How to Pair Sonoma's Sparkling Wines with Seafood
The soils of Sonoma County can grow just about anything, which creates a natural playground for chefs who source from them. There’s a diversity of ingredients to be had, and plenty of wines to wash it all down. Drawing on Mediterranean influences and the freshness of each season, Sonoma is establishing a cuisine all its own.
We asked three of Sonoma County’s most talented chefs to share a dish alongside one of their favorite sparkling selections from the region. All opted for opulent seafood preparations to best showcase these luxurious wines. Read on to discover their recipes, and which bottles to pop while you enjoy them.
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Courtesy Charlie Palmer, chef/owner, Dry Creek Kitchen, Healdsburg, CA
Not only does one of Iron Horse Vineyards’s most celebrated sparkling wines pair masterfully with this dish, it’s also used in the preparation. The wine is a perfect companion to the rich fish, salty beets and caviar accent.
The nationally acclaimed Palmer grew up on a farm in upstate New York and runs restaurants around the country. He opened Dry Creek Kitchen in the boutique Hotel Healdsburg in 2001, which kicked off a culinary renaissance throughout the wine country town. In addition to highlighting the best locally inspired fare, the restaurant offers more than 500 selections of Sonoma County wines, the largest collection of its kind in the world.
- 4 quarts fish stock
- 4 bay leaves
- ½ bunch thyme
- 1 tablespoon coriander
- 11 sprigs and 1 bunch parsley, plus more,
- for garnish
- 4 6-ounce halibut fillets
- Sea salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 lemon, juiced, plus more, to taste
- 6 ⅓ ounces sparkling wine
- ½ cup cold butter, diced
- ⅛ teaspoon sugar
- 1 ounce caviar, preferably American Hackleback sturgeon
- 2 cups olive oil
- Salt-roasted baby beets, for serving (recipe and directions below)
In deep sauté pan, combine fish stock, bay leaves, thyme, coriander and 6 sprigs parsley over medium heat. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and return liquid to pan.
Warm to very low simmer.
Season halibut with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add to pan and poach until cooked through, 6–7 minutes. Carefully remove halibut with fish spatula.
To make beurre blanc, chop leaves from 5 sprigs parsley. Combine bare stems in pot with wine.
Cook over medium heat until reduced by half. Reduce heat to very low simmer, discard parsley stems and add butter slowly. Stir quickly until butter incorporates and sauce is creamy. Season with sugar, salt, pepper and lemon juice, to taste. Gently fold in chopped parsley leaves and caviar.
Place olive oil and leaves from remaining parsley bunch in blender. Purée until bright green. Strain through fine-mesh strainer or coffee filter.
Spoon beurre blanc onto plate and top with halibut. Arrange beets around fish. Garnish with parsley oil and additional parsley leaves. Serves 4.
- 2 bunches red heirloom baby beets
- 3 pounds rock sea salt
Heat oven to 350˚F. Trim tops of beets, and wash with warm water. On baking sheet, spread rock sea salt to cover bottom of pan. Place beets on salt, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake until soft, approximately 40–45 minutes. (Check with cake tester.) Cool beets for 10 minutes. While still warm, peel beets with soft towel. Slice in half.
Iron Horse 2014 Wedding Cuvée Estate Bottled Sparkling Wine (Green Valley), $45. A blend of 72% Pinot Noir and 28% Chardonnay, this is a stunning vintage of the perennially impressive sparkler. Nutty and earthy, it sings in strawberry, wet stone and rose petal. The palate offers a lively mousse and persistent acidity, which makes it a vibrant complement to the tangy beurre blanc.
Munksgard has been with Iron Horse Vineyards since 1996. Considered an “extended family” member of the Sterlings, who own the winery, he shares their vision to make estate-grown wines at the highest level and, in addition to a fine lineup of sparkling wines, makes still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the property.
Munksgard also supports the winery’s aim to do good, and produces a limited edition Blanc de Blancs called Ocean Reserve via a partnership with National Geographic as well as the popular Rainbow Cuvée bottling, created in support of LGBT rights.
Courtesy Mark Stark, executive chef/owner, Stark Reality Restaurants, Sonoma County, CA
This is a fancy version of a homey Provençal dish, made with creamy local Crescenza cheese from Bellwether Farms. Stark says the richness of the brandade pairs wonderfully with the crispness of the Flaunt Brut sparkling wine. When served with a warm baguette, the toasty notes are highlighted.
Stark and his wife/business partner, Terri, run several successful restaurants across Sonoma County, where they first launched Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa in 2002. Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar, Stark’s Steak & Seafood, Bravas Bar de Tapas, Monti’s and Bird & The Bottle have followed, many centered around a small plates concept that locals love. They employ hundreds of people and support the region’s many farmers, purveyors and wine producers. They’ve also shown the ability to run a bustling happy hour.
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1 cup milk
- Salt, to taste
- ½ tablespoon butter
- 1 small leek, dark green top trimmed off, cleaned and diced into ¼-inch pieces
- ½ teaspoon curry powder
- 1 pound Bellwether Farms Crescenza cheese, or other soft-ripened Italian cheese
- ⅔ cup shredded white Cheddar
- ⅔ cup mayonnaise
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 pound Dungeness crabmeat, or jumbo-lump blue crabmeat
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
- 1 small baguette
Separate cauliflower into florets, and place in pot. Cover with milk and 1 cup water. Season with salt, to taste. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer until cauliflower is soft. Drain cauliflower, and transfer to bowl.
In small sauté pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add leeks and curry powder. Season with salt, to taste. Cook until leeks become soft and fragrant.
Add leeks to bowl with cauliflower. Using potato masher, mash until mixture has consistency of lumpy mashed potatoes. Stir in Crescenza, Cheddar, mayonnaise, cayenne pepper and salt. Gently fold in parsley and crabmeat. All steps to this point can be done up to 1 day in advance.
Heat oven to 400˚F.
Place mixture in medium ovenproof baking dish. Top with Parmesan. Bake until bubbly and slightly browned.
Toast baguette. Slice and serve alongside brandade. Serves 4–6.
Flaunt NV Brut (Sonoma County), $85. Winemaker Dianna Novy Lee’s debut sparkling wine blends 56% Chardonnay and 44% Pinot Noir and was aged on the lees for three years before release. It impresses from first sip, as it shows acid-driven raciness and a core of green apple, lime zest and biscuit flavors that linger. The grapes come from Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast sites.
Dianna Novy Lee
Originally from Texas, Dianna Novy worked in the epicure and wine departments of Neiman Marcus in Dallas in the early 1990s. It was there that she met fellow food and wine aficionado, and future husband, Adam Lee. She convinced him to move to California to make wine, and the rest is history: They landed in Sonoma County and built Siduri Wines, one of the first cult Pinot Noir brands to work with several soon-to-be-famous, outstanding vineyard sites across California. But Novy Lee had always loved bubbles, and after they sold Siduri in 2015, she was at last able to launch Flaunt and focus on sparkling wines.
Courtesy Dustin Valette, chef/owner, Valette, Healdsburg, CA
One of the favorite dishes at Valette is the Scallops en Croûte, composed of a rich, warm pillow of baked pastry goodness that complements the salty shellfish. It also incorporates sparkling wine, which Chef Dustin Valette recommends as a pairing partner. A local bakery provides the puff pastry for this dish at the restaurant, but store-bought works, too.
One of the region’s favorite local boys done good, Valette opened his namesake restaurant in 2015 with his brother, Aaron, on the downtown Healdsburg site where their great-grandfather once ran a bakery. It was a long-awaited personal statement after stints at nearby Dry Creek Kitchen, Aqua in San Francisco and Bouchon in the Napa Valley. A popular hangout among winemakers, it highlights Sonoma County’s finest farmers, purveyors and producers.
- 1 bulb fennel, thin sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
- 1 leek, white only, washed thoroughly, thin sliced
- 10 tablespoons butter
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 ounces Pernod liqueur
- 8 jumbo scallops
- 1 pinch fennel pollen (optional)
- 2 sheets puff pastry
- 1 egg, whisked with a little water
- 3 ounces sparkling wine, preferably Benovia 2015 Blanc de Noir
- ½ ounce cream
- 1 ounce caviar
In medium pot, cook fennel and leeks slowly with 2 tablespoons butter, salt and pepper until tender. Add 1 ounce Pernod and keep warm.
Heat oven to 375˚F.
Season scallops with salt, pepper and fennel pollen, if using. Warm skillet over medium heat and add scallops. Sear until golden brown, then baste with 1 tablespoon butter until cooked. Set aside in warm place.
Cut puff pastry into 8 circles or ovals, 2–3 inches in diameter. Using pastry brush, brush whisked egg onto puff pastry. Bake until golden brown, about 8–10 minutes.
In small pot, combine remaining Pernod, sparkling wine and cream. Over medium-low heat, cook until reduced by half. Slowly whisk in remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside in a warm place.
Divide melted leeks among 4 plates. Top each with 2 scallops, 2 pieces puff pastry and reserved fennel fronds. Fold caviar into butter sauce, and pour over plate. Serves 4.
Benovia 2015 Blanc de Noir (Russian River Valley), $60. Dry and quietly fruity to contrast the fennel, this combines half estate-grown Chardonnay and half estate-grown Pinot Noir into a rich, creamy whole. It brims with red apple, tangerine and brioche to play off the puff pastry. Velvety in texture, it offers plenty of body around a structure of balanced acidity and a memorable lasting mousse.
A native of Sonoma County whose family farms wine grapes, Sullivan is the co-owner and winemaker of Benovia Winery, where he makes a range of delicious Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Grenache predominantly from estate-grown, Russian River Valley grapes. His still wines capture acidity so well that it was only a matter of time before Sullivan would try his hand at a sparkler. The 2015 Benovia Russian River Valley Blanc de Noir especially shows his attentiveness to detail.
- 1Poached Halibut in Caviar Beurre Blanc Recipe
- 2Dungeness Crab and Cauliflower Brandade
- 3Seared Scallops en Croûte with Melted Leeks