Monday, October 27, 2014

Murder Mystery Dinner Showcases Killer Wines

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As long-time winemaker at the Underwood Estates at Napa, I was shocked to discover a murder had been committed in the wine cellar. At least Papa Vito, who I was playing during a murder mystery dinner last weekend, was shocked.

Green Dragon and I attended a charity event last winter for the area Red Cross. During an auction we bid on and won a murder mystery dinner for eight. The dinner was contributed by Larry and Gail Nader, who own a large historic home on Wooster Street in Bowling Green.

We had a choice of several murder scenarios and – surprise – selected “A Taste for Wine and Murder” about a murder in Napa Valley. Larry and Gail are former California residents and know Jed Steele, owner of Steele Wines in Lake County. Our meal was accompanied by a dazzling selection from Steele.

Three of our characters had large bushy mustaches, including me. In order to drink our wine, we experienced a first: drinking wine through a straw. After a short while I did away with that and allowed my fake mustache to filter out any sediment in the wine.

Green Dragon played the role of Heddy Shablee, a rival winery owner, Glorious T was Marilyn Merlot, a beauty queen with a tarnished crown, and the Cabinator played FBI investigator Bud Wizer. Our friends Larry and Donna, and John and Maria rounded out the cast of characters (Otto Von Schnapps, Tiny Bubbles, Bonnie Lass and Ralph Rottingrape).

We started out with a cheese tray, lobster rolls and salmon appetizers while we got the low-down on the game. This was accompanied by the 2013 Steele Cuveé Chardonnay. As the name suggests, the Cuveé is a blend of Chardonnay grapes from three different regions: Santa Maria Valley, Carneros and Mendocino County. The wine has great depth thanks to malolactic fermentation. It pleases with tropical fruit flavor notes and complexity.

While we enjoyed a kale Caesar salad, we sipped the Steele 2013 Viognier. Viognier is a favorite white wine for us. This has delicate floral flavors that matched the appetizers well.

The 2012 Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc was also offered during the appetizer course. Shooting Star is a second label for Steele and this Sauv Blanc is the only white that doesn’t spend time in the barrel. The was a fresh wine with a full aroma of pineapple and citrus and tropical flavors.

Murder Mystery 2(1)Our first course was curry carrot soup. We moved to the red wines and I was surprised and pleased to see that grapes for the Steele 2010 Pinot Noir come from the Santa Barbara AVA of Santa Barbara County. Santa Barbara is one of the top Pinot producing regions in the US. What a great pairing with the soup! The Pinot has a velvet smoothness with dried cherry and strawberry flavors. This wine was decanted and was top top pick of the evening!

The wine kept getting even better. We next sampled the Steele 2011 Pacini Vineyard Zinfandel. This comes in 375ml bottles and is a superb Old Vine Zin tasting of berries, spice and a sprinkling of dust.

We returned to our crime busting  activities. Otto Von Schnapps kept flashing a stack of cash and we learned that Ralph Rottingrape had a criminal background. Meanwhile, Papa Vito (me), wasn’t getting props for the success of the winery. Nothing to do but enjoy more wine.

Our main course was prime rib, with new potatoes and green beans. This hearty wine was paired with two cabernets: Steele 2011 Red Hills Cabernet Sauvignon and the Guenoc 2012 Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon. This was beyond a “win-win” situation. I’ll call it a win-win-win situation. Both wines are food friendly and have soft tannins. The Steele has a sprinkling of spice while the Guenoc has a rich black cherry flavor that won over our crowd of diners.

Things started to get a bit crazy as we tried to solve the murder. Turns out Papa Vito is an expert with the ring knife, Marilyn Merlot is an expert knife-thrower and Tiny Bubbles has a half-dozen or so previous husbands who have all died mysteriously.

We headed back to the dining room to have dessert and solve the crime. We enjoyed a great crème brulee with a delightful Steele 2006 Sangiacomo Vineyard Late Harvest Chardonnay. This has 15% residual sugar, so it is very sweet, but still less than ice wine or other dessert wines. The amber colored wine has opulent flavors of honey.

A favorite Steele wine was also served, the 2007 Syrah Port-style wine from Lake County. (I call it Port-style, because it is not from Portugal.) This is a dark and rich wine with flavors of raisins and coffee – just perfect for the evening ending glass.

Who committed the murder? Everyone had a motive and the opportunity. That extra time I was in the wine cellar was to install a left-handed doorknob – not to hide a body. After all, Papa Vito is more than 80 years old, I certainly couldn’t have killed Barry Underwood… Or could I?

Thanks to our cast of players and to Gail and Larry Nader for a deliciously suspenseful evening.

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