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Wine & Dine 

A bounty of local wine dinners in May.

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I’ve noticed a trend in wine dinners lately. They seem to be getting more fun and less pretentious. There was a time when, at wine dinners, I often felt like a hostage as some egomaniacal winemaker sermonized about malolactic fermentation and optimum brix levels—which is nearly as inhumane as waterboarding. But, increasingly, wine folks are lightening up. Dinners are less formal, and they’re shorter and less expensive. This month boasts an unusual bevy of appealing wine dinners along the Wasatch. Here are a few of note.

It’s a coup for Utah that Slovenian wine producer Marjan Simcic of Simcic Winery is spending three nights here in May and hosting three wine dinners, along with Marco Stevanoni of Vitalia Imports, who represents Simcic’s wines locally. Simcic’s vineyards straddle the Italy/Slovenia border, with half being in Italy and half in Slovenia, about 90 minutes from Venice by car. The fifth-generation winemaker is one of the hottest wine producers in Europe, and his wines are stunning. Although he’s known mostly for whites, one wine critic called Simcic Pinot Noir Selekcija “the best red wine of the Old World.” Among the Simcic wines available at certain local restaurants are Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Ribolla, Teodor Bianco and Sauvignonasse (the latter a new designation for what used to be known as Furlanski Tokai). All of Simcic’s wines are organic—the grapes untouched by anything much more than water and sun.

The Simcic tour will kick off on Sunday, May 15, with a five-course wine dinner at Fratelli Ristorante in Sandy, followed by a Park City tasting with appetizers on Monday at Silver and winding up in Ogden on Tuesday, May 17, for another wine dinner, this one at Zucca Trattoria. At press time, details of the dinners and tasting weren’t set yet, so call the individual restaurants for further information and pricing.

On Thursday, May 19, Lugano Restaurant will be the scene for “An Evening in Puglia” with special guest Paolo Cantele, proprietor of Cantele Winery. Cantele was started by Paolo’s grandparents in the 1950s in Salento, the “land of the sun.” The wines from Cantele range from Chardonnay and Fiano to Aglianico, Negroamaro and Primitivo. The Lugano-Cantele dinner will feature a six-course tasting menu for $59 per person, with an optional wine pairing priced at $39 per person.

Also on Thursday, May 19 (dueling wine dinners), is an event at Silver Fork Lodge in Big Cottonwood Canyon, featuring Morgan Winery and guest Chris O’Hearn of Young’s Market Company, which represents Morgan in Utah. I mentioned earlier that wine dinners are becoming more fun and less snobby, and a perfect example is this dinner at Silver Fork Lodge. Thanks in large part to lodge owner Dan Knopp’s gregarious personality, wine dinners there are fun, family-style events where bread is broken and wine is consumed, but enological egos are parked at the door. Table-hopping is encouraged, and prices are kept so low that, for the price of a bottle or two of mid-range wine, you can enjoy a full dinner and wine.

Morgan is a leader in fine wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands and Monterey Vineyards of California. Knopp hadn’t finalized the menu for the five-course Morgan wine dinner yet, but wine pairings will include Morgan Sauvignon Blanc ’09, Highland Chardonnay ’08, Cotes du Crow’s ’08, 12 Clones Pinot Noir ’08 and Syrah ’07. The dinner with wine pairings is $50 per person, and for those not wishing to partake of wine, the dinner can be purchased separately for $25.

May is shaping up to be a great month to eat, drink and be merry!
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