For the novice and the uninitiated, looking to pair wine with food, especially for a special occasion, can be a daunting experience. Vino Locale is just one of many small wine bars and retail shops along the Peninsula that specialize in educating the public and demystifying the world of wine. The newest trend in wine seems to be making it accessible to all who are interested in enjoying it, and ending long-held feelings about wine belonging only to an exclusive club of gourmets and food snobs. Food and wine pairings are also popular and will be a feature of Valentine's Day menus and events at some local wine bars.
In a renovated 103-year-old Victorian home on Kipling Street, Robinson recreates the sensibilities of the "bistros a vin" (wine bars) of France, and the "enotecas" (wine cellars) of Italy, which dot the countryside and sparked Robinson's passion for wine. These small shops, which sell the locally made wine by the bottle and by the glass, also feature bites of locally grown foods like produce, cheeses and cured meats.
Vino Locale features wines which are produced in Santa Cruz, San Benito, Santa Clara and Alameda Counties, as well as locally produced foods.
When it comes to pairing food with wine, Robinson's advice is, "Throw out all the old rules and drink what you like. The most important thing to keep in mind is compatibility. Food and wine together should have a harmony. They shouldn't overpower one another, but each should compliment the characteristics of the other."
In Menlo Park, jZCool Eatery and Wine Bar highlights local, organic wine and beer by the glass, or in-tasting "flights" that showcase tastes of several wines based on type, such as white, red, pink and aperitif. The eatery has both a dinner and lunch menu, and specializes in organic, sustainable and locally produced foods.
"The most important part of a good pairing of food with wine is that it is pleasing, delicious and that neither intrudes on any of the best qualities of the other," said owner Jesse Ziff Cool said.
Where to wine and dine
Café Rosso & Bianco
173 University Ave., Palo Alto 650-752-0350 www.cafecoppola.com/caferossobianco
Events: Wine tastings, literary-themed events for Francis Ford Coppola's "Zoetrope: All Story" magazine.
383 Castro St., Mountain View 650-964-4515
Features: Nightly wine tasting flights with a food-pairing menu; Belgian beer tastings; Food pairing with prix fixe menu, monthly menu
Events: live jazz in summer; monthly meet-the-winemaker events
iTapas and Wine Bar
445 Emerson St., Palo Alto 650-325-4400 www.itapaspaloalto.com
Features: International small plates — tapas, antipasto, hors d'oeuvres, and mezze; international wine list
Events: live jazz Wednesdays from 6:30 to9:30 p.m.
jZCool Eatery and Wine Bar
827 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park 650-325-3665 www.cooleatz.com/jzcool-eatery/
Features: Local organic wine and beer, free wireless network
Events: Live jazz Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays
Lavanda Restaurant and Wine Bar
185 University Ave., Palo Alto 650-321-3514 www.lavandarestaurant.com
Features: Italian cuisine, pastas, desserts, small-plate tastings, wines from major winemaking regions, hard-to-find boutique producers
Events: Wine tasting Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; live jazz Sundays from 6 to 9 p.m.
Savvy Cellar Wine Bar and Wine Shop 2048 Broadway St., Redwood City 650-363-8737 www.savvycellar.com
Features: Wines from California and around the world
Events: Tastings, classes; live jazz on Saturdays
The Wine Room
520 Ramona St., Palo Alto No phone number, no email address
Features: Wines from California and other regions; cheeses, olives, and deserts
Vin, Vino, Wine
437 California Ave., Palo Alto 650-324-4903 www.vinvinowine.com
Features: Wines from California, Italy, and France
Events: Tasting schedule available online
431 Kipling St., Palo Alto 650-328-0450 www.vinolocale.com
Features: Locally produced wines and foods
Events: Monthly "meet the winemaker" and "meet the artist" events
Valentine's dinner begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14.