A grand time at VinOlivo 2010

Mark your calendars – The sixth annual VinOlivo rolls around Feb. 18 at the Lodge at Sonoma, and with it comes one of the best parties of the season, in an elaborate display of food, wine, and yes, some olives to go along with it all.

At this walk-around grand tasting and frolicking to benefit the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Foundation, guests gather at an olive bar, stocked with a wide variety of the local, briny fruits. They savor pommes frites and sparkling wine pairings, and sip from a lavish display of Port wines (as it turns out, French fries and sparkling wine are a match made in heaven; there’s just something magical about the salty, mealy potatoes and crisp, barely sweet bubbles).

Belly up to the Olive Bar

And then everyone hunkers down in the main hall, where table after table brims with wines from more than 50 Sonoma Valley wineries, plus culinary creations from some two dozen Sonoma restaurants, caterers, and food artists. At last years’ event, that meant generous pours and full plates of truly delicious dishes – none of this splash-and-nibble found at some fundraisers.

Serving up tasty bites are stellar spots like Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, El Dorado Kitchen, ESTATE, Della Santina Trattoria, Harvest Moon Café, and more. For the 2010 tasting, food went way beyond olives, though olives certainly starred – just a few memorable favorites were artisanal sandwiches from Ramekins, glorious hot cauliflower gratin from the girl & the fig, and a meaty ragu smothering white beans from the Swiss Hotel.

You keep the commemorative glass

Proving that olives go wonderfully with wine (it may seem like the match would pose a challenge – the salty-sour orbs against often acidic, tannic grapes), dozens of wineries pour their best, from star cellars such as B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Landmark Vineyards, Roessler Cellars, Schug Carneros Estate Winery and many more.

There’s a new, great, grapey highlight this year, too. A “Try it and Buy it” deal means wines tasted and ordered that evening can be purchased for deep, one-night-only discounts.

Just plan to wear your comfortable shoes. As one of the most popular parties in Sonoma, the crowds converge for a evening that stretches into the late hours. Impromptu dancing has been known to break out, and this year’s DJ, Jason Woods, promises some high-energy celebration.

Details: VinOlivo, Friday, February 18, from 7 to 10 p.m. at The Lodge at Sonoma, 1325 Broadway, Sonoma. Tickets are $75 ($85 at the door). To purchase, call 707-935-0803 or sonomavalleywine.com.

Tip: Don’t give a second thought to the late night and lavish libations. Leave the driving to Pure Luxury Transportation. With a limo or Town Car, your private chauffeur is the ultimate designated driver.