Nothing goes better with wine than food. And vice versa! That’s the spirit of this weekend’s A Wine & Food Affair, an annual Northern Sonoma County festival featuring signature wine and recipe pairings from dozens of wineries and restaurants. But you don’t have to hit the road—or even leave the couch, really—to experiment with the ancient science of flavor pairing. We asked a few of our favorite California vintners to share their favorite no- or low-frills pairings anyone can do at home. All you need to begin is access to a decent wine store and an average bodega.
1. Cheetos with Red Wine
Portalupi Wine Co.'s Vaso di Marina is a super easy-drinking everyday red. It comes packaged in an adorable milk jug, an homage to the olden days on the Italian farm, when homemade wines were bottled up in recycled containers. And it pairs best with something equally classically delightful: the common Cheeto.
2. Grilled Cheese with Tomato with Cabernet Franc
A pure cabernet franc is lighter than a blended cabernet sauvignon, perfect for pairing with vegetarian dishes. Paul Matthew’s Vineyard's 2012 edition has low tannins and bright fruit that make it a nice match for anything tomato, which tends to be a tough pairing because of its acidity. Our favorite incarnation of a tomato is in a grilled cheese, but this would also be a good companion for chili, enchiladas, pizza, or bruschetta.
3. Frito Pie with Zinfandel
A classic California full-bodied red—Zinfandels are full of spice and can stand up to intense flavors. And when we think intense flavors, we think about Frito Pie. Wine Guerilla’s 2011 Sonoma County vintage has flavors of cranberry, plum, and cinnamon, and their DIY Frito Pie is about as easy as it gets.
Wine Guerilla’s Frito Pie
1 cup homemade chili or your favorite canned
Optional: ½ tsp. cumin and 1 tsp. chili powder
2 snack size packages of Fritos
1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese or your choice of cheese
Slit packages of Fritos down the center leaving 1 inch closed on each end. Heat chili and spoon half on top of each package Fritos. Top with cheese while still hot so cheese will melt. Eat right out of bag. Serves 2!
Chopped scallions, sour cream, guacamole, and sliced jalapenos are also good on top. You can also make this in a baking dish, starting with a layer of Fritos, then chili, cheese and whatever other toppings you want. Bake until hot.
4. Spinach and Feta Crostini with Pinot Noir
The Russian River Valley’s coastal climate is renowned for producing velvety pinot noirs like this one, which has an earthy finish that pairs well with sheep cheese and mushrooms. If you’re ready to take your cooking up just one notch, the Santa Rosa wine bar Station 1870 shared this easy recipe. It makes enough to serve a group, and pairs perfectly with a 2010 Lost Canyon Morelli Lane Pinot Noir.
Station 1870’s Spinach and Feta Crostini with Marinated Crimini Mushrooms
1 head organic spinach
6 crimini mushrooms
1 loaf French bread
½ pound sheeps milk feta cheese
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Puree up the spinach and feta in a food processor, but leave puree mix slightly chunky. Add garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Slice mushrooms in quarter inch strips and marinate in olive oil, salt, water and a splash of white wine. Spread spinach and feta puree over sliced French bread and place marinated mushroom on top. Bake in the oven on 425 degrees for 5-6 minutes. Makes 20-30 servings.
5. Vanilla Ice Cream with Sémillon
Time for dessert! The honey and pear notes in Longboard Vineyards’ 2010 Late Harvest Semillon blend perfectly with ice cream—so much so, in fact, that the truly lazy can pour the wine on the ice cream. (The slightly more ambitious can zest some ginger on top for an added kick.) Cheers!