April 2012 Wine Guy: Tasting benefits Ursuline AIDS ministry, Mercer County food-relief organization

Local winemaker Dan Mastropietro presented a selection of his
wines at the March Ohio Wine and Dine tasting at Rachel’s. Metro Monthly electronic image by John Webster.

By JOHN WEBSTER | Metro Monthly Columnist

Midwinter and early spring always provide a number of interesting wine events for Valley wine aficionados. In addition to Springfield Grille and Wine and Dine Ohio’s monthly dinners, Alberini’s of Niles and Vernon’s Ristorante held tastings that attracted eager crowds. The Youngstown Grocers Association and Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce also held a wine and beer taste at Stambaugh Auditorium.

Springfield Grille held a Valentine’s Day-inspired wine and chocolate taste featuring Austintown’s Gorant Chocolates paired to wines from Ohio Wine Distributors. The first course was sea scallops glazed in a caramelized pineapple sauce, and the 2010 Loredona Pinot Grigio from Monterey County was a fine match for the sweet and sour scallops. Crisp and citrusy flavors make the Loredona a fine choice for upcoming summer dining.

The next wine course featured a longtime favorite of mine. Raymond Vineyards’ 2009 Lot No. 3 “R Collection” Chardonnay was served with a raspberry ale fondue. Raymond’s creamy fruit forward style was just the answer for the rich decadent fondue. The salad course consisted of tangy blood orange and dark chocolate tossed in balsamic vinegar. It was paired to a 2007 Santori Pinot Noir from Italy. The lush berry-scented Pinot Noir was delicious with the inspired chocolate-tinged salad.

Honey-roasted beef tenderloin was presented for the main course. A 2009 “Sommelier” Selection Cabernet Sauvignon from Raymond was an exquisite pairing. Textured dark fruit flavors followed by a long, robust finish made me linger over the fork-tender tenderloin.

Our finishing dish was a flaky chocolate croissant served with a glass of Chocovine Raspberry Wine. The decadent rich raspberry-scented Chocovine was a seamless match for the croissant.

Rachel’s Restaurant of Austintown was the scene of Wine and Dine Ohio’s monthly dinner taste. For this tasting, we chose local Mastropietro Winery and Nannicola Wine Imports for our selection of wines. Our first wine was Nannicola’s Italo Sescon Prosecco extra dry sparkler from Italy. Lively floral and citrus flavors lead to a crisp clean finish that complemented the select stuffed mushrooms offered as a starter course.

The delicious off-dry Vidal Blanc was our first Mastropietro wine. Estate grown, it delivers sweet pear and citrus flavors that lead to a lively finish. Those who ordered the Franciscan-Style Scrod  prepared with buttermilk and seasoned breadcrumbs were very pleased with the match.

Our first red was owner-winemaker Dan Mastropietro’s fine Red Merlot. Delicate cherry fruit flavors follow through to a mocha-tinged finish.  Our recommended barbecued boneless chicken breast topped with sautéed onions was just on the money for this lush, creamy red.

Mastropietro’s bold Syrah was our next wine. Vinted in a cool-climate style, it produces gobs of blackberry and red fruit flavors followed by a long spice-tinged finish. Rachel’s Gorgonzola-topped New York strip steak with Portobello mushrooms was a natural choice for this bold spicy red.

The final wine was Mastropietro’s signature Frontenac Port. This dessert wine’s compelling features are bold lush sweet fruit flavors followed by a long textured finish that lasts forever. Dessert in itself, this port was also outstanding with the chocolate confections available.  I’d like to thank Dan and Marianne Mastropietro for bringing their wines to and Ohio Wine and Dine event, and giving attendees a night to remember.

Vernon’s Ristorante and Fat Tuesday are becoming synonymous with fantastic food and great wine. With hand-picked wines by Sommelier Dennis Huston and the huge selection of Cajun-inspired food from Vernon’s kitchen, this is a tasting that attendees look forward to each year. Roast pork loin, prime sirloin, grilled whole salmon, blackened catfish, smoked salmon, oysters Rockefeller, assorted pizzas, antipasto and tables of assorted desserts greet you upon entering the tasting room. After you’ve loaded your plate with food, it’s time to make a wine selection from one of several tables featuring wines from around the world.

It was a hard decision to narrow my selections down to two whites and two red wines, but I found the 2009 La Crema Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast to be irresistible. This is California Chardonnay at its best. Crisp yet supple citrus fruit flavors lead to a finish tinged with a hint of oak. The smoked salmon was delicious with this Chardonnay. At $15.99, the Fess Parker 2010 Santa Barbara Chardonnay is a terrific bargain. Citrus and tropical fruit flavors made this Chardonnay a great partner for the oysters Rockefeller.

My first red pick was the 2005 LaRose Trintaudon Cru Bourgeois Superieur from the Haut Medoc region of Bordeaux. This tasty blend of 60 percent Cabernet  and 40 percent Merlot produces a rich textured red that finishes with a hint of tobacco and spice. The roasted prime sirloin was just the match for this structured red.

California is the home of my last red pick. The 2008 Bogle Phantom is a delicious blend of Zinfandel, Mourvedre, and Petite Sirah. It exhibits bold dark fruit flavors and finishes long with pepper and spice on the nose. The carved pork loin was my choice for this undervalued red. I want to thank Vernon and his talented staff for a wonderful evening of food and wine.

Beer was on the menu at the Springfield Grille’s March dinner taste. Flying Dog Brewery of Frederick, Md. had an array of brews paired to the Grille’s five-course dinner menu. Fried oysters drizzled with citrus mint aioli was paired to Flying Dog’s Tire Bite Golden Ale for our starter course. Rich yet crisp with a touch of hops, it worked very well with the fried oysters.

Our second course was crispy marinated pork belly. A tip of my hat to the Grille’s kitchen for this dish, as it was the best of its kind I’ve ever had. They chose the German-style In Heat Wheat Hefeweizen to go with this signature dish. Crisp and clean, it cuts right through the rich tasting pork belly. Spicy Thai pumpkin squash coconut curry over rice was paired to the Doggy Style Pale Ale for our next entrée. Very malty with a hoppy nose, this classic pale ale worked nicely with the spicy curry and rice dish.

The main course consisted of roasted vegetable agnolotti (ravioli) pasta with pan-fried skirt steak. This mouth-watering dish was paired to Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch IPA (India Pale Ale). This hoppy Belgian-style brew stood up well to the skirt steak and pasta. A fresh-baked chocolate raspberry soufflé was matched to a glass of Gonzo Imperial Porter for our dessert course. Dark and malty with over 9 percent alcohol, this is one fine Porter. It was simply grand with the intense raspberry soufflé. The Grille’s staff did a wonderful job pariing their food to these unique brews.

My next tasting took me to Alberini’s of Niles for their midwinter “Cab-In Fever” Cabernet taste. With tables of antipasto, assorted artisan pizzas, shrimp ceviche, veal chop lollipops, smoked salmon, southwestern rubbed pork loin and Maryland crab cakes, there was more than enough great food to go with the outstanding wines being poured.

My first pick was the Italo Cescon Chardonnay Piave from Italy ($13). Unwooded with bright citrusy flavors, this undervalued Chardonnay was nearly perfect with the Maryland Crab cakes. My next pick was the 2010 Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay from sourced vineyards throughout California. Crisp and light in style with just a hint of oak on the finish, it was yummy with the smoked salmon.

At $13 a bottle, the Edna Valley 2008 Cabernet from Paso Robles is a real standout bargain. Jammy black fruit flavors dusted with cocoa lead to a long spice-tinged finish.

My last pick hails from Australia. The 2009 Tait “The Ball Buster” Red Blend from the Barossa Valley is one big gulp of wine. Deeply concentrated, this cuvee of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot offers expansive dark fruit flavors and a rich spicy finish that lasts and lasts. The lollipop veal chops worked very nicely with this bold red.

On March 8, I attended the Youngstown Area Grocers Association and Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 7th Annual Wine and Beer Taste benefiting the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown AIDS Ministry and the Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County. This fun-filled event was held at Stambaugh Auditorium, featuring a huge selection of food from Mr. D’s delicious fresh foods.

Trays of antipasto, carved meats, roasted garlic flatbreads and assorted desserts were offered, with several wine and beer distributors on hand to sample their products. With a plate of cheese pinwheels, I went to the distributors’ tables, stopping at the Tri-County Distributors table. When I asked for something different, I was offered a glass of Ferrante’s Winery’s Cranberry Blanc wine ($8). If you haven’t tried it yet, I think you’ll enjoy this affordable wine with its intense cranberry flavors for upcoming summer get-togethers.

If you’re looking for a great summer Chardonnay, give the 2010 Castle Rock Winery’s Columbia Valley Chardonnay a try. At under $10 a bottle, it delivers gobs of bright citrus fruit flavors and finishes crisp and clean. Another great wine for summer cookouts is the 2010 Handcrafted Petite Sirah ($11.99) from California. Bold and spicy red fruit flavors followed by a pepper-tinged finish will make this red a real hit around the barbecue pit this summer.

Looking for something different at the beer table, I was offered a glass of Wild Raspberry Ale from the Great Divide Brewing Company. I found it very refreshing with a hint of raspberries on the finish. Thanks to the organizers of this annual event for another great taste.

Upcoming events include two Wine and Dine Ohio tastes – April at the Wine Down at the Upstairs Restaurant (for the date, contact Wine and Dine Ohio or the Wine Down; the May tasting will be at 6:30 p.m. May 31 at Station Square Ristorante. To make a reservation or get on the email list for Wine and Dine Ohio event information, call 330-651-8676 and leave a message, or contact us through the Wine and Dine Ohio Web site (http://www.wineanddineohio.com).

The Springfield Grille will hold its monthly dinner taste; contact the restaurant for details. Ashtabula’s St. Joseph’s Winery is holding an Italian dinner on Sunday, April 22 from 3-6 p.m., featuring the new release of their Sangiovese. Space is limited, so call 330-442-7576 for more information or reservations.

Other regular tastings include Charlie’s Premier Wines of Howland, every Saturday; Wine Styles, every other week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; Vintage Estate, third Saturday tasting; and Michael Charles Premier Wines on Elm Road, second Saturday tasting. If your restaurant, shop or charity event is having an upcoming wine tasting, please email me a month in advance at jmwineguy@gmail.com. I look forward to seeing you at events around town.

© 2012 The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

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