Ram’s Gate is a new-ish winery atop the hill across from the Sonoma Raceway, less than a mile into Route 121 when you turn off of Route 37 going East. From the road it looks like it could be a large farm or a Bed and Breakfast, but do not be mistaken. Ram’s Gate offers the best wine and food experience I have had in Sonoma, and soon it’s recognition may make it difficult to get an appointment.
When arriving at Ram’s Gate you enter through an airy corridor, decorated with seasonal flowers and accents, and you’re greeted by a well-dressed host. If you have a seated tasting reservation (or they have room to seat you), another hostess will direct you to your table. Otherwise you are free to walk around the grounds, or to stroll on up to the tasting bar.
The first time I went to Ram’s Gate I was by myself and just stopping through to check out the wines, so I cozied up to the bar and did a quick flight of their offerings. On the menu I noticed that each wine had a few suggested food pairings, creations of their in-house executive chef, Taylr Benham. I didn’t have time to taste any of the food, but I made a mental note to come back on my next trip to Sonoma when my mother was visiting me – which happened to be this past weekend.
I made an 11:30 appointment for a seated tasting at Ram’s Gate this past Saturday, with the thought that we would eat enough pairings to fill us up for lunch. We each had a flight that included the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley, 2010 Chardonnay from Ulises Valdez Diablo Vineyard in Russian River Valley, the 2010 Pinot Noir from Bush Crispo Vineyard in Russian River Valley, and the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Valley. We both loved the Sauvignon Blanc, which says a lot for my mom because she is hard to please when it comes to SB. It’s a medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc with flavors of citrus, tropical fruit and a touch of vanilla. It was refreshing with a lot of flavor. The Chardonnay that we tried was very creamy, with notes of vanilla, meringue and bread pudding – a little too much for me but my mother loved it. I thought the Pinot Noir was excellent, with a great blend of dark fruit and spice. I also very much enjoyed the Cabernet, with subtle hints of cigar, coffee beans and currants.
Of course, we ordered a few dishes to pair (all pictured below):
- Head-on shrimp with a coconut-coriander-cilantro foam (great with the Sauvignon Blanc)
- Crispy arancini with a smokey tomato sauce
- Fall vegetable salad with butternut squash, fennel and ricotta
- Confit pork belly on Gougères with pickled grapes and grain mustard (perfect with the Pinot Noir)
- Gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms and black garlic (paired deliciously with the Cabernet)
All the food was excellent, especially the pork belly and gnocchi. It really elevated our experience, and I was so impressed with how quickly the food came out and how beautifully prepared everything was. Clearly, this could only come from a full kitchen with a top-notch chef.
The decor inside Ram’s Gate is also something to be noted. It’s somewhat rustic with elegant, urban accents. And each room has a wood-burning fireplace, which literally warms up the room but also provides a feeling of coziness, like you’re tasting wine in the living room of a cottage in the woods. The back of the building opens up to a beautiful view of their estate vines, leading to a small pond surrounded by benches and picnic tables. I hear they even offer fly fishing lessons.
So next time you’re driving up to Sonoma or Napa via 37/121, stop in at Ram’s Gate and take it all in – and you really must try some of the food, as it’s one of the elements that makes the experience most unique.