in the appellation of Nuits-Saint-Georges, they grow violet-scented, structured Pinot Noir, as well as a rarity – Nuits-Saint-Georges Blanc based on  Chardonnay. Only 4 producers make Nuits Blanc, and the bottling from Albert Bichot’s Chateau Gris estate is marvelous – saline, savory and almost masculine. You could even serve it with meals featuring roasted or grilled meat and you’d be thrilled.

These special plots are given the royal treatment by Bichot’s viticulturists, who farm them organically by hand. Using horses to cultivate the vineyard avoids compacting the soil versus the weight of a tractor, and less compacted soil is healthier, with better air exchange. This aids in the distribution of soil nutrients and the transfer of those nutrients to the plant. That results in greater plant health and thus, better grapes that make great wines. John preferred the Nuits Blanc, while I was partial to the violet- and lavender-scented Nuits-Saint-Georges rouge. Both are worth the search. I would pair the blanc with a saffron-scented dish such as saffron-garlic shrimp or even paella. For the red, a simple roast chicken or mushroom pasta would be heavenly.

Thanksgiving Pairings Inspired by My Delta Sky Club Wine Picks


When it comes to Thanksgiving wines that pair perfectly with the big dinner, here is what you want: Spicy – from oak, or from spice-sparked grapes like Tempranillo and Sangiovese, to pick up the many lusty flavors of the meal; Nutty – also from oak barrel fermentation and/or aging, to complement the caramelized flavors in many traditional Thanksgiving dishes

After the Fires: Napa Comfort Cooking and Pairing

Following the wine country wildfires, returning to the keyboard has been hard. What to write that would be healing, pay tribute to the incredible work of firefighters and first responders, and celebrate the spirit of community and hospitality that is bringing wine country back so fast? Then it hit me: wine country comfort food