Wine gems at Café Fiore

What makes a restaurant a wine lover’s destination? It usually starts with an owner who has a passion for wine and a willingness to commit the time — often decades — and money to create an exceptional cellar. At Café Fiore Ristorante Italiano, owner Nick Ashmore has committed to both and created a cellar of more than 300 hand-picked wines.

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Classic Cab | Courtesy Cafe Fiore

A highlight of the list is a section of rare gems that go back to 1994, with an emphasis on exceptional vintages, such as the aforementioned 1994, 1996 and 1997, featuring classic California Cabernets from Opus One Winery, Heitz Wine Cellars, Silver Oak Cellars and more. There are also creative and engaging sections, such as the four families of sparking wine where Ashmore describes his perception of body, heart, spirit and soul as they relate to specific Sparklers. There are many half bottles and, of course, great Italians, including several reds from the epic 2010 vintage. As a bonus, the by-the-glass wines are poured at a generous 8 ounces per glass.

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“A highlight of the list is a section of rare gemsthat go back to 1994,
with an emphasis on exceptional vintages.”

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With such an inspiring wine selection and with Café Fiore’s longstanding reputation for top-notch Italian fare, we were ready to let the matches begin.

We started with the N.V. Canella Brut Rose, a 100 percent Pinot Nero sparkling wine from the mountains of northeast Italy. It combines the spirited red fruit flavors of cool climate Pinot with a biscuity richness from extended aging. Spinach salad with walnuts, chopped egg and warm bacon dressing was a worthy foil, displaying sweet bacon richness balanced by the greens.

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Linguine alla Toscana | Courtesy Cafe Fiore

Our next dish, Linguine Alla Toscana with chicken, Italian sausage, onions, red and yellow bell peppers, in a sherry sauce, was spicy, complex and assertive. Stepping up to dance was the Corino Barbera d’Alba with excellent tannin/acid structure to frame a dry cherry-berry palate and mineral streak that played off and with the food flavors.

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White chocolate ice cream with fresh berries. | Courtesy Cafe Fiore

Staying with classic Italians, we ordered the Pollo Al Pomodoro, a seared chicken breast with pancetta, tomatoes and Italian herbs, and Bistecca Alla Fiorentina, filet medallions sautéed with garlic, roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, basil, marinara and white wine. Reasoning that two big, bold dishes deserved two big, bold wines, we played match with glasses of the Nardi Rosso di Montalcino and Santa Cristina Chianti Superiore, both Sangiovese-based wines with textbook Tuscan red profiles of earth, tobacco, dark cherries and bright tannins and acidity. Yes, big and bold squared.

For dessert, we selected the Heibel Ranch Vineyards Etzio made from organic Zinfandel grapes grown in the heart of Pope Valley in eastern Napa, along with the white chocolate ice cream with fresh berries in a pool of crème fresh. These course mates echoed vanilla, chocolate and berries note for note. Bellisimo.

Café Fiore is at 1169 Ski Run Blvd. in South Lake Tahoe. For more information or to make reservations, call (530) 541-2908 or visit cafefirore.com.

Lou Phillips is a Level 3 Advanced Sommelier and his consulting business wineprowest.com assists in the selling, buying and managing wine collections. He may be reached at (775) 544-3435 or lou@wineprowest.com. Visit TheTahoeWeekly.com for more wine columns.