When we first wrote about the St. Francis Winery wine and food pairing, it was the sixth time we had enjoyed the experience. It speaks volumes that after six visits we’re still surprised and impressed by the menu; not once has a dish been duplicated nor have we been even slightly disappointed. And while we’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of wine and food pairings around the world, this one easily stands out as one of the best and is an absolute must whenever we travel to Sonoma County. We recently returned to St. Francis for the seventh time in the hopes it would continue to exceed our very high expectations.
What we’ve always enjoyed about the St. Francis wine and food pairing experience is that the dishes are built around the wine as opposed to finding a particular wine to pair with a set menu. As a result, the characteristics and complexity of each featured wine is truly enhanced to a level where the enjoyment and appreciation of the winemaking aspect is maximized to the fullest. Generally speaking, food will enhance wine, particularly full bodied reds like those made by St. Francis. On a much earlier visit we had done the wine-only tasting which was certainly enjoyable but when followed up with the wine and food pairing a couple of days later, it was as if someone had turned the dials up on all the flavours and nuances. The quality of their wine is on full display at this pairing and even the most novice taster will find the flavours not only easy to identify but also augmented to a level of pure delicacy.
St. Francis legitimately advertises their wine and food pairing as an experience. Clearly wine and food are the primary focus, but the atmosphere and service is what brings it all together. It is a beautiful winery that sits on a stunning piece of land. Separated from the main tasting room, the dining room (where the wine and food pairing takes place) is elegant and inviting featuring large glass windows and doors overlooking their vineyards. The pairing is limited to 16 people seated at two tables of eight in a circular formation. Each time, we’ve found our companions to be a broad mix of visitors ranging from local Californians to Bostonians to Europeans that are always wonderfully engaging. The St. Francis staff are incredibly professional and friendly including our Hostess Brooke and server Brittany. Although we have met them before during previous visits they have a wonderful way of making both the first-time or frequent visitor feel welcome. The menu features five wines paired with five plates and the portions are sizable–and the wine will continue to pour as long as you still have food on your plate!
Executive Chef Bryan Jones has now been at the helm since 2014 replacing long-time Chef David Bush who left to open his own restaurant in the Sonoma Plaza. Bryan brings a wealth of experience with him including 16 years as Chef at the highly acclaimed Fig Cafe and Wine Bar in Glen Ellen. He has managed to put his own personal stamp on the experience largely through his creativity and originality in creating dishes that not only pair brilliantly with St. Francis wines but also push the envelope when it comes to traditional pairings. The ingredients are seasonal which means an ever-changing menu based on what’s fresh and ultimately he lets his palate do the decision-making. For those lucky enough to enjoy the St. Francis wine and food pairing, you’ll soon realize his palate is impeccable. Will we make it an eighth time? We’re already planning our next trip to Sonoma in November and it will be the first stop on our itinerary.
The Current Menu
2015 Chardonnay, Martinelli Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Falafel | Hummus | Couscous Tabbouleh | Tzatziki | Sugar Snap Pea
Wine tasting note: From the highly acclaimed Martinelli Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Very expressive, there are notes of peach, apple and melon that sit on a textured and slightly creamy frame. The wine is raised in 100% stainless steel but the tanks rotate which has the effect of battonage (lees stirring) which gives it is creamy texture without seeing any oak. The result is exquisite balance, that allows the acidity to show freshness without coming across as lean.
Excellent (US$28 at the winery -particularly good value for this quality level)
2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Stack Vineyard, Bennett Valley
Pan Seared Day Boat Scallop
Sorrel Vichyssoise | House Made Chorizo & Corn Ragout
Wine tasting note: Dry Stack is another cooler site in the up-and-coming Bennett Valley. Notes of cut grass combine with lemon, lime and grapefruit. Juicy acidity punctuates the finish. There is good texture here, not too lean. Very refreshing and paired perfectly with the pan seared scallops.
Very Good (US$22 at the winery)
2013 Cabernet Franc, Wild Oak Vineyard, Sonoma Valley
Yucatan Style Braised Pork
Moors & Christians | Mango-Habanero Salsa | Pickled Red Onion
Wine tasting note: This wine is blended with 11% Malbec and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark purple in colour. We get plum, tobacco and leafy notes on the nose. The palate shows plum and blueberry with hints of cracked pepper and cedar. The finish is long with a slight smoky note.
Excellent (US$48 at the winery)
2013 Merlot, Behler Vineyard, Sonoma Valley
Spring Lamb Slider
Niçoise Olive Tapenade | Truffled Polenta Fries | Feta Aioli | Tomato Marmalade
Wine tasting note: We remember the 1996 St. Francis Reserve Merlot, a fabulous wine, the one that turned us on both to this winery and to this grape variety. So it was a treat to taste the 2013, still from the Behler Vineyard (right across the highway from the winery) which is a wine that we think is their best Merlot yet. Already complex, this wine offers black cherry, Christmas spices, plum and blueberry all delivered on a medium+ frame that is round and plush. Loads of sex appeal here!
Excellent+ (US$48 at the winery)
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lagomarsino Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Pedro Ximénez Strawberries | Crème Fraîche Granita | Strawberry Gelée
Wine tasting note: The Russian River Valley is known for its cool climate, but Lagomarsino sits above the fog line and so it is warm enough to fully ripen Cabernet Sauvignon but avoids aggressive tannins. Black currant fruit dominates the profile of this wine and complexity comes from background notes of brown spices, cedar and a slight earthy component. Big and bold but with a soft almost plush texture that makes the wine approachable now, though no doubt at least a decade of evolution remains in front of it.
Excellent+ (US$48 at the winery)
*On a sad final note, just one week after our recent visit, St. Francis President & CEO Chris Silva passed away from Brain Cancer at the very young age of 52. While we didn’t get the chance to meet him in person, those we know that did spoke incredibly highly of him both with respect to his influence in the wine industry and as a father and friend. We’d like to dedicate this article to his memory and the tremendous legacy he has left behind.