As I shared last week, I took a trip to Alexander Valley Wine Country for a “girls only” weekend. The first day included a visit to J Winery and the Rendez Vous Bistro. What was in store for day two? Three winery visits and a tapas-style dinner!

Alexander Valley Vineyards

Wine and cheese pairing at Alexander Valley Vineyards.

Wine and cheese pairing at Alexander Valley Vineyards.

I could probably do a whole post about just the wine and cheese pairing at Alexander Valley Vineyards! Although the cost was $25 per person, I felt like it was the highlight of the wine country weekend. The tasting was very personable and informative; well worth the drive. When we got there, Nance Billman, the tasting room manager, and her assistant, Hannah, a college student at Chico State who’s studying agri-business, greeted us.

During the tasting, we sampled cheeses from:

All of these cheeses are available at Big John’s Market, a local upscale market in Healdsburg.

Alexander Valley Vineyards offers three types of wines:

  1. Estate, which are made to drink now to within 3 years.
  2. Reserve, which are made to age 8 to 10 years.
  3. Single Block Wines, which are from one vineyard or block.

They are known for their Zinfandels, Estate Cabernet, and “Sin-Zin,” which amount to 70% of vineyard production.

We ended up sampling:

  • 2009 Redemption: 100% Dry Creek Valley Zin (drink now!)
  • 2009 Alluvia: Rhone Style Blend
  • 2007 Big Barrel Syrah: Single block wine that’s made using French & Hungarian Oak barrels
  • 2006 Cyrus: Bordeaux Blend (25% cab-franc)
  • 2008 Cyrus: Bordeaux Blend (25% Merlot)
  • 2008 Cabernet: Single block estate grapes and typical of Alexander Valley’s American Viticultural Area (AVA) – it’s very smooth and elegant

Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards

Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards

Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards

Also located off highway 128, Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards is one winery not to miss on your tour of the Alexander Valley. Everything was exceptional, from the setting of the vineyard to the tasting room décor and the wines themselves.

In addition to using our wine tour ticket for our salon tasting, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that one member of our party was also a wine club member. I’m sure because of this, we were treated to a much more leisurely afternoon tasting. We spent almost 2 hours with Rich Stebbing at an inside table with a great view of the surrounding vineyard. Normally on a nice summer day we would have gladly enjoyed our tasting outside, but on this particular day it was well over 100 degrees.

One thing to keep in mind about this vineyard is that Chardonnay is the flagship wine and accounts for 50% of their production. According to Rich, “You come for the whites, leave with the reds.” Chalk Hill has several “sister” wineries in the area including: Kuleto Estate in St. Helena, Foley-Johnson in Rutherford and Sebastani Vineyards in Sonoma, to name a few.

At Chalk Hill, I noticed that there are several fun packages that could be purchased for an additional cost, including a Culinary Lunch Tour or Estate Tour. On another visit I’d definitely like to experience the Garden Luncheon with Chalk Hill’s Executive Chef.

Lancaster Estate Vineyards

Lancaster Estate Vineyards

Lancaster Estate Vineyards

Lancaster Estate Vineyards is another winery you don’t want to miss. Thanks to a wine club member in our group, we were able to experience an exclusive wine tasting inside the caves. If you haven’t had this type of experience, it’s all about savoring the moment, taking your time and learning about the varietals offered. Even though our host, Tim Krause, is new to Alexander Valley and Lancaster Estate, he was well versed in his wine presentation and education. All of us had a good time; the two hours we spent there just flew by!

Willie’s Wine Bar

Willie's Wine Bar

Willie’s Wine Bar

For dinner we made our way to Willie’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa. One reason we picked this restaurant was that it was less than a mile away from our hotel. The other reason was the style of menu: tapas.

Although we had a fair amount of wine on the second day of our weekend, there was still room for one more bottle! This time it was a Rose from France, specifically Provence: Domaine d’eole six cepage. One reason for a French Rose is that it is usually made drier (as opposed to sweet) and it is very refreshing on a hot day. I love the minerality. After all, for a wine snob like me, it’s all about the terroir.

The menu from Willie’s is a tapas style menu with a wine country flair: small plates that are meant to be shared. This is a great way to enjoy the extensive menu when you have a group. We started off with these four choices:

  • Skillet Roasted Shrimp with Fresno Chilies, Lemon & Garlic
  • Crispy Skin Mt. Lassen Trout & Smoked Paprika Aioli
  • Goat Cheese Fritters with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes, Smoked Paprika & Lavender Honey
  • Arugula & Endive Salad, Avocado, Manchego Cheese, Toasted Almonds & Meyer-Lemon Truffle Vinaigrette

Although absolutely amazing, the four plates were not quite enough, so we added two more small plates followed by two desserts:

  • Warm Spinach Salad, Goat Cheese, Dates, Cracked Almonds & Pancetta Vinaigrette
  • Pork Belly Potstickers with Five Spice & Shiitake Mushrooms
  • Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake, Huckleberries & Vanilla Bean Crème Fraiche
  • Warm Scharffen Berger Flourless Chocolate Cake, Peanut Butter Carmel, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream & Sea Salt Peanuts

The total cost was $48.00 per person and included 2 bottles of wine.

Stay tuned for our final day of the wine country tour next week! In the meantime, what’s your favorite type of wine? And what do you like about it?

Mary Hathaway, Owner of Dinner Diva, has been a personal chef since 2002. She cooks regularly for clients who have special dietary needs, value healthy cooking by using organic products where possible and those who want healthy family meals but have no time to cook. Whether it’s a dinner for 4, a holiday party for 20, or a set of meals for the week, all of the recipes are customized to her client’s needs or lifestyle. Go to: for more info.