As refuge from this soggy summer our local group met for an evening of education and entertainment. A blind tasting was the appointed task with six red varietals to be sorted out. We arrived at the appointed hour at J’s Fresh Seafood Restaurant in the neighborhood of Hyde Park, welcomed by owner and chef (and radio host) Jimmy Gherardi. J’s has a well deserved reputation for bringing fine seafood to the midwest when traveling to the ocean is not practical. It has been on the local restaurant scene longer than many of Cincinnati’s residents and has ridden the crest of culinary trends over the years. To set a festive mood and prepare for our study we began with appetizers of lobster wontons, grilled ponzu medallions on skewers, and potato pancakes topped with spicy crème fraîche. We enjoyed this with Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 1998. Schramsberg was a pioneer in the United States for Blanc de Noirs, producing the first such cuvée in 1967. This complemented the appetizers nicely with creamy mouthfeel and classic yeasty aromas.
After our warm-up we each sat down in front of six glasses of red wines. Our moderator from Ohio Valley Wines, Mike Monnin, gave an overview of typical varietal differences and admonished that our goal was not easy. Many are surprised when trying to distinguish a well made merlot from cabernet sauvignon or petite sirah from zinfandel. Off to work we went, swirling and sniffing, tasting and retasting, comparing and scribbling. There weren’t just reputations at stake – the winner would get a bottle of Schramsberg! Finally we wrote down our guesses and handed them in for tabulation. While this was done Mike revealed the wines to the class. First up was Fess Parker Pinot Noir Reserve Marcella’s Vineyard 2000, followed by Vine Cliff Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1999. Next in line was Newton Unfiltered Merlot 1999, then Ridge Napa York Creek Petite Sirah 1999, and Cline Fulton Road Zinfandel 2000 from the Russian River valley. Last but not least was a sangiovese from Tenuta Valdipiatta, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 1997. When the results were totaled, we found that most participants got only one or two correctly and no one got all six. There was one member that identified five varietals though, and the sparkling wine was awarded to Professionnel du Vin Alvin Feldman for his exceptional work.
To reward our diligent efforts we retired to a buffet dinner set out by Jimmy Gherardi with a generous selection of options for every taste. At one station was a very tender barbecued beef tenderloin marinated in tamarind nectar and teriyaki later used for a reduction sauce. This was surrounded by a beautiful display of local organic grilled bok choy that was slightly charred to caramelize natural sugars and complement the hint of bitterness. Nearby was chicken breast done in a Thai hot-sweet style. Across at another station was handmade mushroom ravioli with Sonoma goat cheese and raw tomato nectar made from locally grown produce. A favorite among many was tilapia with julienned leeks and carrots that were baked in extremely thin pastry dough. Jimmy said this was not wonton or phyllo but a product from France named Fuillie de Brick which is thinner and has longer working time compared to phyllo. The tilapia was accompanied by a cold Butanise red rice salad.
Naturally a Mondial event calls for more wine and we had two excellent choices with our food. For lovers of white there was Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay 2001 with its rich body, strong tropical fruit aromas, and classic buttery oak finish that make this a big shouldered wine to be enjoyed heartily. For fans of red we had a special treat with Guenoc Langtry Meritage Red 1997 served from magnums. In 1989 the Meritage Association was created to provide vintners in the USA with a name for their great wines blended in the Bordeaux tradition. Guenoc owner Orville Magoon pioneered this designation starting with the 1987 vintage and used the name of winery and vineyard founder Lillie Langtry to provide a proprietary name for his Meritage style wines, blended from only traditional Bordeaux varietals. The 1997 North Coast sourced fruit is 56% cabernet sauvignon, 16% merlot, 15% petit verdot, and 13% cabernet franc, with dense bouquet, cherry, plum, and black currant on the palate leading to a very long, harmonious finish.
Chef Jimmy had one last flourish for us by serving a zabaglione (or sabayon) made with the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs and garnished with fresh berry fruits. This gave a refreshing coda to an evening of education and edification for our knowledge of vinifera and the characteristics shown in their wines. Much appreciation is due to the staff at J’s Fresh Seafood Restaurant for a memorable time!
J.T. Mayer, Vice Chargé de Presse