Cabernets, Cookies, and Santa: 2014 Holiday Events in Napa Valley

Happy Holidays in Napa ValleyIt’s hard to get your hands around all of the holiday events in Napa Valley, so we thought we’d take a crack at it for you.  We’ve listed the 2014 holiday events below, in chronological order, to try and make things easier. This also helps clarify how many things are actually taking place on a very busy Saturday (December 6) across Napa Valley.

We’ve captured winery Holiday Open Houses that are free to the general public, appellation-based wine tasting events that aren’t as free, and a fancy black-tie-optional affair.  But, we’ve also identified many family-friendly and community-based activities in Napa Valley such as Christmas Tree Lighting ceremonies, Parades, Trolley Rides, and a Gingerbread House Contest.  And, we’ve even included a few 5Ks in case you need to work off the calories from those cabernets and cookies.

This list of holiday events may not be exhaustive, but it is extensive, and we’ve tried to concentrate on free activities or those events with a holiday focus that benefit non-profits and other charities. Please let us know if you think we’ve missed something in the Napa Valley that should be on the list.

Napa on Ice LogoThe one activity that has already started and runs until January 11 is Napa on Ice which is open from noon to 10 pm Mon-Sat and noon to 8 pm Sun (but starting at 2 pm when school is in session).  Although this outdoor ice-skating rink may not be Rockefeller Square you can still glide along and practice your spins as you enjoy this popular (yet temporary) rink with 5,600 square feet of real ice. Special programming at the rink includes “Rock the Rink” on Friday nights, and occasional fundraisers (such as for Napa Food Bank, St. John’s Lutheran School and Napa High School). Cost is $12 (which includes skate rental)Corner of 2nd and Coombs Street, Napa
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From Ribs to Empanadas: Favorites from the 2014 A Wine & Food Affair

Country Pate

Country Pâté with Cherry Jam and Pinot Noir at Sanglier Cellars

Thanks to wineries along the Wine Road, we started November with another lovely weekend in Sonoma County enjoying wine and food pairings at the 2014 A Wine & Food Affair. At the 16th annual Affair, each participating winery prepared a special recipe to pair with one of their wines so for two days we traveled the Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valleys knowing we could easily access recipes for our favorite dishes once we got home. We ended the weekend with a few cases of wine for the cellar and many recipes downloaded and ready to try and make at home.

Honey Harvest Tomato Bisque

Honey Harvest Tomato Bisque

In the past, A Wine & Food Affair attendees were able to visit the wineries, taste the food/wine pairings, and then take home a cookbook (included in their ticket price) that had all of the recipes from the wineries’ offerings in it. Starting this year, the cookbook has been replaced by a calendar but the recipes are very easy to find and print out from the Wine Road’s website. Some of the items from past years’ events which we have successfully made at home are Honey Harvest Tomato BisqueRigatoni Salsiccia, and Apple Streusel Muffins.

Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back Ribs from Portalupi Wine Co.

Keep reading, and we’ll let you know what we considered our favorite white wines, red wines, and food items at this year’s Affair. If you get the chance, please seek these wineries and food purveyors out so you can enjoy their products as much as we did. In addition to links to winery websites, we’ve also tried to provide links to the recipes for our most favorite food items.

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PinotFest 2014: Farallon’s Celebration of Pinot Noir

Farallon PinotFest PosterSF Bay Area residents should move quickly to clear their schedules for this Saturday afternoon because there are a few more tickets left for the phenomenal PinotFest 2014 at Farralon Restaurant in San Francisco.  Peter Palmer (Founder of PinotFest and former Wine Director at Farralon), Ryan Simas (Chef de Cuisine at Farralon), and Mark Franz (Chef/Owner of Farralon) are hosting the 16th Annual PinotFest celebration on Saturday, November 22, from 3:00 to 6:00 pm.   And did we mention the 60 top Pinot Noir producers from the West Coast joining them?  Put it all together and you’re looking at “A Public Tasting of a Sexy Wine.”

Created in 1999, the PinotFest celebration is one of the highlights of the wine event calendar, and a major attraction for people who love outstanding Pinot Noirs.  The Grand Tasting is considered one of the most stylish gatherings of the year for both winemakers and guests and is held in private dining rooms on the 4th floor inside the Kensington Park Hotel (450 Post Street, San Francisco, 415-956-6969).  

Soter Vineyards

Soter Vineyards

Wineries from all over the West Coast will be represented at PinotFest, with Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley (Archery Summit, Domaine Drouhin, Soter Vineyards), Russian River Valley (Freeman, Lynmar Estate, Merry Edwards), Sonoma Coast (Cobb Wines, Ernest Vineyards, Wayfarer), Los Carneros (Etude, Gloria Ferrer, Saintsbury) and Santa Barbara (Alma Rosa, Au Bon Climat, Melville) regions.   Tickets are $125 per person and can be purchased by going here.

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Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting: Awesomeness from Around the World

Cervaro della Sala

2011 Cervaro della Sala from Marchesi Antinori

Last month, we had the extreme pleasure of attending the 2014 Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting, honoring wineries from around the world that delivered the best overall performance in Wine & Spirits tastings. Based on the approximately 4,300 wines that were recommended by the magazine to their readers throughout the past year (out of over 14,000 tasted), this event showcased the Top 100 Wineries as they poured wines for an appreciative crowd in San Francsico.

When there is a wine and food event based on the top 100 wineries in the world and almost every winery brings at least two wines to pour, you just know you’re going to have a great time. An indoor/outdoor tasting venue, passed hors d’ouevres and small plates from Bay Area chefs and local artisan purveyors, and lovely weather just added to the enjoyment.

2013 EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc

2013 EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc from Matetic Vineyards

One of the interesting developments this year (at least for us) was a noticeable increase in white wines being poured, including from wineries usually better known for their red wines. Because of this, we had the good fortune of being able to taste von Strasser’s Grüner Veltliner, Matetic’s Sauvignon Blanc, Stags’ Leap Winery’s Viognier, and Marchesi Antinori’s Chardonnay-based Cervaro della Sala. We also learned of the legend behind Spiegelberg’s “Wedding Night” wine, which allegedly guarantees the evening’s activities will produce a boy.

The Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting showcased the world beautifully, as our favorite wines of the evening came from Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, California, Oregon and New York. While the bar was set pretty high, we’ve listed below the wines and small bites we felt were tasting particularly well that night. If you get the chance, please seek these vendors out so you can enjoy the fruits of their labor as much as we did.
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Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting: Taste, Meet, Feast, Enjoy and more…

Wine & Spirits Top 100 2013

Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting

Hope you’re not doing anything next Tuesday night because you’re going to want to spend it attending the 11th Annual Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting in San Francisco.  Over the past year they have tasted over 14,000 wines in the Wine & Spirits offices and these one hundred wineries came out on top, consistently delivering quality wines. This event is produced in San Francisco with Bay Area chefs and local artisanal purveyors serving small bites to complement the bottlings of the honored wineries and this year’s celebration is between 6:30 and 8:30 pm at City View at METREON (135 4th Street, San Francisco, 415-369-6000).  We consider this one of the best international-in-scope Food and Wine events around and if you move quickly you can still buy tickets, including options that will even get you in the door an hour earlier.    

Alloro Vineyard

Alloro Vineyard

You can start the fun with Champagne from Louis Roederer and Oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co., enjoy domestic whites from King Estate and Hermann J. Weimer Vineyard, compare and contrast Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley (Alloro Vineyard, Bergström Wines) and the Sonoma Coast (Peay Vineyards, Hirsch Vineyards), re-acquaint yourself with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons (Shafer Vineyards, Smith-Madrone), and then cap off your evening with Port from Quinta do Noval and Chocolate Truffles from XOX Truffles.  If that isn’t enough to fill your evening, you still have wines from another 90 wineries and food samples from at least another dozen food purveyors to choose from.


Don Maximiano wine from Viña Errázuriz

This is a sublime opportunity to sample wines from California, New York, Oregon, and Washington at the same time as international wines from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal and Spain.  Tickets for the 2014 Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting are available online for $110 each. Ticket purchasers will also receive a one-year subscription to Wine & Spirits magazine.  To buy your tickets, please go here (but be sure to do that by October 20).
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Celebrating California’s Central Coast: Favorites from Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast

Halter Ranch Winery

Halter Ranch Winery in Paso Robles

Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, California’s Central Coast region offers a wealth of premium wine tasting opportunities.  Paso Robles was named “Wine Region of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2013 and is home to over 200 wineries growing Spanish, Bordeaux, and Rhône varietals in addition to the famous Paso Zinfandel.  In southern San Luis Obispo County, the prevalent ocean air helps produce full-flavored and balanced wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir grapes (and more) on vineyards from the Santa Lucia Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast

Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast

California’s Central Coast also boasts outstanding restaurants, food purveyors, microbrews, and opportunities for entertainment as joyously demonstrated at the 5th annual Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast just two weeks ago. We’ve already described how much fun we had at the Sunset Dinner at Hearst Castle, but now we’re going to share our favorite experiences from the weekend’s two-day “Main Event” so you can savor and enjoy the highlights of the Central Coast yourself.

Activities at this action-packed festival on September 27-28 included:

  • A Central California “Marketplace” with over 40 wineries and more than 20 restaurants and food purveyors from the Central Coast.

    Tanya Holland, Fabio Viviani, Peggy Northrop

    Tanya Holland, Fabio Viviani, and Sunset Publishing Editor-in-Chief Peggy Northrop

  • Cooking demonstrations from Chefs and cookbook authors Tanya Holland (Brown Sugar Kitchen) and Fabio Viviani (Fabio’s Italian Kitchen) and Margo True (co-editor of Sunset The Great Outdoors Cookbook).
  • Wine Seminars on topics such as Rosés, Sparkling Wines from around the world, Wines from the Paso Robles Appellation, and the Impact of a glass on the tasting experience (from Riedel).

    The Monroe

    The Monroe

  • A beer garden-style setting with local microbreweries and musical entertainment culminating in a performance by Atascadero-based The Monroe.
  • Lifestyle presentations such as water-wise gardening and flower arranging in the “California Grown” Pavilion celebrating the quality and breadth of the State’s produce.
  • A “Travel and Adventure” stage where local experts offered tips for outdoor activities in the Central Coast such as cycling, kayaking, and zip-lining.
  • The finale of a lamb-cooking showdown between four talented chefs from across the nation.

Keep reading, and we’ll let you know what food, wine, and beer we recommend you seek out yourself to best enjoy the bounty of California’s Central Coast (whether from the comfort of your home or on your next visit to Atascadero, Grover Beach, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Santa Margarita, or somewhere in between).
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An Extraordinary Evening: Sunset at Hearst Castle with Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast

Have you ever witnessed a sunset at Hearst Castle? We think we just found the best way to experience that.

Sunset at Hearst CastleIt’s always enjoyable to attend a food and wine event in an outdoor environment based on award-winning wines and delicious food prepared by talented chefs. The level of enjoyment rises when live entertainment is thrown into the mix and microbrews are also available for attendees as an alternative beverage choice. But when you take all of that, locate it on the California Coast, schedule it at a time which includes watching the sun set, and then actually place the festivities in the middle of Hearst Castle, well now that’s an event composition that is going to be hard to top.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

We recently experienced that alignment of elements at Sunset at Hearst Castle on September 25, 2014, the kickoff event for this year’s Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast weekend. This was our first time attending this dinner, a spectacular combination of food, wine, music, and setting which also showcased some of the best food and wine available in the central California coastal region.  Keep reading and we’ll try to capture the highlights well enough to convince you that you should attend next year.
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