May 23, 2024


Free For All Food

9 best food, wine and spirits podcasts to listen to in 2021

If your 2021 New Year’s intention — “resolution” is so 2020 — is to learn something new, there are many ways to do that. You can read a book, of course, or take an online class. Or you can plug in those ear buds and check out a podcast that’s informative as well as entertaining and delightful.

This collection of food, wine and spirit podcasts offers a little something for everyone, from the somm-wannabe to the casual sipper, fine-dining enthusiast and home cook.

Swirl Suite

This podcast about people of color in the wine world feels like you’re eavesdropping on a quartet of witty, whip-smart friends — Sarita Cheaves, Glynis Hill, Leslie Frelow and Tanisha Townsend — as they chat about wineries, winemakers and high-powered wine entrepreneurs. They mix serious discussion with laughter-filled asides on everything from COVID-era travel to golf, mimosas and Peloton bikes. Adding to the fun for Bay Area audiences, a recent episode featured Alicia Kidd and Mari Kemp, who are opening Oakland’s new Coco Noir wine bar and shop, chatting about the wine import business, virtual tastings, online sales and Coco Noir’s new wine blend.

The podcasters: The Maryland wine industry brought these women together originally, but these days, they record episodes from far-flung cities, from Washington, D.C., to Paris, where Townsend runs Girl Meets Glass. Cheaves is a wine blogger at Vine Me Up, Frelow owns the Vino 301 wine concierge business and you’ll find Hill on the Vino Noire lifestyle and wine education platform.

Take a listen: The episodes, 45 minutes to an hour-plus, run the full gamut from an Oct. 1 session on sparkling wine (and bikes) to a June 15 episode about racism in the wine industry. The Coco Noir episode aired Nov. 18.

Tune in: Available via iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play and at

Home Cooking

Culinary superstar Samin Nosrat and podcast whiz Hrishikesh Hirway come together in this breezy yet meaningful series on home cooking. While the podcast was launched during the quarantine, it it is a delightful and essential listen for home cooks — beginner or advanced. The duo answer listener questions, delve into pantry staples (sardine alert) and invite guests like Yo-Yo Ma and Antoni Porowski to share what they’re making. Home Cooking is informative, conversational and full of Nosrat’s skilled tips and infectious laugh.

The podcasters: Berkeley-based Nosrat is the James Beard Award-winning author of “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” as well as the host and executive producer of the Netflix documentary of the same name. Hirway is the host and creator of acclaimed podcasts, including “Song Exploder” and “The West Wing Weekly.”

Take a listen: Episodes run around 50 minutes and cover everything from making perfect beans to conquering roast vegetables. Oakland comedian W. Kamau Bell shares his recipe for his two-ingredient pancakes (Episode 2) and in Episode 9 Nosrat breaks down caramelized onions and tells a listener what to make with her surplus of cucumbers. Hint: It’s a Persian beverage.

Tune in: Available via iTunes, Spotify and at

The Sporkful

Billed as a podcast for eaters rather than foodies, this 10-year-old series has snagged a James Beard Award and Saveur Award for Best Food Podcast for its brand of humor and humanity. Through food, host Dan Pashman introduces listeners to fascinating people, whether that’s Texas Monthly taco editor José Ralat — yes, it’s a full-time job — or the late artist Georgia O’Keeffe, whose box of handwritten, grease-stained recipes recently went up for auction. Along the way you’ll learn the right way to eat a jelly doughnut and how ketchup got its name.

The podcaster: Host Dan Pashman is also the creator and host of the Cooking Channel’s “You’re Eating It Wrong” and author of the 2014 book, “Eat More Better: How to Make Every Bite More Delicious” (Simon & Schuster; $25).

Take a listen: We love the mix of silliness — LeVar Burton’s Nov. 29 dramatic recipe reading and dishing on Sir Patrick Stewart’s weird lunches on the “Star Trek” set — to the June 13 coverage of the Bon Appetit scandal. A must is the Dec. 20 episode on listeners’ New Year’s food resolutions, which include eating not only more ice cream but more mustard in 2021, because 2020 was “a mayonnaise year.”

Tune in: Available via Stitcher, Spotify and at

Wine for Normal People

This award-winning podcast tackles wine like the delicious subject it truly is, as opposed to the pretentious topic normal people fear it is. Sure, oenophiles appreciate the tannins, the racy acidity, the endless descriptions of terroir, the — ack, splutter, stop! But most of us just want to learn a little bit, pick up some fun stories and mostly, find out what to try next. This is a podcast for wine geeks and casual enthusiasts alike.

The podcasters: Sommelier and self-styled wine dork Elizabeth Schneider and her wine-loving, non-somm husband, M.C. Ice, host these 45-minute episodes. And Schneider’s 2019 book, “Wine for Normal People: A Guide for Real People Who Like Wine, but Not the Snobbery That Goes with It” (Chronicle Books, $25), deepens the education factor.

Take a listen: Sure, we’re past holiday shopping season, but the Dec. 14 take on that topic offers plenty of inspiration for any gift-giving occasion, from a picnic-ready wine table — sized to hold a bottle, two glasses and a cheese plate — to a silicone wine glass holder for those of you who like to bathe or shower (!) with a glass of rosé. The Oct. 19 episode on viognier traces the evolution of a grape varietal that dates back to ancient Rome. Plus you’ll find out how to pronounce viognier.

Tune in: Available via iTunes, Google Play and at

Sip Sip Hooray

For the ultimate California focus, check out this 2-year-old podcast by “The Marys” — Mary Babbitt and Mary Orlin — which features wineries and winemakers in Napa, Santa Cruz and the Livermore Valley. The focus is on fresh, breezy conversations between the two wine expert hosts and interviews with interesting winemakers. No arcane tasting notes, no jargon, just fun stories and inside tips. Because, Orlin says, “friends don’t let friends drink bad wine.”

The podcasters: Co-hosts and journalists Babbitt and Orlin created the long-running, Emmy and James Beard award-winning series “In Wine Country” for NBC-TV in 2001. (And if Orlin’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s a former Bay Area News Group wine writer.)

Take a listen: Several episodes feature Bay Area winemakers, including Rob Jensen of Los Gatos’ Testarossa Winery (Episode 4) and Dane Stark from Livermore’s Page Mill (Episode 9). If you’re curious about the impact of COVID on the wine-tasting experience, listen to episode 16, which aired June 2. And if you just like to laugh, episode 6 (June 19, 2019) offers an inside peek at Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph’s “Wine Country” comedy and the Napa locations that inspired it.

Tune in: Available via iTunes, Google Play and at

Tablehopper’s Marcia Gagliardi is in conversation with restaurants during COVID-19 on her On The Fly podcast. (Courtesy Marcia Gagliardi) 

On the Fly by Tablehopper

This podcast explores the permanent mark COVID-19 leaves on San Francisco’s dining scene. Resident foodie Marcia Gagliardi started the series in April 2020 to allow chefs, restaurateurs and others in the hospitality industry to share their struggles and triumphs. But, as it progresses, you learn not only how restaurants pivot to grocers and dinner kit makers but also how they’re trying to mend a business model that was broken even before the pandemic. Familiar voices include Stuart Brioza (State Bird Provisions), Reem Assil (Reem’s California) and Sarah Kirnon (Miss Ollie’s).

The podcaster: Gagliardi has been covering the San Francisco restaurant scene for nearly 15 years through her e-newsletter, Tablehopper.

Take a listen: The April 28 episode addresses the hunger crisis on the streets of San Francisco at the beginning of the lockdown. In the Nov. 22 episode, Gagliardi sits down with Brioza to talk about opening a new restaurant — The Anchovy Bar — during a pandemic. Get ready to geek out on anchovies, oysters and butter.

Tune in: Available via Google Play, Amazon Music and at

Life Behind Bars

This award-winning podcast about the greatest bartenders and craft cocktails of all time feels like you’ve been invited to an insider happy hour as spirits experts dish on their favorite booze, books and evolution of the modern cocktail menu. You’ll meet influential bartenders, like Dale DeGroff, author of “The Craft of the Cocktail,” learn about the etiquette of using older whiskies in cocktails and uncover the bar scenes in top cities. It’s time to learn how to drink like a bartender.

The podcasters: Hosted by Noah Rothbaum, editor of The Daily Beast’s Half Full section, and senior drinks columnist David Wondrich, Life Behind Bars won the 2018 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award for the world’s best drinks podcast.

Take a listen: On the April 15 episode, learn about the history of Bourbon Street’s potent cocktails with Half Full columnist and NOLA resident Wayne Curtis. Ever wondered if the Manhattan and Martini are essentially the same drink? Find out in the Aug. 20 episode. And if you love rum, you’ll want to listen to the Aug. 12, 2019 episode, which delves into trendy rum cocktails.

Tune in: Available via Stitcher, Google Play and at

Copper & Heat co-creators Katy and Richardo Osuna of Oakland launched the podcast about life in restaurant kitchens in 2019.  (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

Copper & Heat

In this Oakland-based podcast, former Manresa cook Katy Osuna dissects the unspoken and exclusionary rules and traditions of restaurant kitchens — and the trickle-down effect on women and workers of color. Season 1, Be a Girl, focuses on the military-style hierarchy of fine-dining kitchens; Season 2, Overheard, tackles business practices within the system, from tipping to food delivery apps. And Season 3 — Pre-Shift — offers tips for hospitality workers, including striking out on their own. It kicks off Jan. 25.

The podcasters: Katy and her husband, Ricardo, are the co-creators of Copper & Heat, which launched in 2019 and won the James Beard Media Award for Best Podcast that same year. Katy has worked in fine-dining kitchens around the Bay Area, including the three-Michelin-starred Manresa in Los Gatos. Ricardo co-produces and serves as the podcast’s composer and sound designer.

Tune in: Episodes are about 30 minutes and tackle everything from stress and work-life balance to the racist history of the complicated tipping system. The latter is a Season 2 two-parter featuring Portland’s Le Pigeon and nonprofit One Fair Wage. Several episodes feature Bay Area restaurateurs and workers, including David Kinch of Manresa and Fernay McPherson of Emeryville’s Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement.

Take a listen: Available via iTunes, Stitcher and at

Bartender At Large

With 240 episodes, this award-winning podcast explores the world’s best craft cocktails and the people behind them. Each week, listeners go behind the scenes of the modern cocktail renaissance with industry heavyweights, from bartenders and distillers to cocktail historians and other experts. Need a 101 on pisco or baijiu? Want to make zero-proof botanical drinks? Finally going to delve into the sticky issue of tiki bars and imperialism? It’s all here, in easy-to-digest episodes running 30 minutes or less.