October 2015 Wine Guy: Annual Bacchanalia includes judging wines, stomping grapes

By JOHN WEBSTER | METRO MONTHLY COLUMNIST

As autumn arrives, I have great wines to share with you for upcoming holiday get-togethers. Most of my picks are surprisingly undervalued, and won’t break your holiday wine budget. My first tasting took me to the Trumbull Country Club in Warren for Micro Doctor’s Wine Down Business Mixer wine taste. The Cork & Cap Bottle Shop owners Nick and Loretta Uroseva were on hand with some of their great wines to entertain the sold-out crowd.

My first choice was an old favorite of mine, the nonvintage (NV) Rosa di Rosa “Stella Rosa” from Italy is a slightly effervescent rose made from partially fermented grape must. Low in alcohol, this is a great party starter wine. Bright and tangy red fruit and berry flavors should make this wine work well with fresh fruit and cheeses.

After filling my plate with spicy mustard and soy pot stickers, I went to the table pouring the 2013 Treasure Hunter “Scallywag” proprietary red from Napa Valley. Bright red fruit flavors and a long creamy finish made me think I was sampling a much more expensive Napa Valley red. It was just perfect with the spicy pot stickers.

My next pick was the 2012 Sobon Estate Red from California made from the Tannat grape of southern France. Rich dark fruit flavors and an explosively long, lush finish made this a real hit with the crowd.

Recently I attended Springfield Grille’s first Pig Roast with delicious cocktails accompanying each food course. Our first entrée of jumbo coconut shrimp served with jalapeno watermelon salsa was delicious with the tropical watermelon daiquiris served with it. The daiquiri exhibited just a touch of sweetness that worked well with the spicy dipping sauce that came with the tasty coconut shrimp.

Tender marinated quail breast and bacon wrapped peppadews (peppers) drizzled with smoked cherry barbecue sauce was presented as our second course. A mango key lime martini with clean citrus fruit flavors was just the answer for the tender quail.

Our main course of slow-roasted suckling pig stuffed with apples, cabbage, onions and garlic with side dishes of corn on the cob, roasted redskins, baked beans and cornbread was simply outstanding. Guava pineapple Sangria was a fine choice to accompany this tasty meal. I had to have a second glass of Sangria poured to go with the fork-tender roast.

Our final dessert course consisted of a large mango tartlet finished with meringue. Delicious Island Iced Coffee was a perfect pairing.

My next dinner tasting took place at the Trumbull Country Club, hosted by the Cork & Cap Bottle Shop. Nick and Loretta Uroseva had a wonderful selection of wines to pair with the club’s excellent food offerings. Our first entrée was summer-fresh tomato and basil bruschetta topped with shaved parmesan cheese.

A frothy glass of Valdo Prosecco Spumanti Brut (DOC) from Northern Italy was just perfect for this opening entrée. Crisp aromatic fruit flavors and a tight, clean finish make the Valdo Prosecco a great choice for appetizers and lighter food fare.

Our salad course consisted of cubed watermelon with feta cheese and sweet red onion. It was served with a delicious glass of California’s Shannon Ridge 2013 High Valley Sauvignon Blanc. The High Valley’s citrusy lemon-lime flavors worked very well with the summery watermelon salad.

The first red wine of the evening was a glass of Mark West 2013 Russian River Pinot Noir. This was a match made in heaven for the grilled salmon over arugula and avocado. The medium-bodied Mark West Pinot offers cherry and red fruit flavors that really partnered well to the juicy salmon. Chicken Diablo with assorted grilled peppers was our next food offering.

A 2012 JZ Selections Zinfandel Lot No. 3 was chosen to go with the spicy chicken and pepper dish. The Lot No. 3 Zin is a unique blend of 81 percent Zinfandel, 12 percent Petite Sirah, 4 percent Mourvedre, and 3 percent Carignane, producing a lush red with a long, complex finish that was delicious with the Chicken Diablo.

Our final course consisted of grilled sliced New York Strip steak with a side of fresh corn salad. The accompaniment was a 2012 Shannon Ridge Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County, Calif. This dish needed a big flavor-packed red, and the Shannon Ridge Cab filled the bill very nicely with its ripe red fruit flavors and long structured finish. This undervalued Cab at $24.99 (was $29.99) compares nicely with California Cabs in the $50 range.

My last dinner taste took place at Station Square Ristorante in Liberty. They featured the Valdez Family Winery’s stable of fine wines from Sonoma County, Calif. For this group of wines, I ordered Chef Ottavio’s delicious baked filet of red snapper with rice (Cernia al Forno). As our dinners arrived, we were poured a glass of Valdez 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from the Russian River Valley. Lovely aromas of citrus fruit matched the juicy lemon-lime flavors of this fine Sauvignon Blanc, producing a perfect partner for the tasty baked red snapper.

Our next wine was a 2010 El Diablo Chardonnay from Russian River fruit. Full bodied with notes of vanilla and butterscotch on the nose, this textbook Chardonnay was simply delicious. This fine Chardonnay should work with a host of dinner entrees, making it very versatile for holiday dining.

Our first red of the evening was a Valdez 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir. Rich deep red fruit and berry flavors give way to a long spice-tinged finish that seems to last forever. It was gorgeous with my pesto-infused red snapper.

The Valdez 2011 Sonoma County Zinfandel was next in line for our inspection. This textbook Russian River Zinfandel offers ripe upfront dark fruit flavors and a long lush finish that is very pleasing. Our final wine of the tasting was the outstanding (Robert Parker 93 points) 2011 St. Peter’s Church Zinfandel. Bold super-rich red fruit flavors and a long textured finish produce a wine that should age comfortably for 10 or more years. It was unexpectedly delicious with my key lime pie dessert.

On Sunday, Sept. 27, I was asked to help judge wine once again at Patty and Amico Mariani’s annual Bacchanalia in Austintown. I’ve been attending this celebration for several years now, and I am still awestruck at its size and breadth. The wine that we judged this year was crushed at last year’s fest. It still amazes me how seven winemakers can produce delicious wines from the same grapes and come up with profiles that appeal to different people.

This year’s winner was Fernando Riccioni (of Fernando’s Wedgewood Pizza), who produced a crisp, robust red wine with lots of dark fruit flavors leading to a persistent lush finish that was very pleasing.

Moving on to local store tastings, I visited the Cork & Cap Bottle Shop’s first Saturday taste and found some very nice wines for the upcoming holidays. If you’re looking for a great inexpensive Chardonnay for under $20 a bottle, pick up a bottle of Fess Parker’s 2014 Chardonnay ($16.99 on sale from $19.99) from Santa Barbara County. Classic apple and pear flavors with a touch of oak make this refreshing Chardonnay a joy to sip.

An inexpensive red that really stood out was Shannon Ridge’s 2012 Wrangler Red Blend ($12.99 on sale from $18.99) from Lake County, Calif. Ripe cherry flavors tinged with spice and oak lead to an elegant round finish that will make your party guests think you broke your wine budget for the holidays.

Vintage Estate Wine and Beer’s monthly Second Saturday taste offered some really great wines for upcoming holiday parties and dinners. I picked two great whites that are under $15 a bottle. The Maryhill 2012 Gewurztraminer ($14.99) from the Columbia Valley of Washington offers hints of pear and citrus on the palate and finishes clean with honey and spice notes. This great white should be a perfect partner for Thanksgiving turkey hot out of the oven.

Another great white for upcoming Turkey Day celebrations is Pine Ridge’s 2014 Chenin Blanc and Viognier Blend ($13.99). This tasty blend of 80 percent Chenin Blanc and 20 percent Viognier offers oodles of melon, pear and apple flavors leading to a clean, juicy finish tinged with honeysuckle. Turkey and fresh-caught perch would work very well with this fine white from Pine Ridge’s California vineyards.

Upcoming tastings include Cork & Cap’s dinner taste Friday, Oct. 16 at Vernon’s Café; and Holiday Wine Gala Friday, Dec. 4 at Trumbull Country Club. Thursday, Oct. 15, Station Square Ristorante monthly wine dinner. Springfield Grille will have a harvest wine dinner Tuesday, Oct. 20, and a “murder mystery” dinner sometime in November. Regular tastings include Station Square’s “Wine Wednesday”; 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 wineguy@metromonthly.net

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