Many of us know Greg Neville as the talented executive chef and owner of LugÃ¤no, The Loggia, Radda, and his recently opened Pine restaurant. We know the guy can cook and run a fine restaurant. But I didn’t know Neville is also a top-rate wine aficionado. At a recent media dinner held at Pine to showcase new menu items from both Pine and LugÃ¤no, I had a chance to sip a glass or two with Neville and to learn more about the ever-expanding wine program at his restaurants.
The wine pairings at the dinner itself illustrated the diversity of Neville’s wine lists. Hors d’ouevres of smoked salmon blinis, seared ahi with wasabi aioli, shrimp and salmon mousse-filled wontons and duxelle-stuffed rosemary profiteroles were served with a delightful Coppola “Sofia” Blanc de Blanc ($15.95) California sparkling wine and attention-getting L’Ecole 41 Semillon ($14.15) from Walla Walla, Wash. This Semillon is rich in fruit, almost intense, with a spiciness that played with Pine’s finger foods nicely.
Pine and LugÃ¤no managers Bill King, Vanessa Bresnan and Brig Beitler are all very wine savvy as well and assist both Neville and his customers in choosing great wines to accompany great dishes. Among them was, for me, the biggest surprise of the night: Cline Mourvedre Ancient Vines 2003 from Contra Costa County in California. This value-laden wine (a steal at $14.95) is made from Cline Vineyard’s oldest vines (some from the latter 1800s, I was told). It’s luscious right now but easily has enough backbone to age more than 10 years. Cline’s earthy Mourvedre is brimming with dark chocolate and plum flavors and spiked with hints of eucalyptus. It was as good with a dessert of chocolate/mocha crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e from pastry chef Amber Billingsley as it was with its intended mate: smoked organic pork loin with blue cheese-and-bacon mashed spuds.
What do you pour when you’re serving vitello tonnato with shaved raw asparagus and seared sea scallops with blood orange salad? Well, Abazzia di Novacella Alto Adige Kerner 2004 ($18.95), of course. This wonderful white wine from Trentino Alto Adige on Italy’s northeastern border with Austria is made with Kerner grapes, which are a German fusion of Riesling and Trollinger. It has wonderful acidity, an irresistible fruit-filled bouquet and is terrific with Neville’s veal. I’m really looking forward to test-driving it with a basic roasted chicken, which should bring out the Kerner’s flavors even more.
Neville’s love for wine has culminated in a series of special regional wine dinners hosted at Pine and LugÃ¤no with invited guests like Paolo Damiliano and Pete Seghesio, as well as representatives from Rodney Strong, Dry Creek, Chateau St. Jean, Pine Ridge, BV, and Flora Springs, just to name a few. The best way to get the entire lowdown on wines and wine events at Greg Neville’s restaurants is on the Web at PineRestaurant.com and LuganoRestaurant.com where you can also sign up to receive informative newsletters.
SIPS: On Wednesday, April 5, at 6 p.m., Pine is hosting its first Regional American Dinner Series event. Pete Seghesio of Sonoma’s Seghesio Vineyards will feature Seghesio’s 2005 Pinot Grigio (just bottled last week), 2004 Sangiovese, 2004 Barbera, 2004 Sonoma Zinfandel, 2003 Sonoma Old Vines Zinfandel (rated 70 on this year’s Wine Spectator top 100) and 2003 Cortina Vineyards Zinfandel. The five-course dinner costs $45 per person (tax and gratuity not included). Optional wine pairings are an additional $35 per person. Pine is located at 4760 S. 900 East. For reservations or information, call 288-2211.