When Whitetail Winebaropened in Guerneville in mid-2011, it was a coup for the little town in the heart of Russian River Wine Country. Owner Leslie Bahr injected a big dose of sophistication with her urban-chic design and collection of tiny bottlings from mostly young winemakers who have no tasting rooms.
Now, Bahr has raised the bar again, adding full service food to be enjoyed amid the chandeliers and bistro tables carved from redwood tree trunks supports.
Helena’s Kitchen operates out of a tiny pantry space next to the bar, crafting bites like crispy fig-prosciutto pizzettes ($9), meatball plates of shrimp, turkey and beef with “secret” sauces ($9), curry empanadas ($7), chicken and rice noodle salad in peanut dressing ($14), and cocoa dusted duck and pumpkin ravioli in wild mushroom cream sauce ($16).
It’s the work of chef Helena Gustavsson-Giesea, with the menu designed to pair with selections from sommelierSalvatore Curreri.
Previously the owner of the now-closed Charizma Wine Lounge in Guerneville, Gustavsson-Giesea has also baked pastries at Della Fattoria in Petaluma and was chef and manager at the seasonal Jenner Bistro. She’s also done internships and front-of-house work with Fleur de Lys and the Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant in Forestville, and still works as a private chef in Sonoma County.
Meatball trio & secret sauces / SF Chronicle
Given her Swedish background (she participated in Sweden’s Miss Fitness competition in 1999!), it’s not surprising to see Swedish meatballs on the menu, skewered on a stick and paired with twice-baked potato and ligonberry salad ($14).
The stick is important, Gustavsson-Giesea says, since it adds extra class to a food she’d otherwise just pick up and pop in her mouth.
“I love finger food,” she joked. “But just because I’m a barbarian doesn’t mean everyone has to be.”
Whitetail Wine Bar: 16230 Main St., Guerneville; (707) 604-7449 orwhitetailwinebar.com. Kitchen is open for limited winter hours Thurs.-Sun. 4-9 p.m.
It may be taking things a bit too far to suggest that Amista Vineyards exemplifies the good old 20th century proverb, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” After all, proprietors Vicky & Michael Farrow are sitting pretty with 28 acres of prime, Dry Creek Valley vineyard estate in Sonoma County, happily running a retirement project gone wild.
But they chose to plant a lot of Syrah, a grape that is — unjustly — considered to be somewhat of a “lemon” as compared to the area’s more popular varieties. So what did they do? They made lemonade.
Sparkling lemonade. And how.
On a recent trip to Amista Vineyards, the Farrows didn’t strike me as particularly iconoclastic — I mean, they have two wonderfully behaved sheltie dogs, the Fair Isle sweater vest of the dog world — and yet they continue to buck the trend, refusing to jump on the Pinot Noir bandwagon, instead making some of Dry Creek Valley’s only sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Syrah.
Yes, I said red, sparkling Syrah, like they make Down Under. And mates, is it ever a treat.
Starting Dec. 1, Amista offers an “Art of Sparkling” dosage tasting of their Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine. Expertly led by Amista winemaker Ashley Herzberg, whose somewhat bubbly personality complements the strictly technical information that guests will receive about the making of méthode champenoise sparkling wines, the tasting visits four samples of the same Chardonnay-based sparkling that Amista makes, at four different dosage (added sugar) levels.
There’s no prize for guessing at which dosage level Amista’s Dry Creek Valley Blanc de Blancs ($36) non-vintage blend will be released at on Dec. 7, 2013, but yeah, I more or less guessed it.
Sip it sweet, sip it dry, sip it extra brut
There’s a cool, peaches-and-cream aroma to Amista’s base sparkling wine, the one with no dosage. But the final version has a fuller mouthfeel, a good mousse, and just a hint of yeastiness.
It’s really a challenge of your tasting skill to pick out the differences — Vicky Farrow says that the first time she saw the lineup of dosage “trials,” she thought, “This is going to be a party!” Well, this tasting proves that it’s work, too. Somewhat enjoyable work.
And the sparkling Syrah? Yes, please. I’m told that the NV Sparkling Syrah ($32) make a really good mimosa — just more of a cold, winter morning sunrise mimosa, because this isn’t a blood-red sparkling Syrah, it’s deep pink, with creamy, smoky red berry notes. With Chef Helena’s pepper-crusted pork filet, it’s a joy.
Amista’s got your Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Zinfandel crowd covered, if dry, still wine’s their thing. But watch for their up-the-ante Rhône varietal wines, as there’s a Grenache-based blend on the way, plus a Grenache rosé sparkling wine, as well as some wild, smoky Syrah.
Hit the road, or just cross it
Grab picnic supplies at the Dry Creek General Store, which is just down the driveway and across the road, and set yourself up on the patio adjacent to Amista’s barn-style tasting room with a view of the vineyards. Nice on a sunny day but, with a Blanc de Blancs, a hunk of cheese, and a loaf of bread, I’ll bet you can make lemonade of the situation in any kind of weather.
Amista Vineyards, 3320 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Daily, 11am–4:30pm. Tasting fee, $10. “Art of Sparkling” dosage tasting, weekdays by appointment or first Friday of each month, 11a.m.–noon; $30. 707-431-9200.