As summer winds down and friends trickle back from their vacations, the dog days of August provide the perfect excuse to throw a casual party on the patio.
To make it easy on yourself, pop open a few bottles of wine and serve some simple appetizers and small noshes that take advantage of the field-fresh bounty of the season.
To inspire your harvest menus, Seghesio Family Vineyards Chef Peter Janiak shared a few of the dishes he created for Caf?La Brezza, a new pop-up patio restaurant on the second floor of the historic Healdsburg winery.
The informal cafe, which opened on Memorial Day and will continue serving on weekends through Columbus Day, offers an array of wine-centric bites. To sate heartier appetites, there's also a wide range of tapas, from savory salads to briny seafood plates.
"We had a lot of people who didn't want the rigidness of a food and wine pairing," the chef said. "You can taste downstairs, then come upstairs and order a plate ... and buy wines by the glass or by the bottle."
Using fresh produce sourced from the winery gardens and local farms, Janiak has created tasty Mediterranean dishes crafted to accent the fruit flavors of the Seghesio wines.
The dishes at Caf?La Brezza ("the breeze" in Italian) are simple and rustic. The menu begins with two boards to share: one showcases the house-cured meats, with olive tapenade, crostini and pickled squash; the other highlights artisan cheeses, with toasted nuts and fruit.
Either would make a perfect appetizer plate for a backyard party, along with a bowl of olives marinated in orange zest, rosemary and chili flakes, then served warm from the oven.
As a first course, Janiak suggested serving a seductive salad of Dry Creek peaches with Point Reyes blue cheese, wildflower honey and toasted pecans.
The salad pairs well with the Seghesio Arneis wine, a crisp yet floral varietal that hails from the Piedmont region.
"The Italians call it little rascal, because it's difficult to farm," he said. "It has a little tropical fruit on the nose. ... The bouquet is sweet, but it finishes dry."
The lushness of the wine complements the sweetness of the peaches, and the acidity cuts through the creaminess of the cheese.
"This is a very easy dish for summer entertaining," he said. "You could either plate it or serve it on a big platter."
Janiak drives out to Dry Creek Peach and Produce every Thursday to pick up fresh peaches from well-known orchardist Gayle Okumura Sullivan.
"Her product is amazing," he said. "Right now, we're using the Red Haven peaches."
For heartier fare, Janiak suggests firing up the grill, then serving grilled chicken thighs over a simple salad of quinoa and Romano beans. He finishes the chicken with a dollop of tzatziki, a versatile Greek yogurt sauce.
"It's very summery," he said. "Everything we do out here is real simple."
Janiak likes to pair the chicken dish with pinot grigio, which has enough acidity to cut through the fatty chicken and the rich yogurt sauce.
Seafood lovers won't be able to resist roasted shrimp served over a fregola and olive salad with a dollop of romesco, a Spanish sauce made with almonds, hazelnuts, roasted peppers and smoked paprika.