Dining | Wine: Celebrating Sonoma | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Dining | Wine: Celebrating Sonoma 

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Having recently been afforded the pleasure of a trip to Sonoma County, the epicenter of California wine country, I’m already jonesing to return. With more than 350 wineries in Sonoma County and 13 designated wine regions—not to mention 40 spas and 21 golf courses—it takes many visits or one loooooong one to even make a dent.

One enticement to leave the Beehive and visit Sonoma is Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which takes place Labor Day weekend, Aug. 29-31. It’s a chance to visit what the locals call “a country within a county.” And best of all, since the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend organizers do most of the work for you, it’s possible to “visit” hundreds of Sonoma’s most prestigious wineries—large and small—over the course of a long weekend without spending most of your time in the car. This year, the event’s hosts, Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers, are combining what in the past were two separate events: The Sonoma County Showcase of Wine and Food and the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. The latter is a charity fund-raiser for Redwood Empire Food Bank and the Santa Rosa Junior College’s food and wine educational programs.

It all kicks off on Friday, Aug. 29, with a series of vineyard lunches ($75) where local chefs and winemakers are “paired” to create a memorable meal at various wineries. Among the wineries featured at the 2008 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend vineyard lunches are Chalk Hill, Alexander Valley, Charles Creek, Hop Kiln, Knude Estate, Montemaggiore, Spann Vineyards, Simi, Viansa and others. Many of these lunches are limited to a dozen or so guests, and they sell out quickly, so don’t dilly-dally. In the evening a plethora of wineries will host winery dinners ($160) at great spots like Benziger, Landmark, Gundlach Bundschu, Nicholson Ranch and Ravenswood.

On Saturday, Aug. 30, the mega-wine tasting event of the year takes place as some 110 wineries and more than 60 chefs will team up for the 29th annual Taste of Sonoma winetasting at MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime (or at least, once-a-year) chance to sample Sonoma’s best wine and food for the very reasonable admission price of $150.

In a sense, Sonoma is more than just a “country within a county.” It’s many countries within a county. For example, if you long for a taste of France, you’ll find it in Sonoma at places like Wild Flour Bread, an organic bakery producing wood-fired, hard-crust breads that Parisian bakers would envy. Vérité specializes in Bordeaux-style wines like those of St. Emilion (La Désir), Pomerol (La Muse) and Pauillac (La Joie). During my recent Sonoma trip, I visited a lively restaurant in the town of Sonoma called The Girl and the Fig, which features “country food with a French passion,” including an antique bar loaded with French aperitifs.

Italy is well represented at wineries like Seghesio and businesses such as The Olive Press, Figone’s Olive Oil and Zazu, a restaurant featuring Northern Italian-inspired dishes like its three-way zucchini (gratin, fritti and foam).

The Sonoma Wine Country Weekend wraps up on Sunday, Aug. 31, with the 16th Annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction ($750 per person) at Cline Cellars, this year with a ’60s theme featuring world-class wines, great food and “psychedelic silliness,” all in the name of sending “flower-powered funding” to local charities. Don’t forget to wear your love beads. For more information and tickets, visit SonomaWineCountryWeekend.com.

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