50 under 50: Magic Numbers for a Wine Lover

I’m not sure who the bright person is at Ristorante Montagna at The Resort at Small Creek, but whoever conceptualized their “50 wines under $50” program hit the target spot on. In today’s still-hesitant economy, wines on menus need to be both compelling and reasonably priced, and this restaurant has achieved both.

I encourage you to dash over to Montagna right away, since they are only open December to mid-April. The restaurant prides itself on “Cucina Povera”, which is supposedly humble cooking, but features flavor, technique and fresh ingredients for a very memorable experience. The classic Italian culinary inventions of Chef Jason Friendly and assistant culinary whizzes Sarah Kops and Erin Jones are augmented by a large selection of wines both by the glass and by the oh-so-affordable bottle that pair wonderfully.

Sit down to a glass of the Prossecco di Jeio, Bisol, from Veneto Italy. This delightful sparkler with its good acidity, fruitiness and green apple tartness is a perfect wine to pair with the Antipasto plate. So many goodies on this plate that it is impossible to highly one, but the artisanal cheese selection feature Teleggio, its crunchiness from sea salt, and the Bisol was a wonderful choice. At 11.5% alcohol, it is a light and bright way to start your tasting.

Meritage is gaining in popularity, and more California winemakers are turning their attention to this wonderful Bordeaux- style blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The Murriett’s Well Meritage, Livermore Valley, CA, is a great result of barrel fermenting each of these varietals separately, aging them sur lie for 17 months, and taking care to add creaminess in other winemaking steps. The result is a rich, full mouthfeel, with a perfect balance between the Sauvignon Blanc's crispness and the Semillon's creamier structure. Noted as a sustainably grown wine by the green-leaf on the menu, at 14.5% alcohol, it was well paired with the chicken flatbread crowned with garlic alfredo, arugula, roasted peppers and onions.

If you fish the Tahoe streams, you might be lucky enough to catch a flavorful fish once in a while. So much easier to have the huge striped bass appear on a plate right in front of you, head to tails a wonderful concoction in a lobster-saffron broth with clams, mussels and pancetta too. This calls for a wine that can stand up to an impressive dish like this, and that would be the Filus, Pinot Torrontes from Mendoza, Argentina. Although more known for their Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, this torrontes from Filus’ Alto Modrano vineyard has the best characteristics of a Spanish-style white wine: a touch sweet, with flavors of crisp peach and citrus, aged in French Oak and presenting itself brightly to your palete. The 5% Viognier in the wine adds to the complexity. 13.1% alcohol.
In keeping with the Italian theme, our next choice was a Tomei Cellars Barbera. Although the winery address reads Berkeley, California, the grapes are sourced from California's Shenandoah Valley Cooper Vineyard, Amador County. Aroma of black cherry, taste of cranberries, dark chocolate and spices, and an earthiness and acidity that paired magnificently with the Penne Arrabiata dish. The pasta featured basil, spicy sausage, fermented black garlic and red pepper flakes. To my mind, this was the best pairing of the menu.

No Italian tasting experience is complete without a Tiramisu, and Montagna’s pastry chefs outdid themselves here. I loved the inclusion of house-brewed espresso and marzipan, and the Dows 1997 Vintage Porto was the final wonderful touch. Sometime you’ll see a column on Ports, as more and more California Sierra mountain wineries are making great and intriguing ports and dessert wines, but for now, let’s just say this choice was perfecto!

Ristorante Montagna is located in the Inn at Squaw Creek. Open Dec-mid April, 7 days a week for lunch 11:30am-2pm and après ski 2pm-5pm and Tuesday through Saturday for dinner 5:30pm-9:30pm. Reservations required, please call 530-581-6618.
© 2010 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in February 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."

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