Having just celebrated its first anniversary in April, Corner 103 definitely stands out from neighboring wine rooms with its unique approach to wine tasting. A former banking and finance professional from New York, Lloyd Davis, winery founder, was looking for a change in careers and entered the wine business in 2001. After years in the industry, including seven as Managing Partner of Viansa Winery, Lloyd made the decision to go out on his own and build a wine brand with a strong focus on education. He wanted to create an environment where guests could feel comfortable learning about all aspects of wine (and food) in a relaxed and fun way. From these founding principles, Corner 103 was born in the spring of 2015. Oh, and as for their name–the tasting room is located on the west side of the Square (on a corner) and its street number is, well, you guessed it…103.
Hosted salon-style, each of their intimate wine experiences is led by one of their top-notch wine educators. Corner 103 offers three types of private tastings:
- Sonoma Tasting Experience – wine with food pairing
- Sonoma Cheese Experience – wine with cheese pairing
- Sonoma Wine Tasting – wine tasting only, no food
We decided to try the Sonoma Cheese Experience, which offers fresh, local cheeses from Vella Cheese Company in Sonoma. An important note: Corner 103 purposely chooses to work with local companies in order to support the small farmers and artisan creameries in the area.
It has become fairly common for wineries to offer cheese pairings nowadays, right? However, what’s not common here is the technique Corner 103 uses to completely turn wine and cheese pairing into a gastronomic-art. Their ample tasting portions and superbly curated offerings will not just fill your stomach; they’ll help you discover your palate, while your guide engages you in enlightening conversation about wine and food affinities along the way.
At our individual place settings, there were six glasses of wine and a plate with six different cheeses – two generous bites of each – along with six samples of various aromatics.
Corner 103 has a specific tasting practice that if followed, will ensure a complete understanding of the flavors concepts created by the pairings, and a fun time for all involved.
Five steps to follow:
1. Sip the first wine
2. Have a bite of the first cheese
3. Sip the first wine again
4. Have another bite of the same cheese, but this time, include the corresponding herb or dried fruit nearest that cheese
5. Sip the wine again. Can you taste the difference?
After each step, take a moment to jot down some key words on the menu provided to describe what you taste. By following this in-depth tasting format, you’ll experience 18 different tastes! Now, that’s my kind of experiment!
Here are the six pairings we enjoyed:
First pairing: a 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay (crisp, light and fruity) paired with a California version of Fontina (Italian-style table cheese). The pairing was linear and balanced. When we retasted the cheese with crushed roasted hazelnuts, it was interesting to note how each flavor complemented the other.
Second pairing: a 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (served in a very classy Burgundian-style crystal glass) paired with a California Daisy Cheddar. The earthiness of the Pinot and the saltiness and creaminess of the cheese were in perfect harmony. When we retasted the cheese with a bite of dried cherry, the sweetness from the dried fruit elevated the pairing to the next level. Outstanding!
Third pairing: a 2012 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel (light and peppery) paired with a bite of Asiago, an Italian-style cow’s milk cheese. The Asiago was much stronger than the other cheeses we had tried so far. It was tangy, with a just hint of smoke, and the Zinfandel softened its pungency nicely. When we added the Herbes de Provence (with lavender) to the cheese, it was amazing! I never would have thought those two flavors could work so well together. Perhaps it was the Herbes de Provence reminding me of home somehow, but this pairing was definitely one of my favorites.
Fourth pairing: a 2012 Alexander Valley Merlot, a leathery-nosed red, which paired beautifully with a bite of Oro Secco, a Dry Monterey Jack cheese. The taste reminded me of an old Parmesan–and I loved it! We added bacon bits to this cheese, revealing a delicate smokiness in the Merlot.
Fifth pairing: a 2012 Sonoma County Red Blend (Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah). Full-bodied yet accessible, the blend partnered with Romanello Dolce, an Italian-style dry grating cheese. The nutty notes of the Romanello reminded me of my dear French Gruyère. Fresh green peppercorns joined the cheese, yielding a very surprising combination. The peppercorns added a strong peppery taste (obviously), but also added a crispness to the wine –without destroying any of its varietal characteristics. Bravo!
The sixth and final pairing: a 2012 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (spicy and tannin-forward) was softened by its pairing of Mezzo Secco, a firmer, fresh Jack cheese. The cheese tasted like dry salami…but that’s a good thing in my opinion! Our host suggested we sample the cheese again, but this time, with a blackberry preserve. I really like the combination of cheese and jam. Often in France, a cheese is paired to a sweet flavor- like a Basque-style cheese with black cherry jam or a goat’s milk cheese with honey. The spiciness of the Cabernet against the saltiness of the Mezzo Secco, coupled with the tart/sweet notes of the jam, was truly delightful.
After over an hour of intense lessons from our wine guide, we had managed to learn more about our taste buds than ever thought possible!
To enjoy this experience at Corner 103 to its fullest, book your tasting in advance as space is very limited. And be sure to reserve your visit for the first tasting of the day. This way you’ll avoid palate fatigue and all of your senses will be raring to go! If you want to grab a more substantial bite after the tasting, there are plenty of places to dine on the Square such as the infamous The Girl & The Fig or Tasca-Tasca to enjoy some tapas.
Sonoma Cheese Experience – at Corner 103 | $40 per person
Location: 103 W. Napa St, Sonoma, CA 95476 | Open daily from 11am-7pm
Have a wonderful tasting!
Louise Veron – firstname.lastname@example.org
Marketing and Social Media Coordinator at VinoVisit.com
Originally from Bordeaux (France), I moved to the Napa Valley to work for VinoVisit.com in 2015. I just finished my trilingual Master’s degree in Wine Tourism and International Marketing and graduated with honors. As a real food and wine lover, I’m enjoying exploring the area and relating my discoveries from a very French point of view.