Date Night at Vinolivo

From the Sorry You Missed It files, last Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 found the Lodge at Sonoma’s Carneros Bistro hosting the Sonoma Vinters and Growers Association in the Lodge’s large reception area and a humid packed tent set up alongside. Like the much larger summer dine-and-walk-around Taste of Sonoma event, Vinolivo featured a yowza selection of area restaurants offering tastes ably complemented by the 50+ wineries on hand, many of them small boutique shops not ordinarily pouring for the public, in a free-for-all of fun.

The best way to enjoy these kinds of events is with a friend, be they a spouse, lover, blind date or, as I did, with a girlfriend. Drifting from table to table, waiting patiently if your companion can’t have the cheese at that table but can definitely have the beef at that one, Vinolivo featured a live jazz soundtrack, plenty of people-watching, great homemade fries courtesy of Carneros chef Janine Falvo (above), plenty of good sparkling wine to match the frites and an easy way to swan around eating small bites while drinking great wines and chatting.

Unlike Taste of Sonoma, which last summer seemed to feature nothing more toothsome than gazpacho—and that would be, some 20 styles of gazpacho—Vinolivo offers guests a chance to actually have dinner by foot. Ramekins had artisanal sandwich halves on offer; the Girl & the Fig, hot cauliflower gratin; and the Swiss Hotel, a meaty ragu topping white beans. Those wise ones stopped first at the Wine Country Chocolates table as their confections were soon gone, and we lucky wise ones were indeed smart enough to start with sparkling wine and French fries, move directly to the chocolates and then solace our palates with actual food-food in the form of the cheesy gratin, the beefy ragu and other comestibles, all while sipping from Robert Hunter, Roche Carneros, Clarbec, Paint Horse and other wineries.

Meanwhile, my friend and I caught up on men, work, pets, family and films in between rafts of strangers, tables of delicacies and—thanks, I’d love some—another sip of good wine.

Sonoma County Library