April 2013 Wine Guy: Artisan ciders, cheeses complement fare at Big Tap-In

Upstairs Restaurant and Wine Down’s Chef Tim King at the restaurant in April. Electronic image by John Webster for Metro Monthly.

Upstairs Restaurant and Wine Down’s Chef Tim King at the restaurant in April. Electronic image by John Webster for Metro Monthly.

By JOHN WEBSTER | METRO MONTHLY WINE COLUMNIST

April set the scene for many fine wine and beer events. On April 20, I attended Vintage Estate Wine and Beer’s annual Big Tap-In craft beer festival at the Shepherd Event Center in Boardman. With more than 250 beers and a host of food vendors, it was a great experience. This year, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of cheese artisans providing samples of their products.

My first stop was Cellar Rats Brewery from Madison, Ohio (located at Debonne Vineyards), and they poured me a glass of their Rattail Amber Ale. Light amber in color with crisp refreshing features, it really hit the spot. I ducked around the corner and snatched a slice of bread from The Bread Chef (Western Reserve Road, Boardman), which was a simple but perfect accompaniment to the amber ale. If you’re looking for a refreshing brew for summer get-togethers, give the Rattail Amber a shot.

For warm-weather enjoyment, I’ve found nothing more satisfying than a crisp apple or pear cider icy cold from the fridge. In anticipation of sampling one, I stopped by the Kokoborrego Cheese Company’s booth from Sippel Family Farm, a chemical-free farm in Mt. Gilead, Ohio. (Their cheeses are available at many farmers markets and restaurants – more information is available at http://www.kokoborrego.com.) I left with a sample of their Headwaters Tomme cow’s milk cheese, and its sharp flavor was just the ticket for the glass of Crispin’s Natural Hard Apple Cider I was sampling. Crisp and creamy apple fruit flavors give way to a refreshing finish that will have you asking for another glass. From Colfax, Calif., Crispin produces a large selection of ciders that will please every palate.

The Magners Imported Irish Cider booth was my next stop, because I’m particularly fond of their pear cider. They truly capture the essence of the pear in their crisp cider. For a real treat, try a glass with a salad of crisp greens and sliced pears drizzled in olive oil and pear cider vinegar.

Thanks and congratulations to Phill and Sandy Reda on their successful fourth annual Big Tap-In event.

My first wine event of the month was the Upstairs Restaurant and Wine Down’s Third Thursday wine taste. Tom Williams, their director of wine, had a wonderful selection of wines from Hunter Vogel’s 3 Finger Wine Company. If you’re looking for a great wine for outdoor dining, give the 2011 MCA Rose a try. This delicious blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre exuded fresh flavors of watermelon, strawberry and peaches with a touch of white pepper on the finish. It was fantastic with the fresh fried tortilla con queso appetizers.

The first red poured was the 2009 Gunfighter Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley. Juicy, smooth red fruit flavors lead to a smoky berry and pepper-tinged finish that seems to last forever. This is Dry Creek Zin at its best, and the Upstairs’ baby back ribs would be a perfect match for this full-bodied red Zinfandel.

Another red that really stood out was the 2009 California Republic Dry Creek Valley blend. Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah make up the blend of this robust red. Firm red fruit flavors follow through to a structured finish tinged with chocolate and dark plum flavors. Chef Tim King’s chicken spanakopita with roasted red pepper sauce was a perfect choice for this broad-shouldered red blend. I look forward to returning to the Upstairs’ Third Thursday tasting.

My next wine taste took me to to the Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center’s annual fundraiser. This all-volunteer group puts on a great wine taste to raise funds for their center’s work, which is funded solely by donations. If you haven’t been to the center, plan for a family-friendly afternoon going through their extensive collection of wildlife displays and nature collections.

They had a great selection of appetizers and dessert selections to pair with the four wines poured. My first wine selection was the 2010 Entwine Chardonnay from California, produced by Wente Vineyards in collaboration with The Food Network. Lively citrus fruit flavors led to a crisp clean finish that was delicious with my plate of fresh fruit and cheese.

A glass of 2010 Jekel Riesling from Monterey County, Calif. was my next wine pick. Jekel’s cool-climate Riesling is a great choice for summertime dining with chicken hot off the grill or a fresh fruit salad. It was scrumptious with the cheese and ham rollups provided.

The next wine is an old favorite of mine. The 2009 Double Decker red blend is a great choice for upcoming summer grilling and impromptu dining. Fresh berry and red fruit flavors lead to a round finish tinged with juicy berries. It was fantastic with the cheese pastries.

At the dessert table down the hallway, a delicious assortment of treats (most of them homemade) was served with a glass of Ohio’s Ferrante Vineyards Raspberry Blanc wine. Ferrante makes one of the most refreshing raspberry dessert wines anywhere, and it was outstanding with the chocolate and fudge selections. The vineyard’s Raspberry Blanc and Cranberry Blanc fruit wines are also great summer sippers for fresh fruit salads and cheeses.

Thanks to Karen Henry and her great group of volunteers for an enjoyable evening. For more information about the wildlife education center, which I highly recommend, visit http://www.beavercreekwildlife.org.

While attending the Second Saturday taste at Michael Charles Premier Wines on Elm Road in Warren, I had a chance to taste one of the nicest Spanish reds I’ve had all year. The 2010 Chateau Chateau Skulls Red Blend from the Castilla y Leon region of Spain is a delicious 50-50 blend of Tempranillo and Mencia grapes (thought to be related to Cabernet Franc). A short stay in French oak gives the wine a polished mouth-feel, and it finishes long with sweet-tinged herbal notes. At $17.99 a bottle, this is a real bargain for the wine drinker looking for something different.

Upcoming events include the Columbiana Wine Festival from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. on Saturday, June 15; for information, visit http://www.tourcolumbianaohio.com, click “June” at the left, and follow the Wine Festival link. Other regular tastings include Springfield Grille’s monthly wine dinner (call the restaurant for date); Upstairs Restaurant’s Wine Down, third Thursday tasting; 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.

Upstairs Restaurant and Wine Down's  Wine Director Tom Williams. Electronic image by John Webster for Metro Monthly.

Upstairs Restaurant and Wine Down’s Wine
Director Tom Williams. Electronic image by John Webster for Metro Monthly.

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