View from Oakville in Napa Valley, California


Napa Valley in northern California—30 miles long and 5 miles wide—includes over a thousand wineries (40 years ago it had less than 50). It produces spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and also now has wineries and restaurants that serve excellent food.

During a visit there before ‘lockdown’ I managed to sample some excellent wine/food pairings available. These included wines not only from Napa, but from Sonoma Valley, located to the west over the Mayacamas Mountains.

Dining room at Louis M. Martin Winery

‘California cuisine’ is based on fresh, local foods that are in season, and usually fuses with cuisine from other cultures—be they European, Asian, Latin American … wherever.

1. CHEF.

At the Louis M. Martini Winery in St. Helena in Napa Valley, Executive Chef Jeffrey Russell is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and learned much of his craft from renowned chef Charlie Palmer. He left the Palmer Group to join the iconic Louis M. Martini Winery because of their reputation and for the challenge of pairing dishes with wines, including the renowned local Cabernet Sauvignon.

Executive Chef Jeffrey Russell – photo courtesy of Louis M. Martin Winery

2. & 3. DISHES & WINES.

During a recent visit to the winery, friends who live in Rutherford (who I was fortunate enough to stay with) and I sampled a wine/appetizer pairing that included five wines and dishes.

All wines were from Louis M. Martin Winery.

The pairings were:

Pairing One –

2013 Cellar No. 254 Meritage wine—a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot blend with grapes taken from three sub-appellations within Napa Valley. A vibrant, energetic wine.

Matched With

Sweet potato and vanilla soup with Andouille sausage, pecans and oregano. Andouille is a large, smoked sausage which originated in France.

This was a flavor explosion! The soup was intense and intricate and layered in a half dozen ways across taste buds. Beautiful way to start the show.

Cabernet Franc from Sonoma County

Pairing Two –

2017 Monte Rosso Cabernet Franc wine made from grapes within the Moon Mountain AVA in Sonoma Valley. This HUGE wine with spicy and fruity aromas has sizzling acidity and a taste that includes a hint of blueberries.

Matched With

Point Reyes Bay Blue Cheese with membrillo (quince paste), black apple and tapioca. A ‘black apple‘ is a peeled Granny Smith apple that is vacuum sealed and fermented for eight weeks.

Sweet potato, vanilla and sausage soup on left; blue cheese, quince and black apple on the right

Pairing Three –

2016 Lot No. 1 Cabernet Sauvignon. Made with grapes from selected plots within Napa Valley, this wine has earthy aromas and a taste that includes a hint of blueberries.

Matched With

San Daniele prosciutto, with olive relish and peppercorn lavash. The prosciutto comes from the Friulia-Venezia-Giulia region of northeastern Italy and is able, due to the unique climate, to be cured with sea salt only—without additives or preservatives. It is renowned for ‘dissolving in the mouth.’ (This was eaten at the Council of Trent in 1563, carried there on the backs of mules from Friuli.) Lavash is unleavened flatbread—and originated in the Middle East.

100% Napa Cab

Pairing Four –

2016 Cypress Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This includes 4% Petit Verdot and, as I wrote in notes for another article, is ‘a river of percolating acidity and red currants in the mouth.’ It pairs well with meat, because of the interaction of the acidity and smokiness of the wine with the fat of the meat.

Matched With

Espresso crusted American wagyu short rib, with fennel fermented chestnut and puffed rice.

Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Pairing Five –

2015 Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon—From Sonoma Valley to the east of Napa, this includes meaty, spicy and slightly minty aromas. It is a complex wine with a taste that may include that of cherry cola, as well as eucalyptus.

Matched With

S’Mores—which are Graham crackers usually filled with chocolate and marshmallows, but in this case filled with pomegranate, pistachio and a rosemary infused marshmallow. Whoaa! Serious decadence.

Prosciutto/olive relish on left; short rib with rice in center, and marshmallow s’mores on the right


There are alternatives to visiting wineries just to taste wines. One is to pair wines with food—even light snacks—and sit down in a comfortable locale where some amazing sommelier can tell you about the local terroir, and perhaps the chef comes out to talk about his food.

Regardless—plan ahead when you visit a wine region. Better to visit one to three well targeted sites over the space of days than to visit six to a dozen wineries haphazardly.

Thanks again for tuning in. Within a few weeks or months, it will be time to enjoy wine with friends again—together—and in the outdoors. Until then, keep positive and keep the drinking moderate.

Vines in Napa Valley

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Looks like you had a lovely visit and some fantastic wines! Monte Rosso is a very special site!

    1. Thanks Ryan! The wines were superb … 🙂

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