We found ourselves with an afternoon free and decided to head up to Mumm Napa to pick up more sparkling wine, as we now put a split bottle of their Brut Prestige in the rooms for a guest’s arrival. On the way back we decided to stop at a winery we haven’t visited yet and we chose Robert Sinskey as we have heard so many positive reviews from guests this past year. Driving up the short hillside we parked the car and walked into a spacious and airy tasting room that had a full kitchen on the far side for cooking classes and demonstrations. The fee for the tasting is $20, includes 4 pours and a pairing with food for each wine. Small little bites of a crostini with cheese, ham and cheese puffs, and a lovely duck pate. Included were some nuts and olives to be eaten along the way. We soon learned that the winery is all organic, and that the wife of the winemaker is the one who creates the menus for the wines. In the course of conversation the employee mentioned her name…Maria Helm Sinskey. ”Maria Helm?” I asked. ”As in the Sherman House and Squaw Valley Maria Helm?” ”One and the same,” he replied. Oh my. I know her. She was the first chef I worked with in San Francisco when I was first out of the culinary academy. She wasn’t there that day, but I left a note and hope to reconnect with her in the months ahead. As we ate and sipped, we were encouraged to see what happened to the wine- first on its own, and then with a bite of food. These are the kinds of lessons we love as it really helps to understand how acids balance out creaminess, how tannins works with fats, and how flavors of the wine are softened or enhanced with each bite. The experience itself was great, and the wine was even better! Of course I fell in love with one Pinot Noir from the Vandal Vineyard in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, which just happens to be one of their more expensive wines. How did I end up with champagne tastes on a beer budget? Sinskey not only offers this food and wine pairing, but you can order a Bento Box lunch on the weekends, and enjoy eating on a lovely patio and picnic area that overlooks the Silverado Trail and the surrounding vineyards. A great place to have lunch (you can bring your own); the only caveat (and this is true of any winery where you want to have a picnic) is that you come into the tasting room and buy a bottle of wine. They have picnic tables, shaded areas, and lots of space to spread out and enjoy your afternoon. They also have culinary tours and cave and cellar tours on a limited basis for those who plan ahead.