In summer 2015, vintner/hotelier Steve Ledson debuted The Zina Lounge at his Ledson Hotel in downtown Sonoma. Formerly a restaurant, the space has been reimagined with dark wood floors and accents, a cozy fireplace seating area and charming old world touches that add warmth and welcome. A large tasting bar occupies one end of the room, for casual visitors who want to sample sister brands Ledson and Zina Hyde Cunningham wines. But if you have time, make a reservation and enjoy the full experience.
“I wanted to do a wine and food pairing, not the other way around,” says Ledson. “It’s my goal to enhance the wine and elevate the tasting experience—using food, but showcasing the wine. To do this, I needed to find a wine expert who could match the food to really enhance the wine.”
Chef Yoshiharu Sogi, who’s studied and trained in Japan, France and the United States and who’s also a sommelier, fit the bill. Each pairing is well thought out and artfully presented. The menu changes seasonally and is always crafted to reflect what’s most fresh and available locally.
On arrival, we were greeted with a glass of Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut (Ledson doesn’t make sparkling wine) and shown to our table. That’s when the fun really began. We started with a 2013 Zina Hyde Cunningham Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, which was delicate with a hint of grapefruit and a crisp acidity. Chef Yoshi paired it with a trio of Marin Miyagi oysters, one au natural and the others dressed (one with Sauvignon Blanc ponzu, pickled radish and daikon sprouts, the other wrapped with prosciutto and garnished with Humboldt Fog cheese and apple honey mignonette). Each different topping changed the wine, enhancing its nose, palate and finish in turn—perfectly executing Ledson’s goal.
As we progressed through all six courses, we experienced this magic time and again. The 2013 Zina Hyde Cunningham Anderson Valley Chardonnay Reserve, served with pumpkin bisque, was round, soft (my husband called it an “honest Chardonnay, not overdone in any direction”) and perfectly matched with the nutty and sweet seasonal spices in the soup.
The 2012 Zina Hyde Cunningham Anderson Valley Pinot Noir was velvety and feminine, with a lovely, long finish. It was accompanied by soy marinated Bodega Bay black cod, a Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam ravioli and a sweet soy cranberry sauce. The food was pure umami heaven, which accented the wine’s earthy undertones. As we made our way through this dish, the wine’s complexity revealed itself, evolving from bright cherry and berry on the nose to darker fruit, anise and vanilla, with different combinations on the fork bringing out different nuances in the wine.
These are wines you want to think about, and the pace of the tasting experience allows for that. The atmosphere is relaxed and the hospitality is first class. General manager Todd Lake was always available to answer questions or offer information, but there was never a sense of being rushed through. We progressed at our own pace, savoring each pairing before moving on to the next.
The 2010 Zina Hyde Cunningham Redwood Valley “Estate Old Vine” Veola, an even blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, is spicy with bold tannins. It was paired with a Tolenas Farm quail and trumpet royale mushroom cabbage roll, which had saffron Nishiki sushi rice, red bell pepper coulis and spiced raisin quail jus. The Asian-inspired roll was mildly seasoned to let the wine take center stage—and it did, developing smoky overtones that were matched by the savory mushroom to round the mouthfeel.
Moving deeper into reds, our next match was a 2012 Ledson Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with Beeman Family Ranch Akaushi “Wagyu” filet mignon, parsnip puree, sweet potato gnocchi, baby carrots and sugar snap peas, aka meat and potatoes extreme. The Cab had whiskey barrel and licorice on the nose and cranberry and dark fruit on the palate. Paired with the super-tender filet and natural sweetness of the root vegetables, it became rich and voluptuous.
To finish, we were treated to 2014 Ledson Redwood Valley Zinfandel Port with warm flourless chocolate cake, carmelized Hawaiian pineapple and toasted almonds and hazelnuts topped with orange accented custard cream and Ledson chocolate sauce (they make their own and it’s amazing). Each element was stellar on its own, but in combination with each other and with the honey-and-raisin goodness of the Port, it became the perfect pairing—and the perfect end to this fantastic experience.
I’m clearly over-the-moon with this one, but let me come back to the original intent: Yes, the food is delicious, but true to Ledson’s vision, the wine takes the spotlight in each pairing. From the first sip (before we tasted the food) to the last, it changes and evolves as the course progresses.
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