Next time you go winetasting, consider this silly-simple insight: wineries are in the business of selling wine, not raking in tasting fees, or even charging extra for a tour and gourmet food pairing—which is why increasingly popular small-plate food pairing experiences may actually maximize your bang per banknote.
Whether you're on a date, entertaining visitors or just getting out of the house, the big pours, multiple stems and quality bites are almost a loss-leader in your favor. Here are four top choices:
J Vineyards On Swirl's last visit, we lounged on cushions in the Bubble Room, lapping up roasted cauliflower soup and forkfuls of crab cakes, pork medallions with rutabaga, braised veal cheeks, plus cheese course and dessert (menu changes seasonally; $75). Since then, J Vineyards has added a Terrace Tasting ($45) with tapas or cheese plate: Bellwether pepato, baby, Pennyroyal Boont Corners—no cheap stuff. By the way, if J Cuvée 20 ($28) seems too sweet, lay the new J Cuvée XB Extra Brut ($45) on your palate. Tastes like a grapefruit razor slicing a toasty, custard tart. Sparkling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 11447 Old Redwood Hwy., Healdsburg. 707.431.3646.
Ram's Gate It was too good to be true: fireplaces blazing at midday, food and wine available to all, credit card on the barrelhead. Since our last visit, this Carneros hotspot has thinned the flock: the à la carte menu has been ditched, and appointments will be required after Sept. 1. But arrange for an estate tour and Palate Play ($60), and enjoy petite but nicely executed bites like fried game hen with Fuji apple slaw and duck cassoulet with huckleberries. A variety of wines. 28700 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. 707.721.8700.
Lambert Bridge Those chandeliers in the redwood-paneled barrel room were begging to light something, like new bistro table service featuring butternut squash soup with pepper pork and pomegranate sauce. Not a gut-buster, but cozy atmosphere and a good price ($45). Chard, Zin, Cab and Cab Franc. 4085 W. Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. 707.431.9600.
Jordan Jordan's new estate tour and tasting ($120) takes you through rugged cattle country—Wagyu cattle included—and vineyards in the comfort of a somewhat incongruous luxury bus. But the boxed-treat pitstops by the lake and at the top of the hill, in a sleek gazebo overlooking Alexander Valley, are high style. Chard and Cab. 1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg. 800.654.1213.