Wine geeks share a language of their own. What exactly does it mean when a wine expert describes a wine as crunchychunky, or chewy? Okay, you know what chewy means, but … chewy wine? Instead of trying to decipher the qualities of a wine that is muscular or tight, leave it to the sommelier.

What is a sommelier?

Dictionaries describe a sommelier (pronounced suh MUL yay) as a wine steward, but the job is so much more. Put simply, a sommelier is a wine expert.

Usually, you find them in high-end restaurants. Sommeliers are the ones who develop wine lists, train wine servers, and work with chefs to pair the perfect wine with food. They have developed a sensitive palate and are known for their deep training and knowledge about all things wine — vines and vineyards, winemaking regions and methods, how to store and serve wine. 

It’s rare to find these experts outside of a 5-star restaurant. That’s why at The Wine Stay we are so excited to offer our Wine Country vacation guests the benefit of our own in-house sommelier.

How to use their service

It’s true that an experienced sommelier is well-versed in wine. But they are also trained in customer service. They are about connecting people with the bottle that’s perfect for that person, with that food, in that moment. A good sommelier is a good people person. 

They listen closely to what you like and tap their knowledge and intuition to set you up with a great wine within your budget. And the more information you are able to provide, the better the chance for a heavenly match. 

If you’re at a restaurant, know what food you will order before you talk to the wine expert. This will help them home in on the right bottle.

A sommelier’s savvy includes food and wine pairing. Our in-house expert designs custom pairings for our guests, so the more specific input you can provide, the better. Let him know what you like and don’t like — dry/sweet, varietals, light & crisp/rich & velvety, and so on. And don’t be shy about how much you’re comfortable spending.

The best advice for how to take advantage of a sommelier is to ask questions. Tap their knowledge and tasting experience. Ask about their personal favorites.

What it means to be a wine expert

Becoming a certified sommelier can take years of study, grueling exams, and lots of practice developing your palate. (Gee, that part doesn’t sound too tough.)

The payoff is a nice salary, and prestige comes with the well-earned title of sommelier. Today in the U.S. there are only 164 master sommeliers certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers.

If you have the opportunity to tap the knowledge of a sommelier, go for it. When you book one of The Wine Stay’s luxury vacation rentals in Napa or Sonoma County, reserve our in-house sommelier’s service. He can design a tasting tour for you, prepare a wine and food pairing at your vacation home, or plan your private dinner prepared by a 5-star chef — with the perfect vintage. Let us know if we can help. Cheers!

Last month family members gathered from across the state to celebrate my mother’s 80thbirthday. We decided early on to rent a vacation homein Sonoma/Napa Wine Country. But what to do on her special day with a group of people aged 20 through 80 with interests as diverse as skydiving and crocheting? We landed on the idea of a cooking class.

The epicurean adventure turned out to be ideal— a way to be together while focused on a collaborative activity. Not only was it a way to bring out only the best of our family dynamics, cooking classes, I’ve discovered, are a lot of fun.

Even if cooking isn’t necessarily your thing, eating delicious food likely is. And when you discover your culinary creativity, the finished meal you prepare tastes even better! Whether you’re a seasoned chef or novice, cooking classes expand your skills, show you how to tame kitchen tools, and let you practice techniques you can take home with you. Having a chef as your guide gives you the confidence to trust the dishes you make will turn out great. 

Wine Country cooking classes aren’t just for family reunions. They make a great date night. Creative collaboration brings people closer — whether it’s with your partner, a group of friends, or your work team. Then, of course, there’s the wine. Classes usually include sipping wines while you prepare recipes and enjoy the food.

Wine Country is foodie paradise, so why not add a cooking class to your vacation experience? You get to try new foods and have fun, and you don’t have to do the dishes! Here are a few local cooking schools we like.

Healdsburg cooking classes

Right off the plaza in downtown Healdsburg is the home base for Relish Culinary Center. Relaxed and friendly classes are led by well-respected chefs that include local restaurateurs, winemakers, cookbook authors, caterers, wine experts, and other food-industry professionals. The wide variety of culinary backgrounds makes for diverse and stimulating classes. 

Relish offers demonstration and hands-on classes, as well as excursions to wineries, farms, and food venues throughout Sonoma Wine Country. Hands-on classes provide you the opportunity to try new recipes and techniques under the guidance of a chef. Typically, classes run about three hours, and are recommended for ages 12 and older.

Most classes conclude with a full meal of menu items prepared. Guests leave with copies of all recipes and new techniques and ideas. And if you prefer, they can plan a private event designed to your party’s tastes and interests.

Napa cooking classes

For an intimate culinary experience, check out Cooking with Julie. Certified Culinary Professional (CCP) Julie Logue-Riordan has been teaching for more than 25 years and opened her school in Napa in 2005. 

Her hands-on cooking classes feature seasonal menus with ingredients from local farms. You’ll learn culinary techniques to cook delicious meals with confidence. From pasta to pastry, classes are interactive fun.

In addition to the regular class schedule, she offers private day or evening demonstration dinners or hands-on classes for small groups of up to eight people. You can even arrange for Julie to come to your location for a private lesson.

Classes include a three-course meal paired with wine, in addition to nibbles and wine to enjoy during class. You’ll leave with a recipe booklet and an apron. Classes sell out, so plan ahead.

Malcolm de Sieyes is the owner and main chef at Silverado Cooking School, just a mile from the center of Napa. An interesting lineup of classes cover cooking techniques — for example, braising, roasting, and grilling — and a range of cuisine styles, like French and Italian. You learn to prepare delicious, seasonal meals and how to use handy culinary tools.

The class menus pull from produce grown at the school’s own two-acre farm, Stone Tree Farm. Almost all the produce is started in their greenhouse from locally source, non-GMO heirloom seeds.

In class you prepare dishes that everyone sits down and shares together at the table. Recommended for ages 16 and up.

The school also will custom-tailor a private cooking experience — half-day to a full weekend — and wine tasting flight to complement your menu.

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.

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.

Our favorites for Sonoma County Restaurant Week

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 is it about Pinot that makes it so popular? Even those of us who are white wine devotees will welcome a glass of the alluring red. People are passionate about their Pinot.

It’s French, of course

Pinot Noir — “black pine” in French — hales from the Burgundy region of France, where it’s aptly named Burgundy. These Pinots are considered the top of the line for this varietal. The Côte d’Or is home to some of the oldest Pinot Noir-producing vineyards in the world. These cone-shaped clusters of grapes are artfully crafted in to heady flavors reminiscent of autumn and distinctive to their terroir.

Thought to be more than 2,000 years old, Pinot Noir is the root stock of many grape varieties commonly grown today. It is also a key grape in Champagne. Today the globe is dotted with regions known for their Pinot Noir wine. France and the US are the main producers, with Germany coming in third.

And it’s fussy

Pinot Noir is one of the hardest grapes to grow — perhaps making it all the more enticing. The thin-skinned, tightly bunched grapes are vulnerable to a variety of diseases. While it’s true the grapes and vines are sensitive to wind, rain, and frost, Pinot does need a cooler climate to develop.

But it loves Sonoma County

It’s no surprise that Sonoma County is the leading producer of Pinot Noir in California, with our first vines planted in the 1880s. Sonoma County Pinot Noir has earned a reputation with wine lovers around the world. Our Pinots are dry but known for their more fruit-forward flavor and voluptuous “personality.”

Of course, the actual flavor of a Pinot depends on its vintage and where it’s grown. Sonoma County is home to several cool-climate appellations ideal for the temperamental Pinot Noir grape.

Russian River Valley

This region extends south from Healdsburg and includes numerous wineries recognized for their Pinots. In fact, The Wine Stay’s in-house sommelier has designed a tasting tour around boutique wineries here that feature Pinot Noir (but more about that later). There are least five microclimates within the Russian River Valley, each with its own distinct flavor profile.

Sonoma Coast

Vineyards here are planted just a few miles in from the Pacific Coast, inside this cool and often foggy microclimate. The Sonoma Coast appellation is the largest licensed American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the US, comprising over 500,000 acres.

Carneros

This AVA is located in the southernmost parts of the Sonoma and Napa valleys. The nearby San Pablo Bay blows in cool breezes and fog, which affect the region’s terroir and unique Pinot Noir wine.

Our sommelier is passionate about Pinot

Find out more about noteworthy Sonoma County Pinots from The Wine Stay’s in-house sommelier. You see, at The Wine Stay we’re not only about cool vacation properties; we want to elevate the Wine Country vacation experience of our guests. And that includes having our own wine expert! Our sommelier has designed a special wine tasting tour specifically around Pinot Noir. If you’re planning a visit to Healdsburg area, you may want to check out some of our other guest services curated for wine lovers:

The lovers of Pinot abound in Sonoma County, with scores of savvy winemakers dedicated to this sensitive and evocative varietal. Versatile and easy to enjoy with beef, poultry, fish, veggies — Pinot loves food. It’s the ideal wine to choose for a group of people with diverse tastes. Give us heads-up, and we’ll have some waiting for you on your next visit with The Wine Stay.

Luxury home rentals

Luxury vacation rentals experiences. We want your vacation experience to be more than a getaway. Enjoy from wine tasting tours to a personally tailored guided hike. Contact us for more information!

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If you’re feeling the need for some “away” time, there’s no better escape than to gather two or three of your BFFs and head to Sonoma Wine Country. Leave everyday responsibilities behind. Spend a couple days feeding your soul.

Make this a weekend of things you love giving your time to — deepening friendships, making memories, connecting — and of course, eating, drinking, and shopping too! Go ahead and get your hair and mani/pedi done before your girlfriends’ weekend. This way you can compare nail color, and then move on to sharing in-the-moment experiences with your besties.

To make it easy for you, we’ve created a play-by-play itinerary of what to do, where to go, and tips for keeping it close.

Girlfriends’ Weekend in Healdsburg 

Thursday Night

So you’re rolling into town Thursday evening. Start with a designer cocktail and a savory something from the bistro menu at Gallery Bar in Studio Barndiva. Enjoy a sense of belonging inside this just-right ambience where you can catch up on headlines from your friends’ “Quarterly Report.”

Next, head to your HB Experience vacation home to fully decompress. Exhale, and welcome the good life. Say your gratitude “prayers.” Take time to let your besties know how much you value their friendship.

Friday Morning

Before you come into town for the weekend, ask the HB Experience staff to stock your fridge in advance. Let them know what you want to have on hand. Be sure to request fresh bread from Healdsburg’s Costeaux Bakery for breakfast.

Friday Afternoon

This is your day to indulge in Wine Country good living! Catch up with your friends and create indelible memories, but leave the planning to us. You can arrange in advance to have HB Experience Concierge Services take care of your itinerary. Enjoy a personalized wine tour and tasting created by our expert sommelier. After meeting you at your door, the driver/wine expert will guide your wine tasting adventure!

Friday Evening

After sipping your way through the rolling hills of Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, it feels good to relax in the comfort of your vacation home. So tonight, come home to dinner prepared by a private chef. Our Concierge makes all the arrangements for a meal that fits your tastes. Sharing this ultimate farm-to-table experience with your friends makes it even better.

Saturday Morning

Start off early, while the day’s still cool and quiet. The Flying Goat opens at 7:00 — it’s okay, though, you can shoot for 8:00. But you won’t want to wait too long for the best coffee in town. There are two Goats, just a couple doors apart from each other (that’s how good the coffee is), but go to the original at 324 Center St. Be sure to get a scone too!

Grab your Provençal shopping basket and reusable bags for fresh produce and next head to the Healdsburg Farmer’s Market. Stroll through the stalls for fresh and local food delicacies for tonight’s dinner chez vous. (Check out our blog on putting together a charcuterie board!) Taste your way through the market, sharing bites and nibbles with friends.

Saturday Afternoon

If you need a little extra to keep you going, stop in at The Shed on West North St, just off the plaza for kombucha on tap. (How cool is that!) Check out the gourmet kitchen and garden shop, and maybe buy yourself — or your girlfriend — a little gift.

Next, head back to your HB Experience vacation rental. Take time to chill, refresh, and regroup. It’s time for yoga with your besties — right in your home! Let HB Experience schedule your private yoga class. Take an hour to just “be” where you are.

Saturday Evening

Now it’s time to give it up to good times. Open a couple bottles, arrange a platter of yummy treats, and take it outside. Watch time slow down as the evening folds into night. Friends living life in the moment, sharing stories and laughs under the clear, starlit sky.

Sunday Afternoon

Allow the day to develop slowly. Savor coffee and leftover crostini while you lounge outdoors, easing gently into the afternoon. When you’re ready to get moving, put on your walking shoes and enjoy the fresh air. Check out our tips for walking around Healdsburg Wine Country.

But what would a girl’s weekend be without a little shopping? Walk along Healdsburg Ave between Mill and Piper streets, and circle the Plaza. Don’t miss One World Fair Trade for cool, global wares. Stop in at Fideaux, an over-the-top shop for pet accessories. And, of course, there are lots of clothing boutiques. No big-name stores here. Take home local, artisanal, handmade items that will remind you of your special girlfriends’ weekend.

Before you head back home, reflect on your favorite moments of this fun-filled weekend together. Make a commitment to do it again soon!

Luxury home rentals

Luxury vacation rentals experiences. We want your vacation experience to be more than a getaway. Enjoy from wine tasting tours to a personally tailored guided hike. Contact us for more information!

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A great vacation rental experience depends on the quality of the home, how it meets expectations, and the service provided by your host. But that isn’t the whole story. As a guest, you are also responsible for a positive outcome.

You don’t have to go overboard. Just treat your hosts with the consideration you would expect to receive. Establishing a mutually respectful relationship can set the right tone for a vacation you’ll remember well and look forward to repeating soon.

Communicate with your hosts

One of the hallmarks of a great host is clear communication. And, it’s a two-way street. Start by getting all the information you need — and want — before booking your vacation. Get a heads-up on all the little details, such as location, concierge services, pricing — anything that will help you enjoy your stay.

While at the vacation home, feel free to stay in touch with your hosts. Find out their preferred method of communication (email, text, phone call). If any questions or concerns come up during your stay, contact them. Something not working the way you expected? Give your hosts the chance to make your vacation A+.

Arrive and leave on schedule

Managing guests and properties takes careful coordination. A good host wants to make sure every guest enjoys a fabulous experience. To help keep everyone happy, it’s best to confirm your check-in/checkout times beforehand, and do your best to be on schedule. Of course, life happens and plans can go sideways. But, it’s always a good idea to let your host know if you will be running late for some reason.

Respect the property

If you have ever had family or friends stay over at your home, you know how frustrating it can be when people don’t take care of your stuff. It’s the same thing with a vacation rental. Take care of the property — indoors and out — as you would your own home.

Like you’d do at home, be mindful of the neighbors. Even if you feel like you’re way out in the country, understand that the quieter it is, the more sound travels. Don’t impose your music on the people down the street and be careful to adhere to local regulations regarding sound curfews.

Clean up after yourself

When it is time for you to leave, empty the fridge and clear the cabinets of your things. It’s courteous to bag up all the trash and recyclables and take them out. Your host should have a clear set of instructions about how to leave the vacation rental. If you’re unsure what’s expected, don’t hesitate to ask. Generally, it’s safe to assume the management will handle the detailed cleaning. You just want to clean up your personal “footprint.”

Leave a note or send a review

As a final show of thoughtfulness, let your vacation rental service know that you appreciate their efforts. A note is a lovely way to say thanks. Better yet, leave a review regarding how your experience went. Testimonials are a big value to future guests — and to the host. If for some reason your stay was not up to the mark, it’s always good to specify exactly how and give the management a chance to make it right, preferably during your stay.

At The Wine Stay, we want your vacation to be nothing short of fabulous! We offer memorable vacation home rental experiences in Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Reach out to us today to book a luxury vacation rental home, with complete concierge services. We will make your stay in the California Wine Country unforgettable!

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With breathtaking views, diverse population, great cultural experiences, and, of course, an array of wine tasting rooms, the Wine Country has all the makings for an incredible vacation destination. Napa Valley alone plays host to more than 3 million tourists, which includes lone travelers, couples, and families.

To make your visit to the Wine Country smooth and pleasant, consider these useful tips:

  1. Check Out the Weather

If you are traveling to the Wine Country, you may want to consider a time of year when it’s reliably warm. Napa Valley faces its peak tourist season from August to October, when the late-summer weather is perfect for travel. But the Wine Country is stunningly beautiful any time of year.  Just be sure you’re prepared if the weather turns crisp or damp.

  1. Dress to Relax

The Wine Country is known for its casual, easygoing lifestyle. Casual pants or jeans are de rigueur, although a sports jacket for men and a little bling for women fit in well for dinner at the finer restaurants. Keep in mind that wine tasting tours can involve walking, so bring along some comfortable shoes. If you have planned outdoor adventures such as hot air balloon rides or horseback riding, make sure you have appropriate clothing.

  1. Plan Your Accommodations

For the solo traveler or couple who prefers last-minute travel, a hotel is typically the ideal choice. However, if you take a little time to plan ahead, booking a vacation rental is by far the better way to go. You get more space, convenience, and privacy for less money.  The Wine Stay offers several top-of-class vacation rentals — something for everyone. Plus, you can take advantage of the Concierge Services, such as custom wine tasting itineraries, meal prep at your vacation home, arranging outdoor adventures, and much more.

  1. Don’t Overdo Your Itinerary

Don’t try to fit everything in one vacation. Pick and choose which wineries you want to visit. Look into the tasting rooms’ wine listings to help you short-list places that produce your favorite blends. Usually, three tasting rooms are enough for a wonderfully enjoyable afternoon. You’ll get more out of your time in the Wine Country if you do less. Turn down the throttle, savor the experience, and create lasting memories.

  1. Be Flexible

One of the keys to success for any travel is being able to go with the flow. Just not feeling like more wine tasting? Take a gourmet tasting and shopping detour, or visit local galleries and boutiques. Rent a bike or stroll through the countryside. If the sky clouds up, snuggle up at your vacation home and watch your favorite series. Your travel plans may not all be achieved to the point, and that is okay. Live in the moment to have a great trip!

Luxury home rentals

Luxury vacation rentals experiences. We want your vacation experience to be more than a getaway. Enjoy from wine tasting tours to a personally tailored guided hike. Contact us for more information!

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Appetizers, tapas, small plates, charcuterie — it’s the new main dish for a no-fuss evening — tasty bites to spark your palette and conversation. A charcuterie board is a wonderful way to wind down a day in the Healdsburg Wine Country. Gather with friends and uncork a few bottles of wine. This easy way to entertain offers something for everyone, but it’s not just about eating.

Whether at your place or relaxing in a luxury vacation home, a charcuterie platter is super easy to put together. And everyone can have exactly what they like. Make a day of wine tasting in Sonoma or Napa valleys and bring home your favorite finds. Pick up gourmet treats at nearby wineries, stop at the local market or deli, or shop the neighborhood farmer’s market. From Healdsburg to Napa to St. Helena, spring and summer markets* hum with fresh produce, organics, and gourmet products.

Putting together a Wine Country charcuterie board is easy, but remember: variety is key. Mix up flavors and textures, including both mild and bold, familiar favorites and first-time dates. Artful presentation is part of the fun. Serve on wood cutting boards, marble slabs, or earthenware platters. Use colorful cloth napkins and different sized bowls, include serving knives and spoons, and don’t forget toothpicks. Here are some tips for what to choose.

Create the perfect charcuterie board

Meat

By its very name, meat is the top bill on your charcuterie board. (Charcuterie in France is where you buy deli-style meat.) If you’re making a night of it – eating and drinking for hours – figure on about 4oz per person. Pick out at the very least three different types of meat. Razor-thin slices of prosciutto are a must, but include another cured meat such as sopressata or coppa, or experiment with ones you may not be so familiar with. While loaded with flavor, cured meats are very salty, so mix it up with cooked meat, like ham or mortadella (bologna’s classy cousin). You may want to add a soft, spreadable pate and chunks of spicy sausage. The variety of textures and shapes make the platter look appealing.

Cheese

The cheeses are my favorite part of the charcuterie board. To keep it interesting, choose an assortment of cheeses, each with its unique texture — creamy, firm, crumbly. Mix up the flavors with something tangy like an aged sharp cheddar and something sweet such as St. Andre. For interest — taste as well as visual — slice up hard cheeses and have a spreading knife for each soft one. You may want to try a goat or sheep milk variety. And there are plenty of Sonoma Valley cheesemakers, so have fun experimenting. But blue cheeses are a gamble. For most people it’s a love/hate thing. Same goes for some those smelly French cheeses. I’d avoid those because they tend to dominate everything else on the platter. Cheese is best served at room temperature, so I always remove cheeses from the fridge a half hour before serving, even sooner for soft cheeses.

Bread and Crackers

Bread is the vehicle for enjoying meats and cheeses — and everything else on your charcuterie plate. Keep it simple — baguette and mild crackers. There’s lots of flavor going on, so this time the bread is going to have to take a back seat. My favorite is crostini, thin slices of baguette brushed with olive oil and toasted. Cheese twists or bread sticks are fun because you can serve them upended in a cup, which adds height to the presentation. You can slice the bread in advance, or if you need extra room put out a baguette and bread knife on a wooden cutting board. I suggest including a gluten-free cracker, too.

Fresh Fruit

Mildly sweet and naturally juicy, fresh fruit can be a welcome foil to this flavor extravaganza. A mound of grapes is a good choice, plus it looks pretty on the platter (include a few purple and green for visual interest). Put out some pear (Bosc or D’Anjou) or crisp apple (Fuji or Honeycrisp) slices. This works well to transport cheese for those who want to avoid bread. (Drizzle the slices with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.) You may want to add a few dried figs or dates for an extra hit of sweetness and texture.

Briny Olives

Olives are essential for me — love them with cheese and cured meats. There are so many interesting types available today. Mild, juicy Cerignolas are my first choice. I prefer the green ones, but include both black and green olives, stuffed or not, or maybe an olive tapenade. Pickled vegetables and peppers, spicy or mild, are fun. (Remember to include a tiny bowl for olive pits!) A small bowl of seedy Dijon mustard complements the charcuterie.

Jams, Dips, and Nuts

Include one or two jams or chutneys for some added flavor and to balance out the dry and salty meat and cheese. Fig spread plays nicely with many cheeses.  You may way to include a bowl of hummus —a nice protein alternative for those who don’t want meat. A bowl of nuts is welcome. I especially love sweet, salty Marcona almonds.

By the way, if it’s just you and your partner, put together charcuterie for two. You could even pack a picnic basket — wineries welcome you to enjoy a bottle of their wine in the beautiful Sonoma Wine Country!

*Get details on all Sonoma County farmer’s markets here.

*Find out about the Napa farmer’s market. And here’s the scoop on St. Helena’s farmer’s market.