Long rows of tables covered in crisp white tablecloths were centered in the barrel room at Cougar Vineyard & Winery as people milled about with their partially drained wineglasses in hand. It almost felt like something from a movie as the excitement of eager attendees buzzed through the air at the winery’s annual Cougar Meets Italy event.
It was exactly the feeling owners Rick and Jennifer Buffington were hoping for at their second annual event which puts their wines to the test against their Italian counterparts. The tasting, held Jan. 26, is based off the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock,” the true story of the now infamous, blind Paris wine tasting of 1976 known as the “Judgement of Paris.”
Attendees at the two-day event were treated to a viewing of the movie, starring the late Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman and Chris Pine, on Wednesday.
“The movie sets the tone for the entire event,” Jennifer Buffington said. “It’s just a lot of fun to come out to the winery, enjoy some great food and a glass or two of one of our award-winning wines.”
The movie tells the story of how sommelier and wine shop owner Steve Spurrier, played by Rickman, comes up with the idea of holding a blind taste test, pitting California wines against their French counterparts. He travels to the not-yet famous Napa Valley in search of contestants for his “Judgement in Paris” taste test. Through an assortment of chance encounters, he eventually decides on a variety of wines, including a chardonnay from Chateau Montelena. Without giving away too much of the plot, the eight world-renowned Parisian judges end up picking not just the chardonnay from Chateau Montelena but also Stags’ Leap cabernet sauvignon, also from California, as winners.
Fast forward to 2017, move the setting to the De Portola Wine Trail’s Cougar Vineyard & Winery, change the French wines to Italian and the stage is set for Cougar Meets Italy.
The crowd of 75 sat and judged the wines placed before them for the people’s choice award as the four professional judges swirled, sniffed and spat out their samples, evaluating every aspect of the 12 wines served up in the double-blind tasting.
Wines were judged on everything from bouquet to the taste, including balance and complexity. Rick Cook, a wine blogger and wine judge with 25 years experience in all facets of wine judging; Marilyn Sherman, a winemaker at Flying Wine Cellars, wine judge and member of the weekly California Grapevine Tasting Panel; Dr. John Piconi, a winemaker and winery owner at the John Piconi Family Winery and Pete Anderson, a winemaker and Italian wine and grape expert working out of Witch Creek Winery in Carlsbad, sat at the head table passing their judgement on the wines placed before them.
The wines to be judged included four varietals, vermentino, sangiovese, primitivo (or zinfandel) and barbera.
Each wine varietal was put to the test against two of its Italian counterparts, as the tasters expertly applied their knowledge to the wines smoothly rolling across their tongues.
While Cougar wines didn’t fare as well in the other three categories, placing third in each; they took home top honors for the people’s choice for their barbera varietal.
The Buffingtons were happy with the outcome of the event, vowing to do better in the 2018 competition with their reds.
“It’s always the reds that get us,” Jennifer Buffington said, adding that in 2016, the winery’s popular Falanghina won against its Italian counterparts.
A catered dinner by Francesca’s Italian Kitchen was included at the event.
The delightful antipasto misto with Italian cold cuts, an Italian cheese mix and eggplant with marinara was followed by a mouth-watering pear and gorgonzola salad made with crisp romaine lettuce, arugula, walnuts and thinly sliced pears topped with white balsamic vinaigrette. The starters were just enough to leave attendees wanting more. Francesca’s Head Chef and owner Alessio Di Sabatino did not disappoint.
The main course consisted of Chicken Mamma-Mia, a succulent, tender chicken breast sautéed with mushrooms and a creamy Marsala sauce paired with fresh seasonal vegetables sautéed with garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper. Dessert was a delectable Tiramisu and cannoli dish complete with lady fingers mascarpone cheese, espresso, cocoa topped with a small cannoli stuffed with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips.
All four courses were paired with one of Cougar’s delicious wines.
Named one of the best wineries to visit in Temecula Valley Wine Country by FoodandWine.com, Cougar Vineyard & Winery is conveniently located on the De Portola Wine Trail at 39870 De Portola Road in Temecula. The winery’s tasting room hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Fridays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (951) 491-0825 or visit them online at www.cougarvineyards.com.
For more information on Francesca’s Italian Kitchen, visit http://francescas-italian-kitchen.weebly.com.