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For the love of wine: Island tasting

I recently traveled to the Virgin Islands to help my best friend deal with some serious problems with his home caused by the 2017 hurricane.

My first assignment: finding a restaurant near Logan Airport in Boston. I did my research and selected Mario’s Ristorante, advertised as the “Closest thing to Mamma’s Cooking.” Mario’s was just what we were looking for, a small family style neighborhood Italian restaurant. The food was very good and we found a very nice bottle of wine to enjoy with our pasta: 2012 Ruffino Chianti Classico Reserve Ducale Oro, around $40. This is an excellent Chianti that displays plenty of dark fruit and a hint of chocolate. Should be available in Buffalo.

Once we arrived in St. Croix, I assumed duties to assess the issues. It seemed that the electric was the main problem, and we got Jimmy, the electrician, on the case. My second responsibility was to select the wine we should drink (which definitely offset the first responsibility). I chose a wine from Orin Swift: 2016 Machete Petite Sirah, around $60. This is an awesome wine with gobs of dark fruit and a wonderful finish. Winemaker Orin Swift is not only great at this craft, but is also a marketing genius. He was the original owner of The Prisoner wine, beloved by many. Any wines by Orin Smith are worth hunting down.

We needed to keep our strength up for all the hard work, so we planned several dinners. One place worth mentioning is Balter in Christiansted. We invited our good friend and wine distributor Byran Gregory to have dinner with us and choose the wine. He may be the most knowledgeable wine person in the Virgin Islands.

2013 Tignanello from Antinori Tuscan blend
Around $100

This is one of the great Italian wines from Tuscany. For a special occasion it would be hard to beat. The wine is intense, with dark berries and a smokiness that are only part of the flavor experience. A wonderful food wine, it’s meant to be enjoyed with rich pasta or a steak. Wine snobs may not pair it with fish, but I liked it just fine with my Wahoo, a local fish I enjoyed five out of six nights we were in St. Croix.

Another restaurant with good Wahoo was 17/64 Kitchen and Bar. The fish was unbelievable and served over a fantastic beet risotto. We brought a bottle of Machete, but actually found it on their wine list, so ordered it instead. (It’s a no-no to bring wine that’s on a restaurant’s list.)

At Rum Runners, the next night, we brought a bottle of Shafer One Point Five 2015 from Napa Valley. I have been drinking Shafer wines for 30 years and they are always good. In fact, my top 10 list includes a Shafer 2001 Hillside Select. The One Point Five, a Cabernet, is drinking well and features plentiful dark fruit, beautiful color and a very nice finish.

One restaurant that sustained significant damage in last year’s hurricane is Duggan’s. I don’t know how, but they managed to fully rebuild a major part of the restaurant with one exception; they installed round windows that make you feel you are on a boat in the Caribbean. There we enjoyed a 2015 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, a great restaurant wine that is drinkable early or for up to 10 years. It went just fine with Mahi Mahi.

Finally, we stopped at The Deep End for lunch, a great place for a burger and a tropical drink. The Deep End will always hold a special place for us—we had a very memorable evening there about ten years ago. Although I can’t go into details about what “memorable” means!

Home sweet home

Back in Buffalo, we recently enjoyed a few meals at Bobby J’s Italian American Grille in Cheektowaga, our new go-to Italian restaurant since Linguine’s closed. It so happens that the owners are the brothers of Vinny Desiderio, who owned Linguine’s. (Recommended: The veal, and the beans and greens—when available—although everything is of high quality.)

One night we met good friends for dinner there. I brought a bottle of 2015 Leonetti Cabernet and they brought 2015 Figgins Cabernet to share. We didn’t plan it this way, but both wines come from the Figgins Family in Washington State. You might be able to taste a subtle difference, but both are some of the best Cabernets from the Northwest.

Also in Buffalo, we enjoyed dinner with our very good friend Dottie at San Marco, one of our favorite spots for more than 20 years, and site of many of our most important and memorable moments—including a celebration the night before we left for China to adopt our baby daughter, Waverly. San Marco never disappoints.

I brought a bottle of 2015 K Syrah The Cattle King from Charles Smith, Washington State. Check out stores locally for this wine—it’s close to perfection. In fact, it might be the perfect wine. I shared a little with Frank Grimaldi, owner of San Marco, and he loved it too. I happened to look toward the door and our good friends Rebecca and Peter walked in. Peter had brought a bottle of 2012 Palhmeyer Cabernet. We swapped tastes and their wine was excellent, too—and another worth finding. What a great evening.

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