Secrets of Wine Country Cooks

By Anusasananan, Linda Lau | Sunset, August 1993 | Go to article overview

Secrets of Wine Country Cooks


Anusasananan, Linda Lau, Sunset


FROM GRAPE TO GLASS, EVERY STAGE OF WINEMAKING IS AIMED AT THE HAPPY PROSPECT of teaming wine with food. In the Napa Valley, wine and food together are a way of life for many winemakers who--short on time but long on creativity--have turned entertaining into an efficient, elegant art. What are their secrets? On these pages, two winemaking families, and a group of young winemakers who grew up together in the valley, share some exceptionally simple, effective ways to pair the products of their vineyards and their kitchens.

For a romantic start, Guenoc Estate Vineyards and Winery is perfect. Lillie Langtry, the famous British actress, once owned part of the property, and her face graces the winery's label. In the late 1800s, Langtry resided in the valley, awaiting settlement of a headline divorce. The respectable part of her time was devoted to making quite decent wines--about 50 tons of grapes, worth each year.

Orville Magoon dusted off history when he began to replant the vineyards in 1963. While he tends grapes and makes wine, his wife, Karen Melander-Magoon, manages the winery's public relations and marketing. They have restored Langtry's home to use for wine industry and community events.

However, on weeknights, the Magoons often entertain casually in their own nearby home--with its expansive view of their 30-square-mile estate. "Wine demands a whole different tempo--it slows the dining experience to a relaxed pace and helps bring family and friends together," says Mrs. Magoon. With both Magoons at work, cooking ahead is impossible, so cooking with company becomes part of entertaining.

To show off their wines, the Magoons usually serve lightly seasoned dishes with ingredients from the garden--and, on a lucky day, largemouth bass from the property's lake.

The evening we joined them, Mrs. Magoon scattered chopped shallots, tarragon, thyme,and sage over the day's catch, poured a light white wine over it, and put it in to bake while we nibbled cheese and sipped the house's dry Sauvignon Blanc.

In what seemed like much less than the hour it was, the table was laden with fish,rice pilaf, peas, and salad dressed with balsamic vine gar and Oriental sesame oil. Chardonnay accompanied the meal.

As we pulled up our chairs, chocolate brownies went into the oven. With the warm dessert came Petite Sirah, and music trilled into the dusky night. Mrs. Magoon, an opera singer, burst into an impromptu aria.

DOLORES AND JACK CAKEBREAD WORK AS A TEAM, but within well-established territories. While he and their sons planted the first vineyard more than 20 years ago, she started her flower and vegetable gardens. Now, he runs Cakebread Cellars and she still oversees a garden that enriches their table year-round. She also plans and prepares, or directs, meals to go with the wines he selects. Mrs. Cakebread's longtime approach to food emphasizes wholesome, good-tasting dishes with minimum fat and cholesterol. "Our theory is to cook tastefully and healthfully so you can enjoy a good glass of wine and, following the |French Paradox' remain healthy," she explains. …

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