Sweden’s leading wine club, Munskänkarna, has chosen Sonoma County, along with Napa Valley, as their wine region of the year in 2014. Throughout 2014, Munskänkarna will host tastings and seminars for its 23,500 members, as well as publish articles in its consumer magazine, focusing on wines from our region. Sonoma County follows up Porto in 2013, and Chianti Classico in 2012.
The nation that hosts the Nobel Prize for literature is surely a nation of discerning, literate citizens. But did you know many Swedes take wine as seriously literature, architecture, and design? Although Sweden produces virtually no grape wine of its own, Munskänkarna pursues the study and appreciation of wine with both passion and precision.
Munskänkarna was established in 1958 (perhaps not coincidentally three years after Sweden abandoned a rationing system for alcoholic beverages). On Feb. 10, 2014, wine club chair Ylva Sundkvist presented Honore Comfort, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners, with a commemorative plaque at an event at Kunde Family Estate.
“We are thrilled to receive this recognition and host Munskänkarna this week in Sonoma County,” said Comfort, in a press release announcing the event. “We relish the opportunity to show them our range of high-quality wines, stunning natural beauty, and connect them with our winegrowers and winemakers who are so passionate about producing wine in this special place.” (Photo Munskänkarna by George Rose).
At Kunde Estate, Sundkvist said that the occasion had particular significance for her personally, bringing her full circle on a journey of wine discovery, because the first wine she ever tasted was a Sonoma County wine.
What is a Munskänkarna? It’s literally a “cup-bearer,” but Sundkvist said that it loosely translates to mean, “A person who really enjoys wine!”
In the sumptuously wood-paneled meeting room at Kunde’s Hill House, a delegation of Munskänkarna board members sat down to take in four flights of wine and a presentation of the geological, climatic and historical foundations of Sonoma County Wine Country.
The members’ discipline — most of them! — in refraining from swirling, sniffing, or sipping any of the tantalizing wines before them, throughout a discussion of plate tectonics, was notable.
A panel of winemakers introduced Sonoma County Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah. La Crema’s Elizabeth Grant-Douglas presented the Pinot Noir flight with vim and verve, inspiring me to seek out one of the wines selected for the Munskänkarna delegation’s tasting.
Scheduled for release in April, Red Car Wine’s 2012 “Heaven & Earth” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($68) is grown in the coastal Bohemian Station Vineyards near Freestone. It’s got a teasing, dusty sandalwood incense aroma, with cool cherry fruit and a slice of cherry fruit leather. Flavors remain in the cool category of cranberry and cherry, while the spicy, chewy palate sensation is on the warm side. The contrast makes a pleasing wine, better with the right earthy food.
I took the food pairing question to one of Sonoma County’s most preeminent Swedes — at least, that’s what I think when I find myself at a lunch or dinner prepared by Helena Gustavsson Giesea.Chef Helena, a native of Sweden, seems to always subtly transform her Wine Country cuisine with a bit of earthy, Scandinavian magic. Chef Helena came up with an intriguing entrée.
Recipe: Biff a la Lindström and Creamy Potatoes with Feta Cheese
Directions for Biff:
1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
3 egg yolks
4 tbsp. chopped red onion
4 tbsp. chopped pickled beets
3 tbsp. copped capers
3 tbsp. juice from pickled beets
1 tbsp. chopped chives
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. white pepper
Mix all ingredients until evenly blended, without over mixing. Make 4 large patties or 8 smaller ones. Fry in butter mixed with a little vegetable oil on medium hear 4-5 minutes per side or until nicely colored.
Directions for Creamy Potatoes with Feta Cheese:
8 medium size Yukon Gold
2 tbsp. butter melted
1/2 C. whole milk warm
1/4 C. feta cheese crumbles
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
Taste off with sea salt and white pepper
Peel and quarter potatoes. Cover with cold water, add a pinch of salt and simmer until soft enough to mash. Mash with butter. Whip up with milk and nutmeg until light and fluffy, add more milk if needed. Fold in cheese and taste off with salt and pepper.
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.