Joe and Carmele Mele host The Wine Pair, a podcast in which they taste and discuss affordable wines, defined as those priced under $20 per bottle. (Photo courtesy Mikey Mele.)
From murderous wine country scandals to a classic guacamole recipe, soda wars, “Top Chef” contestants and vegan cheesemaking — there are so many stories out there about how Northern California is a hub for food and wine drama, innovation and more.
Here are nine podcasts that will teach you something new about the food and wine world and about the Bay Area’s role within it.
The Wine Pair
Listen when: You want to learn about wine from a down-to-earth and budget-friendly perspective.
The details: Joe and Carmela Mele, a Seattle-based couple, discuss, taste and review three “reasonably priced” wines – defined as under $20 per bottle – in each episode. The parents of three adult children, the couple started the podcast as something to do together on the cusp of empty-nester life.
“Wine has always been a part of our family,” says Carmela. “In our family, wine is the fifth food group.”
The podcast highlights wines that offer a high QPR – quality to price ratio – and introduces listeners to new wines from an approachable perspective, working to demystify different wines for people who don’t necessarily consider themselves wine experts but are interested in learning more.
The Meles’ approachable wine commentary uses familiar terms to describe the wines they taste, preferring commonplace descriptors over pretentious-sounding ones. They’ll say that a wine has flavors like Dove soap, Martinelli’s sparkling apple juice or Twizzlers, rather than that it carries notes of quince or cassis, Joe explains.
“If it tastes like an apple pie, that’s OK,” he says.
For their Halloween episode, for instance, they discussed which wines they’d pair with which mainstream candy varieties — and which scary movies.
The local connection: While their $20 per bottle price limit keeps some high-end Northern California wines off the podcast, they’ve sampled a number of Napa, Sonoma and Lodi wines within their budget that have ranked among their favorites. These include Napa’s Three by Wade Chenin Blanc, featured in episode 19, Sonoma’s Piper Sonoma Brut from episode 34 and Sonoma’s Blood Root Pinot Noir from episode 72, while episodes 49 and 55 feature Northern California wines exclusively.
Find it: thewinepairpodcast.com
The One Recipe
Listen when: You want to try a celebrity chef’s go-to recipe.
The details: Hosted by food journalist Jesse Sparks, this podcast by The Splendid Table at American Public Media involves short interviews with chefs and food media figures from around the world. Each episode includes a bite-sized interview and invites the guest to share “the one recipe” – one that they find themselves returning to regularly or that they have a particularly strong connection with – with listeners, along with personal stories.
The local connection: Sparks has interviewed a wide range of food celebrities and chefs from all over the U.S., but to hear from Bay Area folks, check out the interviews with chef Pierre Thiam to hear about his aunt Marie’s sauce feuille recipe, or the episode with Food52 founding editor and Peninsula food writer Kristen Miglore to hear her recipe for Roberto Santibañez’s classic guacamole. Learn how to make San Francisco food writer Kristina Cho’s cocktail buns, San Francisco Chronicle cultural critic Soleil Ho’s scallion oil or Santa Cruz cookbook author Andrea Nguyen’s Nuoc Cham dipping sauce.
Find it: splendidtable.org/theonerecipe.
Pack Your Knives
Listen when: You’re a “Top Chef” junkie and want someone to break down each episode like it’s an NBA game.
The details: Led by sports analysts Kevin Arnovitz and Tom Haberstroh, this podcast applies its hosts’ sports analysis skill sets to the “Top Chef” universe. They interview contestants, discuss what’s happening in the food and restaurant industry and break down each episode of the show.
The local connection: This year’s “Top Chef” — the London-set season 20 — didn’t feature Bay Area chefs, but season 19 of the Bravo franchise included contestants Robert Hernandez of San Francisco and Monique Feybesse of Vallejo. (Feybesse, who runs Tarts de Feybesse with her husband, Paul, sells pastries throughout the Bay.)
Find it: Pack Your Knives.
Listen when: You want to hear in-depth conversations with renowned chefs.
The details: This new Food & Wine podcast is hosted by Food & Wine executive features editor Kat Kinsman. It features in-depth conversations with well-known chefs including Guy Fieri, Mashama Bailey and Antoni Porowski. Kinsman asks thoughtful questions that probe each chef’s childhood, influences, motivations and more.
The local connection: The first episode features an interview with Fieri, who talks about his childhood growing up in the small Northern California community of Ferndale. The restaurateur and Food Network star recounts how his mom taped a “Please Don’t Feed Me” sign to his childhood T-shirts, because he was so successful at convincing out-of-town visitors to buy him cookies and ice cream. From there, he describes his path forward from working as a flambé captain to studying in France, rising to chef stardom and pursuing philanthropic work to support restaurants during the pandemic.
Find it: Tinfoil Swans
Listen when: You want to nerd out about the intersection of food, history and science.
The details: Co-hosted by Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley, the Gastropod leans into the wild and fascinating details around various aspects of food culture. It is part of the Vox Media Podcast Network in partnership with Eater.
The local connection: While Graber and Twilley find their food stories around the world, they met as members of the inaugural U.C. Berkeley 11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism fellowship in 2013. A number of their episodes feature Bay Area locales, including the recent “Where’s the beef? Lab-grown meat is finally on the menu.” There’s also “Souring on Sweet: The Great Soda Wars,” which discusses soda tax politics in Richmond and Berkeley in 2012 and 2014, respectively, and “Meet Koji, your new favorite fungus,” which includes a discussion with San Francsico’s Mariko Grady, founder of Aedan Fermented Foods and Koji Kitchen.
“Who Faked My Cheese?” spotlights Sonoma-based vegan cheesemaker Miyoko Schinner. And “Green Gold: Our Love Affair with Olive Oil” includes a conversation with Berkeley writer Robin Sloan, co-owner of Fat Gold olive oil and author of the Bay Area-based foodie novel “Sourdough” — as well as a serialized novella written for the Mercury News during the 2020 lockdown, “The Strange Case of the New Golden Gate.“
Find it: gastropod.com.
Listen when: You want to learn more about indigenous food and culture.
The details: This award-winning podcast, started by Andi Murphy in January 2017, features interviews with Native chefs and foodies to talk about Indigenous cuisine, where it comes from, its future and how it connects people to their communities, origins and traditions.
The local connection: Check out episode 9, which showcases Crystal Wahpepah, chef at Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland. Wahpepah tells the back story of how she brought her indigenous cooking to the Bay.
Find it: toastedsisterpodcast.com
Vinfamous: Wine Crimes and Scandals
Listen when: You’re in the mood for true crime-meets-wine storytelling.
The details: Ashley Smith hosts this podcast by Wine Enthusiast offers deep dives into wine scandal stories from around the world. Three of the stories from the first season unfold in California wine country.
“The most surprising thing I took from working on this show was how resilient the wine industry seems to be, especially in NorCal,” Smith said in an email. “They’ve dealt with fires, fraud, embezzlement, robberies and even murder – and yet everyone we spoke to didn’t give up on their work/their passion for wine, which was really inspiring.”
One of the season’s themes is exploring the broader impacts when wine is lost – beyond money. “Wine is art, it’s history, it’s passion, it’s culture,” she says.
The local connection: Listen to “The Grapes of Cash,” about how thieves stole $550,000 worth of the world’s most expensive wines from The French Laundry in 2014, “Murder in the Vineyard,” about a 2015 Napa vineyard murder-suicide or “Up in Smoke” about the 2005 fire that destroyed $250 million in wine at the Wines Central warehouse at Mare Island.
Find it: Vinfamous.
Radio Cherry Bombe
Listen when: You want a discussion about the food world infused with a feminist perspective.
The details: Hosted by Kerry Diamond in New York, the podcast includes interviews with women leaders in the food world. (For more specific food niches, they also offer the “She’s My Cherry Pie” podcast about baking and “The Future of Food is You,” a podcast aimed at the younger generation of food leaders.)
The local connection: Many episodes feature female food leaders in and around the Bay Area, including chef Reem Assil of Reem’s California, “Diasporican” author Illyana Maisonet, Sajani Amarasiri of Kola Goodies, Sana Javeri Kadri of Diaspora Co., Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo, Samantha Sheehan of Mommenpop, Kristina Cho of Eat Cho Food, Karen Ross of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Sophia Lin of Google and Debby Soo, CEO of OpenTable, according to a podcast spokesperson.
Find it: cherrybombe.com/radio-cherry-bombe.
Wine Enthusiast Podcast
Listen when: You want to hear experts in the wine, beer and spirits industry discuss the newest developments in their field.
The details: The Wine Enthusiast Podcast, hosted by Jacy Topps, shares back stories and behind-the-scenes details about the stories the wine magazine’s editors uncover. Episodes feature thoughtful interviews with industry leaders and teach listeners about the latest trends in the wine, beer and spirits world.
The local connection: Several episodes feature discussions about wine country and interviews with local industry leaders. A recent episode asks Peter Mondavi Jr. of Charles Krug Winery and Jeremy Carter at Tarpon Cellars about how Napa wineries are adapting to younger drinkers’ preferences. Another explores the U.S. caviar boom, and how most of the caviar made in the country is produced in Sacramento County. The podcast also offers interviews with Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing about the outlook for craft beer and Paula Kornell, daughter of sparkling winemaker Hanns Kornell, weighing in on the best of California’s sparkling wines.
Find it: Wine Enthusiast Podcast.