Pictured: Chookie Alberini (left) performed with his band at the annual Mardi Gras celebration last month at Vernon’s Cafe. Vernon Cesta is pictured on the right. Electronic image by John Webster.
By JOHN WEBSTER | Metro Monthly Wine Columnist
Late January and February with all its cold weather provided a number of great wine dinners and store tastings. On Jan. 27, Springfield Grille held a ski lodge wine dinner showcasing the respected Clos du Bois winery from California’s north coast.
Our first course was crispy fried spaetzle balls (noodle dough) set atop caramelized onions and roasted artichokes. Clos du Bois’ 2012 Unoaked North Coast Chardonnay was chosen to go with the rich spaetzle balls. Crisp citrus fruit flavors and a tight defined finish really worked well with this entrée. Clos du Bois’ 2013 Sauvignon Blanc was poured for our next entrée of smoked salmon.
Being a fan of smoked salmon, I was very impressed with how well the zesty grapefruit tinged Sauvignon Blanc from Clos du Bois worked with this great dish. I can’t wait to bring home some smoked salmon from the grocery and pop a bottle of this well-priced Sauvignon Blanc.
Our next entree was a bread bowl filled with the Grille’s outstanding bison chili topped with cheddar cheese. A velvety 2011 Clos du Bois Merlot was picked to go with this spicy dish. With a splash of Syrah and Petite Verdot for backbone, it paired well with the flavorful bison chili.
Our second red wine of the evening was Clos du Bois’ 2012 Zinfandel. Deep red in color with ripe plum and cherry flavors, it was just the answer for our main dish of Colorado lamb chops served over roasted tomato polenta.
Campfire “s’mores” served with fresh fruit and cayenne-tinged fudge sauce for dipping was paired to the Clos de Bois 2012 Rouge Red Blend. The rich taste of the marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker s’mores needed an equally full-bodied red, and the Rouge blend was a perfect match. This was the first tasting organized by the Grille’s new wine manager Tom Smith, and I thought he did a wonderful job.
The next wine event I attended was also hosted by the Springfield Grille. Their “Romance” wine dinner held on Valentine’s Day featured California’s Darcie Kent Winery, and I was very impressed by their lineup of wines.
A “Four Play” seafood cocktail featuring ahi tuna, sea scallop, shrimp and jumbo lump crab drizzled in pineapple wasabi aioli was paired to Darcie Kent’s 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Monterey County. Crisp clean citrus tinged fruit flavors worked wonderfully with this delicious dish.
Our next entree was a “Lovers” pear bruschetta consisting of finely diced pears topped with pancetta bacon on toasted crostinis. Darcie Kent’s 2012 Chardonnay produced from central coast fruit was chosen to go with the tasty bruschetta. A subtle touch of oak on this fruit-forward Chardonnay was a nice match for the toasty bruschetta.
A “Passionate” greens salad dotted with pistachios and drizzled with ginger-passion fruit vinaigrette was our next entrée. Darcie Kent’s 2011 Pinot Noir from Monterey County was chosen to go with this unique salad. Classic cherry and strawberry fruit flavors with a hint of spice and smoke on the finish made this a great pairing.
Our main course was succulent sliced beef tenderloin served over fingerling potatoes. The wine match for this delicious dish was Darcie Kent’s 2010 Madden Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from Livermore Valley, Calif. Livermore Valley is the source of some of California’s finest Cabernets and the Madden Ranch is a fine rendition. Textbook Cabernet red fruit flavors and a long lush smoke and spice-tinged finish complemented the Grille’s delicious beef tenderloin.
Darcie Kent’s 2011 Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon was chosen to go with our dessert course of “molten Love” chocolate lava cake with housemade amaretto ice cream. This super-rich dessert needed an equally rich red wine to go with it, and this Cab filled the bill nicely. Lush and round red fruit flavors and a long clean finish made this a great finale to our Valentine’s dinner.
I’d like to thank the Springfield staff for a truly enjoyable Valentine’s dinner. Manager Tom Smith announced that on April 28, a visiting troupe from Pittsburgh will perform a murder mystery play at that month’s wine dinner, and I’m looking forward to what sounds like a fun event.
Fat Tuesday in the Mahoning Valley always means outstanding food and wine at Vernon’s Cafe in Niles. I’ve covered their Mardi Gras event in previous years, and Vernon Cesta continues to provide one of the finest Cajun-style food and wine tasting this side of New Orleans. Tables filled with so many tempting choices made it hard to choose between grilled salmon, oysters, blackened catfish, carved sirloin and turkey, jambalaya, pasta dishes, gourmet meatballs and other tasty offerings, along with the dessert variety.
Vernon’s sommelier Dennis Huston met me at the door, and I asked for his recommendations. He pointed me toward the 2005 Cono Sur Chardonnay from Chile as it was already a crowd favorite in peril of running out. He was right about how good it was. Green apple and citrus fruit flavors gave way to a creamy finish that was outstanding with the grilled salmon and jambalaya.
Another great Chardonnay being poured was the 2012 St. Francis Winery and Vineyard from Sonoma County. Textbook multi-layered flavors of apple and tropical fruit followed through to a toasty smooth finish that paired nicely to Vernon’s carved turkey.
Two other great white wines being poured here were the 2012 Wente Brothers Morning Fog Chardonnay from the Livermore Valley and the 2013 Conundrum white blend from California. Both of these whites are favorites of mine because of their consistency and good value. They both worked nicely with selections from the antipasto table.
I refilled my plate with carved sirloin, tortellini, and assorted meatballs and refilled my glass with a sample of Zin-Phomaniac Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, Calif. At 14.9 percent alcohol, this is a large-profile red that will go well with spicy food. Its dark red fruit flavors and spicy finish went well with the tortellini.
Another old favorite of mine was the 2011 Main Street Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The lush textured red fruit flavors and defined clean finish of this classic Cabernet went well with the carved sirloin.
Providing the music at the Fat Tuesday celebration was Chookie Alberini and his bandmates, lending to the upbeat and celebratory atmosphere. I’d like to thank the dedicated Vernon’s staff for a wonderful evening.
Our local wine shops provided a number of great affordable wines last month. On Feb. 14, I attended the Cork and Cap monthly Saturday wine taste. My first pick at this month’s tasting was the consistently fine 2013 Parker Station Pinot Noir ($15.99) from a blend of vineyards from California’s Monterey County, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara. This is Pinot Noir at its best, and at an affordable price as well. Bright cherry and cranberry fruit flavors lead to a cinnamon-tinged finish that would go well with carved lamb and oven-roasted vegetables. My next pick at this tasting was the 2013 Treasure Hunter “The Furious Damsel” Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.99 discounted from $19.99) from Lodi, Calif. Bright red in color, it exudes red fruit and raspberry fruit flavors leading to a lush cocoa-tinged finish that seems to go on forever.
Vintage Estate Wine and Beer held their monthly wine taste on Feb. 20, providing a number of interesting wines to report on. I started off with a glass of Lucinda and Millie 2012 Organic Chardonnay ($13.99) produced from grapes farmed in Mendocino and Lake counties. This delicious Chardonnay offers crisp apple and pear fruit flavors leading to a lively mineral-tinged finish that will make you feel you are drinking a much more costly wine.
My next pick is from the Carinena region of Spain. This region has been under grape cultivation since the third century B.C. The 2013 Picos del Montgo Garnacha (Grenache) offers intense dark cherry fruit flavors following through to a soft clean finish tinged with exotic spices. This is one of the best value reds I’ve sampled this year, and I highly recommend it to people looking for a great bargain. If this red were from the Rhone region of France, it would be selling for three times its asking price of $8.99.
Upcoming events include a Cork & Cap April 24 dinner taste at Trumbull Country Club– call the store for details; and the Springfield Grille Murder Mystery wine taste, April 28. Regular tastings include the Upstairs Restaurant’s Wine Down, third Thursday tasting; Charlie’s Premier Wines of Howland, every Saturday; Barrel 33, every other week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; Vintage Estate, third Saturday tasting; and Cork & Cap second Saturday tasting. If your restaurant, shop or charity event is having an upcoming wine tasting, please email me a month in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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