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Sikes: Ariccia created a memorable evening at its Soter Wine Dinner

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Recently, we had the pleasure of attending a dinner featuring wines from Soter Vineyards. Hosting was A.T. – Ariccia Trattoria at the AU Hotel. A.T. is a quality restaurant and deserves your attention.

The private dining room was a beautiful choice for this dinner. The tables were attractively set and waiting the guests. Servers had wine for us as we arrived. Starting out and all through the evening, the quality of service was outstanding. Team was on its “A” game as was the kitchen.

Our first wine was the 2013 Soter Vineyards North Valley Chardonnay. This one had medium body and color that proved quite nice. Touches of apple, papaya and lime give this wine variety and interest. It’s pleasantly dry and a good food companion.

Before the dinner, we heard from Andrew Bandy-Smith, associate winemaker at Soter Vineyards. He is a really interesting character. I enjoyed talking with him during the dinner. We have a mutual friend in the Willamette Valley. Before each course, he discussed the particular wine we were having and shared info with us. The best descriptor I have for Andrew is passion. He also had the best beard in the room.

Our first course was mushroom soup. This essence of earth was thick and silky yet light at the same time. There were kernels of roasted corn that provided little flavor pops and a change in texture. The clever touch was the addition of slices of crispy quail in the center.

We continued to enjoy the first wine with the soup. These two proved to be just right together.

The next course was billed as beet salad. True, but there was more. Red and golden beets with frisée dressed with a preserved lemon vinaigrette was the salad component. These were tender and mild.

The real main part was a giant butter-poached prawn. It was sweet and succulent. The central shell had been removed with the tail and head left intact. I sneaked a couple of pieces of the smaller meat by the tail and swirled them inside the head for a true rich taste of the sea.

Soter’s 2011 Reserve Chardonnay was poured with this course. The nose was amazing. This one was like a rich, aged Chablis with a long finish. A real treat.

As with each course, Chef Paul Diaz came out to give us a brief review of what was to come. He had gone to great lengths to match his dishes with the Soter wines.

Roasted pork belly was the main ingredient of the third course. It was not fatty at all. It had a dominant crispness. A layer of sweet potatoes were the base and shaved Parmesan with the pork on top. Roasted hazelnuts garnished the dish. This was an excellent combination and likely my favorite of the dinner.

For a wine, we switched to Oregon’s flagship grape — Pinot Noir. This time it was Soter Vineyard’s 2014 North Valley Pinot. Plums, spice and black cherries hit you. This is not another cherry-berry Pinot. It has medium body and balanced tannins that were right at home with the pork.

Now it was time for beef. It came as braised short ribs. The serving had the tender resistance you expect with an unctuous depth that filled the mouth with joy. With it was a perfect celery root purée. They were topped with a walnut brown butter and a delicate garnish.

The wine was a homerun. It was the 2012 North Valley Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir from Soter Vineyards. Gosh it was good. It was a beautiful red-purple that coated the glass. The nose never ended. Cherries and chocolate hit me with loads of other tastes to follow. A long balanced finish marked with a subtle sweetness made for a great experience.

OK, this combination was spot on. Smiles and clean plates all around.

For dessert, we had a nice combination. Why settle for just one? Drunken pears partially enrobed in deep chocolate were the center of attention. We also had a generous slice of olive oil cake. To add to the mix, in came a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

What a combination. The tastes, temperatures and textures made for fun and an appropriate end to a great meal. Coffee was served to those wanting it. I opted for an extra squeeze on the reserve Pinot.

The Soter Vineyards dinner was a memorable evening marked by fine food, wine and table companions. A.T. performed beautifully with precision execution.

John Mark Davis from Pinnacle Imports tells me these wines are available on special order from Cigar and Fine Spirits. Better still they are now a part in the wine list at A.T.

The next special wine dinner at A.T. will feature wines from Schug Carneros Estate Winery on Monday, April 24. I know I plan to be there.

Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident, a food, wine and restaurant consultant, and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News.


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