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You don’t have to let the calendar tell you when it’s time to express your feelings to the one you love. Valentine’s Day is a fine time to do something special, don’t get me wrong, but so is every other day of the year. Gestures that say “I love you,” when unexpected, may be even more meaningful. And you don’t have to spend a boatload of money. The value is in sharing a romantic experience. Here are a few ideas for keeping the romance alive.

 

Romantic idea #1 — better than a pedi

The practice of foot bathing is rooted in ancient customs of hospitality, where hosts would often wash away the grime of travel from the feet of their guests. Now, when’s the last time you gave your partner a gift like that? If you’ve been missing out on this delicious experience, don’t wait any longer. Fill a large bowl or tub with warm water scented with herbs or oil. Use your whole hand to stoke the foot. No poking! Feet are extra sensitive so it’s essential that you move slowly and gently to avoid the risk of tickling. Gently squeeze the heel and then press your thumbs into the soles with an upward movement from heel to toes. Squeeze each toe individually, massaging the cuticle.

So where’s the romance? For a foot bath to be enjoyable, you have to build your partner’s trust. We can be prickly about our feet. Make a snug and comfortable place for your partner to sit. Plump their favorite chair with pillows and, depending on the time of year, set it up in the living room by the fireplace or outside in the garden. Bring them a glass of wine or cup of tea to sip while they relax and let you pamper them. The actual bath doesn’t take long, perhaps 15 minutes total. Once the water begins to cool, set it aside and towel dry the feet, patting rather than rubbing. If you want to give a little extra, use moisturizing lotion to massage their ankles and calves. Foot bathing, once you both give yourself to it, is a surprisingly intimate — and romantic — experience.

Romantic idea #2 — takeout with a twist

No question about it. Preparing a 3-course dinner for your partner is a generous expression of love. But the reality is that shopping and cooking all day can leave you feeling spent. When one person is tired from a day on their feet in the kitchen, it can get it the way of enjoying the moment. For an easier meal, why not take in Thai? If cooking isn’t your forte, or you want to be on the same tempo energetically, save the home cooked meal for another time. Try Asian takeout from one of these Sonoma County restaurants:

Goji Kitchen— Santa Rosa, Vietnamese

Thai Orchid Cuisine— Healdsburg

8 Dragons— Healdsburg, Chinese

Calistoga Thai Kitchen— Calistoga

Bangkok 9— Sonoma

So where’s the romance? Its’ all in the presentation. Transfer the prepared dishes into your own bowls and plates, set the table with cloth napkins, and add a small bouquet of flowers. Turn the lights down low and bring out the candles. The focus isn’t the food; it’s all about sharing beautiful moment. Oh, and don’t forget the best part. Serve a chilled champagne and make a special toast. Champagne with Asian takeout is the perfect complement, and it raises the romance meter a lot.

Romantic idea #3 — tiny bubbles

Even if your partner is a regular bath taker, there’s something about having a bath drawn for you that brings out the romance. Fill the tub to the rim with as-hot-as you-can-take-it water and use double the bubble bath. You may add a few drops of scented oil. Have a jar of body scrub, a back scrubber or loofah sponge, and a fresh washcloth at hand. Put on some soft music and light candles. Be sure the bathroom is warm. And this is super important: clean the bathroom first. Nothing will harsh a mellow faster than a ring around the faucet or drips on the floor.

So where’s the romance? Pamper your partner. Give them a shoulder massage with lightly scented bath oil or wash their hair for them. Having your hair washed for you — in the tub — feels like a decadent indulgence. And here’s an idea: before you fuss over your partner, let them relax for a few minutes in the warm water. Give them a few quiet minutes to unwind from the day. Then, afterward, have a couple plump, fresh bath towels for drying off.

 

If you want to go beyond, next time plan a vacation with The Wine Stay. We can help you arrange for some over-the-top romantic experiences. Express your love with a massage for two or enjoy personalized yoga instruction, a wine and food pairing, or a dinner prepared by a 5-star chef — all in the privacy of your vacation home. We’ve got plenty of romantic experiences to share with you. And here are our top picks for a romantic dinner in Healdsburg and some of the best restaurants in Sonoma County.

Don’t miss Wine Road’s 2019 Barrel Tasting event in Sonoma County. This is your chance to sample wines from the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys. But this isn’t like your typical wine tasting experience.

Barrel tasting happens only once a year

Each spring, the grapes that were harvested the prior year, usually late summer through fall, are ready for sampling. Winemakers regularly taste test their barrels during the wine’s maturation, checking for levels of fruit, acidity, and tannins. This essential step in the winemaking process helps winemakers determine the best time to bottle the wine. Sampling also ensures the wine hasn’t gone bad or can help to decide whether the wine may be best used in a blend.

Although wine is sometimes aged in stainless steel, it is the oak barrel that really contributes to distinctive characteristics. Oak “breathes,” and the oxygen affects the wine.

A different wine tasting experience

During Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting in March, wine lovers get to experience young wines just like the winemakers do. Of course, barrel samples don’t taste like the finished wines you’re used to. These wines are still evolving, so you have to look for underlying, less obvious characteristics — hints of a soon-to-be a fine wine.

Ilona Thompson, of PalateExposure, puts it well in her in-depth article: “Barrel tasting [is] a great palate exercise. Discerning what the wine may taste like when the oak resolves itself and recognizing its subtler flavors makes you feel like a wine Jedi.” And it’s the sleuthing that makes barrel tasting so fun. There’s a gamble, and you get to wager on the winners!

Chance to bet on futures

When you find a wine you think has promise, you can buy it in advance at a discount, sometimes a deep discount. You can invest in futures. And for small-batch wines, futures may be your only chance to purchase. The risk comes when you pick up your finished, bottled wine 12 to 18 months later. Did it evolve like you thought it would?

Fortunately, you don’t have to make the decision in a vacuum. Barrel tasting isn’t just a lot of fun, it’s an educational experience. At the wineries, you will have the unique opportunity to talk to the winemakers. Here’s a chance to learn about the winemaking process and find out from the experts how they think a particular wine will evolve.

Discover new wineries

If this sounds like a fun wine tasting adventure, buy your tickets and plan out your route. You can design your tour around wineries that you know you like, but this is also a great opportunity to check out ones you’ve heard good things about. The best approach is be flexible and keep it easy. Figure on about a handful of wineries per day. Each winery offers at least three samples, while some offer twice that many. Each one-ounce sample is measured into your glass using a “wine thief,” the device that draws wine from the barrel.

You can buy your tickets at any participating winery on any day of the event, but if you want to save, pre-purchase your wine tasting pass. Advance ticket sales end February 25.

And if you want to read more about barrel tasting, take a look at one of our previous blog posts.

Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting 2019

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, March 1 – 3 and March 8 – 10
11am – 4 pm
Tickets on sale now
https://www.wineroad.com/events/barrel-tasting/

When it’s chilly outside, wine drinkers tend to gravitate toward reds. And Cabernet Sauvignon places first among winter wine. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy whites or some bubbly in winter, but red wine simply has more appeal this time of year. Why?

 

What is it about red wine in winter?

Winter reds warm us up. They’re served at warmer temperatures, which brings out the fuller flavor of the wine. Plus, they often have a slightly higher alcohol content, providing a natural thermogenic effect. The bigger buzz factor makes it best to enjoy reds with food. And full-bodied reds pair well with hearty cold-weather dishes like stew and chili. Richer, bolder Malbecs, Syrahs, and Zinfandels show up at more dinners in January than July. These wines can hold their own against savory flavors of sharp, aged cheeses, mushrooms, roasted veggies, and meat dishes.

 

Cabernet Sauvignon boasts a big “personality”

But among all the varieties of red wine, hands down Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular winter wine — and for good reason. These are not simple wines. Just because they’re well known doesn’t mean they’re just for novices. Cabernet Sauvignon is “a thinking person’s wine,” writes Vincent Rendoniat Wine Folly. “It’s layered, complex, and … surprisingly subtle. You never really know Cabernet Sauvignon. You just continuously rediscover it.” Cabs age well in oak, which lends more complexity to the flavor — and more art to winemaking. No wonder people like Cab.

 

Cab’s roots

Originally known as Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc whose origin dates back to the 1600s in France. It’s a sturdy grape that’s less susceptible to the elements and disease, making it easier to cultivate. In fact, it’s the most planted wine grape around the world. In the late ‘70s, it took off as a leading California wine grape and Napa and Sonoma placed it indelibly on the California map.

 

Award-winning Sonoma Cabernet

If you’re looking to warm up with winter wine, you have many choices for Cabernet Sauvignon in Sonoma wine country. So many that it can be hard to choose which tasting rooms to visit. While it’s true that here, in one of the best wine regions in the world, you can’t really go wrong, a good place to start is sampling winning vintages from the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.

Earning a medal at this regional wine competition is a highly sought-after accolade by local winemakers. Entries include wines made exclusively from Sonoma County grapes. Here are a few of the 2018 winners for Cabernet Sauvignon you may want to add to your wine tasting itinerary.

 

DeLorimier Winery, Geyserville

Outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon won DeLorimier silver, gold, and double gold recognition at the 2018 Harvest Fair. Following traditional French winemaking traditions, DeLormier nurtures its wines to express their unique terroir.
http://delorimierwinery.com/

 

Rodney Strong, Healdsburg

This family-owned winery in the south of Healdsburg took home a few gold medals for their Cabs. Beyond their award-winning wines, their music concert programs and sustainable vineyard practices have put them front and center of the Sonoma County wine scene.
https://www.rodneystrong.com/

 

Soda Rock Winery, Healdsburg

Soda Rock’s Cabs didn’t take gold this year, but with several silver medals, they’re worth a visit. You’ll enjoy the beautiful winery and its historic buildings set among the vine-studded rolling hills in the heart of Alexander Valley.
http://sodarockwinery.com/

Every year in early March, restaurants in Sonoma County invite you to join in a culinary experience, one you don’t want to miss. So mark your calendars and book your vacation home rental now for the 10th Annual Sonoma County Restaurant Week, March 2 — March 10, 2019.

 

More than 120 eateries will be participating this year, from Petaluma to Geyserville. Savvy food lovers know to take advantage of this opportunity to sample a variety of original menus made with fresh, local ingredients.

 

Restaurants feature 3-course dinners at prix-fixe prices of $19, $29, or $39. Many establishments also offer a 2-course, prix-fixe lunch, at either $10 or $15. (Prices do not include tax or gratuity.)

 

Enjoy a fantastic meal at as many participating restaurants as you want. There are no tickets or passes required. Let adventure be your guide. Find participating restaurants and preview their menus. Below you’ll find a few of our favorite picks.

 

Reservations are strongly recommended. When you reserve your vacation home at The Wine Stay, just let us know if you’d like us to help with restaurant reservations.

 

Consider a getaway for Tuesday through Thursday of Sonoma County Restaurant Week. You’ll avoid the weekend rush and enjoy a better rate on your vacation home.

 

Healdsburg

DRY CREEK KITCHEN
Cozy and stylish venue located on the downtown plaza. Excellently prepared meals.

 

BARNDIVA
Sustainably sourced ingredients and exquisite attention to detail.

 

Sebastopol

LOWELL’S
Locally grown and always fresh California cuisine that varies with the season.

 

HANDLINE
Very casual, hip, order-at-the-counter restaurant featuring local seafood.

 

Santa Rosa

JACKSON’S BAR AND OVEN
Quality comfort food in a casually sophisticated venue located in quaint Old RXR Square.

 

THE SPINSTER SISTERS
In the trendy SofA district, this corner café serves hearty, globally inspired dishes.

 

Sonoma

THE GIRL AND THE FIG
Unpretentious French-inspired cuisine with a comfortable atmosphere.

What are the best food and wine pairings for the holiday season? Whether you’re planning on visiting friends and family or nestling in at home this winter — here are a few rules of thumb and classic pairings to make sure your dinners don’t disappoint.

1.  In cold weather, go for the bold wines in your cellar.

Cold weather calls for a hearty meal — a creamy soup, a rich stew, or something roasted on the grill. It also makes warmer (that is, higher in alcohol) wines much more pleasant to drink. With typically intense, jammy, and spicy flavors that can stand up to flavorful fare — and alcohol levels topping 15% — Sonoma Zinfandels can be perfect picks for winter warmth. Try them with a pepper-crusted ribeye steak.

2. Traditional pairings are usually traditional for a reason.

Holiday dishes are often associated with specific wines — such as turkey and Pinot Noir, or roasted duck and Merlot. In these common pairings, the intensity or expressiveness of the food’s natural flavors matches the typical intensity of the wine.

Further, the more fat content there is in a meat, the more tannin can be tolerated on the palate. Turkey is among the leanest meats, while Pinot Noir is among the least tannic wines. But most important of all: the specific aromas, flavors, and textures of these foods simply fit with those of the wines. These are combinations resulting from centuries of dinnertime experimentation.

Why not take advantage of what our ancestors have learned and simply enjoy the results? To prove the principle to yourself, try a cool-weather Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir with roasted turkey breast.

3. When experimenting for yourself, match fundamentals — sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol — before aromas. 

A pairing novice might assume a cherry pie would go nicely with a wine featuring prominent cherry aromas. While it would be right to find complements among the dominant aromas in foods and wines, doing so would be overlooking more fundamental factors in a successful pairing. In this case, the terrible clash between a dry (that is, non-sweet) wine and a very sweet food.

Pairing is about matching sweetness, acidity, tannin, and alcohol levels properly before it is about matching aromas. Sweet wines go with sweet foods. To see what we mean, try that cherry pie with a nice Port-style dessert wine.

One last tip: This holiday season, remember not only to match your wines with your foods, but also to match your wines with the occasion. Holidays are special occasions for creating memories with the people you care about most. Spend a little extra if needed to make sure the wines show well.