Food & Drink

Louis Martini wines pair well with local feast

If you’re driving up Highway 29 in Napa Valley, you’ll come across the Louis Martini Winery about a mile or so before entering the quaint downtown area of Saint Helena. The winery’s tasting room is one of the more entertaining in the valley and should not be missed.

The winery was founded in 1933 by none other than its namesake, Louis M. Martini. In 2002, the conglomerate controlled by the Gallo winemaking family purchased Louis Martini, and the quality of the Louis Martini wines has continued to rise ever since.

The Louis Martini cabernets have been a good value for quite some time, even though the winery produces a number of Cabernet Sauvignons in prices ranging up to $125 per bottle. The good news is that the 2006 Sonoma Cabernet, which retails for around $13 a bottle, received a score of 90 points from notable wine critic Robert Parker, who calls it “one of the finest bargains in California Cabernet Sauvignon.”

And better for all of us bargain-hunters: There were 140,000 cases produced of this vintage, meaning it is readily accessible locally in both grocery and wine stores.

Pairing food with these cabernets can be quite rewarding. One thing to remember is that a young Napa Cabernet Sauvignon from a pedigree such as Louis Martini routinely has tannins that are very prominent, so it is imperative to refrain from pairing them with foods that are very salty or made with cream. Many believe that medium- to full-bodied red wine such as these cabernets require the proteins found in red meats to soften their natural tannins. But you can prepare a red sauce containing seafood, served over angel hair pasta, that will enhance the flavors of both the wine and the meal.

I recently decided to pair the 2006 Sonoma Cabernet, as well as a couple more expensive cabernets in the Louis Martini portfolio, with a red sauce made with as many local ingredients as possible.

I started by sautéing sweet onions purchased from the Saturday farmers’ market on Main Street in downtown Bradenton.

I then created my sauce from heirloom tomatoes (dropped off at my house by Michelle Harllee!) that I seasoned with fresh herbs and spices.

Once the sauce began to simmer, I added the succulent meat from stone crab knuckles and chunks of fresh grouper purchased from the Star Fish Market in the Cortez fishing village, creating a delicious combination.

Along with the 2006 Sonoma Cabernet, I paired this meal with the 2005 Napa ($25), the 2004 Monte Rosso Vineyards ($85), and the 2004 Lot One ($100).

All of these wines were delicious and stood up very well with this meal.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column, which debuts today in the Herald, will appear here weekly. He can be reached at

Next week

“Off the Vine” takes us to California for Cabernet Release Day.