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Five Divine Late Winter Wines

By AML Publisher
Photos courtesy of Kevin E. McPherson

“Wine is all about weather.  There are so many influences in regards to the climate that play an integral, fascinating part in the creation of wine.  It’s a gift of mother nature and infinitely interesting,” explained Monosoff.

“Wine is all about weather. There are so many influences in regards to the climate that play an integral, fascinating part in the creation of wine. It’s a gift of mother nature and infinitely interesting,” explained Monosoff.

Savona sommelier Melissa Monosoff knows her wine—and then some. The former Maia beverage director and graduate of The Culinary Institute of America is considered one of the Philadelphia region’s most distinguished sommeliers. Monosoff started her prestigious career at the Striped Bass in Philadelphia fresh out of culinary school, parlaying her original stint working in the back of the kitchen into a role as the Bass’ sommelier. Monosoff’s experience also includes a three-and-a-half year reign as the beverage director and sommelier at the Fountain Restaurant at the Four Seasons downtown. In 2004, Wine & Spirits Magazine named Monosoff one of America’s “Best Young Sommeliers.” After a sabbatical in which Monosoff taught at The French Culinary Institute, she returned to the Main Line a year and a half ago and now presides over one of the area’s most prestigious fine dining experiences, Savona Restaurant in Gulph Mills.

Monosoff fell in love with wine at CIA during her first wine class. “I was a biology major in college and there is a lot of similar intellectual complexities to wine. Studying about the regions and grapes was fascinating to me, the history of the regions, the sociology and even the weather patterns and geology. Wine is an infinitely interesting subject to explore,” said Monosoff. Weather has a great impact on a region’s wine, Monosoff explained, and climate is the determining factor in developing a certain type of wine. From altitude to mountain ranges, to the position of the sun and proximity of a vineyard to the ocean, all of mother nature’s factors come into play. “It’s gifts of mother nature that give these regions across the globe their ability to produce the finest wines in the world. Sometimes with all these factors in play, it comes down to happenstance, sometimes it’s mother nature, sometimes it’s the will of the people, history and longevity—or a combination of all of the above—that offer an opportunity to produce a fantastic wine.”

Monosoff’s Friday night wine classes at Savona have gained a cult following among Main Liners looking for an affordable and educational way to spend an evening. AroundMainLine.com so thoroughly enjoyed our recent experience at a Friday night class, we decided it was worthwhile to share Monosoff’s passion and knowledge with our audience. Here are five fabulous late winter wines chosen specifically for AML, courtesy of sommelier Monosoff.

AML Publisher

1) Pinot Noir
Madonna Estate, 2006

Pinot Noir<br>Madonna Estate, 2006<br>Winter wines should be, for the most part, red because the stews, game dishes and heartier profiles of cold-weather dishes lend themselves to wines higher in tannin.

Pinot Noir
Madonna Estate, 2006
Winter wines should be, for the most part, red because the stews, game dishes and heartier profiles of cold-weather dishes lend themselves to wines higher in tannin.

The hearty, rich foods of winter lend themselves to red wines as Monosoff explained. “Pot roast, osso buco, lamb, stews—these are the foods we look to in the winter months for warmth and comfort so there are certain wines that pair best with them. Namely, a winter wine is most likely, but not always, red,” said Monosoff. And pinot noirs, like the Madonna Estate 2006 from Napa Valley that Monosoff selected, are very versatile with food and are nicely paired with grilled salmon, roasted chicken, and various seafood dishes. This pinot noir is “truly a white wine in sheep’s clothing” as Monosoff explained, as it’s a bit lower in tannin so it does not have as much of a drying out capability as other red wines. “I like this wine a lot; I enjoy its versatility and its spicy character, its fruit character and its cherry flavor. I find some strawberry and cranberry and it’s medium to medium-plus in body. This is most definitely the red wine you can have with white meat. There are plenty of applications of red wine with shrimp and scallops, so toss out the old thinking that fish and white meat need to be paired with white wine. That’s simply not true,” Monosoff explained.

2) Cabernet Sauvignon
Chateau Chabiran, 2005

Chateau Chabiran<br>Bordeaux, 2005

Chateau Chabiran
Bordeaux, 2005

You should always sniff a wine before tasting to ensure the wine is fresh. “Your nose will tell you if something is off with the wine you are about to drink, so you really have to take the first step each time in smelling a wine before you taste it. There are many factors that can contribute to a wine going bad, from a faulty cork to a cork being infected with a bacteria or heat damage. From the time a wine leaves a winery to when it gets to us, certainly things can happen. But, hands down your nose will tell you. If a wine smells dank, it’s obvious,” explained Monosoff.

There is a lot of value to be found in our local state stores, Monosoff said. And the second selection of a cabernet sauvignon 2005 is the perfect winter wine. “What I love about Bordeaux is its earthy intensity; the tannins are a little richer. This wine is ideal with game like a lamb stew; we serve loin of elk here at Savona. For those who have not had elk, it’s a gamier version of filet mignon and usually those who enjoy venison like elk. This is a great, moderately priced Bordeaux,” said Monosoff.

3) Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
Beau Vigne, 2005

The third winter wine Monosoff recommends is another cabernet sauvignon from California. “Obviously since California has a warm climate, their wines are juicier, bigger and more intense. The grapes are riper, there is more sugar and tannin so higher alcohol in these wines.” The longer a wine stays in contact with the skins, stems and seeds of a grape, the more tannin (considered an astringent) it contains. Beef, lamb, flank steak and rib-eye are ideal with the Beau Vigne known as ‘Juliet.’ “I think a good winter wine should be red, not always but usually, because they have a richer, fuller profile on the palette. But, also, there is a warming sensation as a factor. Warmer entails what you are eating as well, soups and hearty meats lend themselves to red wines for a proper pairing,” explained Monosoff.

4) Brunello di Montalcino
Podere Brizio, 2000

Brunello di Montalcino is an Italian wine produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino, located about 70 miles southwest of Florence in the Tuscany wine region. Sommelier Monosoff is a big, Italian wine buff and feels this choice is an intellectual wine with many complexities. “You can taste the vanilla and cedar. There is much to think about here and this is ‘big’ in the realm of European wines–this is a wine that is meant to be served with a specific type of food. Venison stew and rabbit is ideal here, boar with pappardelle or with truffles,” suggested Monosoff.

European wines are meant to be paired with food and not be served alone. When you have food with these types of wine, it’s best to have foods higher in fat (cheeses and meats) to work with the red wine, according to Monosoff. “Think of the wine as a wrinkly shirt and you are using the food to iron out all the ‘wrinkles.’ The European wines, especially those wines higher in tannin, wipe away the fat in cheese and meat and, in turn, the fat in meat cuts away that tannin. That is why wine and cheese go so well together.”

5) Port
Taylor Fladgate 30

A port, sweet dessert wine is a classic way to end a winter meal. Monosoff recommends Taylor Fladgate 30 which offers smooth, butterscotch and caramel flavors and “behaves almost like a cognac as far as its effect on your palette,” said Monosoff. “This is great wine–tawny ports have a kick and will warm you up, and this is perfectly paired with blue cheese, especially stilton, which is a classic pairing.” Monosoff explained bold foods should be paired with bold wines. “Cheese is very salty which many people don’t realize. When you boil it down it is, basically, fat and salt so your palette recognizes the saltiest and it counteracts the acidity in a red wine. So, this acidity is placated by saltiness in food. Fat in cheese works well with a wine that has a great deal of tannin. The key lesson I want everyone to take away is to understand how the elements of your winter food work with the wine you are serving. Once you are in tune with your individual senses and palette, you will understand and appreciate the complexities of what wine has to offer.”

Savona’s new late winter dinner menu includes an enticing entrée of Berkshire Pork.  It features a six-herb rolled pork tenderloin, Tuscan kale, polenta cake and violet mustard.

Savona’s new late winter dinner menu includes an enticing entrée of Berkshire Pork. It features a six-herb rolled pork tenderloin, Tuscan kale, polenta cake and violet mustard.

Every Friday at 5:30pm, Savona sommelier Melissa Monosoff offers a special wine class in the Savona downstairs dining room and wine cellar. For $25, each participant enjoys six wines, hors d’ouevre and great conversation. Monosoff’s class includes a tasting with a compelling education of a group of regional wines, types of food pairings and fascinating historical lessons of the world’s rich wine culture. To make reservations or inquire about a class and availability, contact Savona directly.

Upcoming Savona Wine Classes
Classes fill up fast so please call Savona to make reservations.

March 13 – Champagne & World Sparkling Wines ($35 per guest) – SOLD OUT
So what is all the hype about? People talk about how great Champagne is but really what are the differences? Learn the history of the area, how to open a bottle properly and correctly read a label. Taste some big names and compare them to the lesser known areas around Europe and the USA.

March 20 – South America – Chile and Argentina
South American wines are one of the top imports into the United States and each year becomes more and more popular. Discover the interesting varieties and styles from Chile like Carmeniere and Malbec as well as Torrontes from Argentina.

March 27 – Undiscovered California
Everyone knows Napa and Sonoma. Explore regions and grapes to the north of Mendocino County for sparkling wines and to the South in Paso Robles for Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon and then even further South in Santa Barbara for top end Pinot Noir.

Savona Restaurant is located at 100 Gulph Road, Gulph Mills, PA 19428 www.savonarestaurant.com. For reservations, contact: 610-520-1200 or email savona@savonarestaurant.com.

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