March 2013 Wine Guy: Local Fat Tuesday events feature wine pairings with seafood, New-Orleans cuisine

By JOHN WEBSTER | METRO MONTHLY WINE COLUMNIST

February featured many New-Orleans-inspired wine tastings to celebrate Mardi Gras with delicious Cajun food pairings, and a number of fine shop tastings.

Alberini’s Restaurant in Niles hosted their annual “Fat Friday” wine taste Feb. 8, with over 100 people in attendance. Chookie Alberini’s staff prepared a host of Cajun entrees to accompany over 40 wines offered by several distributors.

I filled a plate with jumbo shrimp Romesco (tomato-red pepper sauce) and Cajun fritters and headed for the wine room, securing a glass of 2010 Jekel Gravelstone Vineyard Chardonnay from Monterey County, Calif. Bright citrus fruit flavors and a crisp clean finish made this wine a near-perfect match for the delectable shrimp.  Another wine that worked well with this dish was the Charles Smith Family’s 2011 Vino Pinot Grigio from the Columbia Valley in Washington. Crisp lemon and honeysuckle flavors follow through to a finish marked with cut hay. I can recommend both these wines for upcoming summer enjoyment.

If you’re looking for a unique Pinot Noir that won’t break your budget, give the 2011 Bandwagon a try. At under $15 a bottle, this tasty blend of 80 percent Oregon and 20 percent California Pinot Noir is simply delicious. Bright and spicy berry flavors lead to a lush yet clean finish that makes you think you are drinking a much more costly bottle of Pinot Noir. Alberini’s fine jambalaya was just the dish for the unique Bandwagon Pinot Noir.

Another red wine that worked nicely with the jambalaya was the 2010 La Ferme de Gicon from France. Lush red fruit flavors make this cuvee (blend) of mostly Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault a great choice for spicy New Orleans-style food. At $9.99 a bottle, this red should be on your summer barbecue must-buy wine list. A tip of my hat to Chookie Alberini and his staff for an enjoyable evening of fine food and wine.

February’s next major food and wine event was the Fat Tuesday celebration at Vernon’s Cafe. Tables of delicious hors d’oeuvres, Cajun-inspired seafood and chef-carved meats were paired to more than 40 wines for attendees to choose from. If you are a seafood lover, this is one of our Valley’s signature events.

I loaded my plate with broiled salmon and jumbo shrimp, and was poured a glass of 2009 Murrieta’s Well’s “The Whip.” This trendy blend of mostly Semillon with Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat Canelli, Gewurztraminer and Orange Muscat added was just the answer for the delicious salmon. The complex citrus and stone fruit flavors paired very nicely with a number of the dishes presented.

The next wine I sampled was the 2011 Fess Parker Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County, Calif. This region produces some of California’s finest Chardonnays, and Fess Parker is a constant contender for top honors. Bright cool climate mineral-laden fruit flavors lead to a crisp yet round finish.

My next white wine was one that I’ve never sampled before. The Millbrandt Vineyards’ 2011 Riesling from the Columbia Valley of Washington state is quite an eye-opener. Textbook Riesling fruit flavors and a taut stony finish complemented the sharp cheese that I had chosen. With German Rieslings inching up in price, this is an excellent choice for the cost-conscious wine buyer.

My first red wine was an old favorite of mine – the 2011 Seghesio Zinfandel from Sonoma County was right at home at this tasting. Seghesio produces one of the nicest Zins that California has to offer, at a price that won’t break your budget. Bold spicy dark fruit flavors lead to a long creamy finish that paired very nicely with Vernon’s tender chef-carved beef.

Toward the end of the evening, I went to the dessert table and chose a few samples from the extensive selection. With plate in hand, I headed to the table that was pouring the 2007 Rotta Zinfandel Port, from the heralded Giubbini Vineyards. Rotta is located in Paso Robles, producing some of California’s finest dessert wines. This port exhibits lush creamy berry flavors leading to a long finish tinged with dark spices. It was outstanding with chocolate.

I want to congratulate Vernon Cesta and sommelier Dennis Huston on a successful event and wonderful evening.

As we move along to store tastings, I had the pleasure to attend a Vintage Estate Beer and Wine tasting that had a vineyard owner and winemaker on hand to explain his wines. Juan Palomar is the owner and winemaker of the Veleta brand from Bodega Dominio Buena Vista, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Granada, Spain. Palomar was patient and gracious while explaining his wines, demonstrating a deep passion for his product. He poured me a sample of his 2011 Veleta Vijiriega white wine ($9.99). The Vijiriega is an indigenous grape found only in the Sierra Nevada area immediately surrounding Palomar’s home. Deeply perfumed with the scent of wildflowers marked with citrus, this refreshing wine is a nice alternative to oaky Chardonnays. Lemon sole with spring greens would be a fine match for this tasty wine.

I’m a big fan of rose wines in the summer, and Veleta had a Tempranillo-based rose that was just outstanding. The 2011 Veleta Tempranillo Rose ($9.99) exhibits fresh berry flavors and a crisp finish tinged with crushed almonds. This wine will be the perfect escape from heavy reds when the temperatures rise this summer.

If you’re looking for a Bordeaux-style red blend that won’t set your wallet on fire, give Veleta’s 2008 Nolados red blend a try ($15.99). This multi-layered blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (40 percent), Cabernet Franc (40 percent) and Tempranillo (20 percent) produces an elegant dark fruit and spice-tinged red wine that is just wonderful. Long-simmered roast beef would be a fine partner for this elegant red blend. Palomar has many more wines in his Veleta stable, and all are fine bargain for today’s price-conscious consumer.

For a unusual Pinot Noir blend at a nice price, give the 2011 Three Girls Pinot ($15.99) a look-taste. A trendy blend of 84 percent Pinot Noir and 16 percent Zinfandel (very unusual), it features plum and red raspberry flavors and a clean-textured finish tinged with tobacco and spice.

At $14.99 a bottle, the 2010 Moulin de Gassac Rouge from the Pays d’Herault region of southern France is a nice bargain. A tasty cuvee of mostly Syrah, Grenache, Carignane and Mourvedre, it produces round red fruit flavors that should go well with upcoming summer barbecues.

Upcoming tastings include Saturday, April 27, a wine taste fundraiser hosted by the Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center Volunteers Association. Email beavercreekw@aol.com, or the organization’s Facebook page (Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center).

Other regular tastings include Springfield Grille’s monthly wine dinner (call the restaurant for date); 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.

© 2013 Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

Dennis Huston of Vernon’s Cafe in Niles at the recent Fat Tuesday seafood and wine event. Metro Monthly electronic image by John Webster.

Dennis Huston of Vernon’s Cafe in Niles at the recent Fat Tuesday seafood and wine event. Metro Monthly electronic image by John Webster.

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