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Bacchus Smiles on Our Shore


LONGBOAT KEY – On Saturday, The Resort at the Longboat Key Club hosted its third annual Bacchus on the Beach food and wine festival. A seaside showcase of the finest wines in the world, expertly paired with the resort's incomparable cuisine, the event was nothing short of magnificent.

The weekend began with a series of vintner dinners on Friday evening. I attended the Italian American Club dinner at Portofino Ristorante, an impeccable, seven-course, Florida-inspired Italian meal paired with wines by Il Molino di Grace and Castello Banfi, both of which are Tuscan vineyards owned by American families.

Tim Grace of Il Molino di Grace

Needless to say, such a splendid affair can make it difficult for any one thing to stand out, though that's precisely what Il Molino di Grace's Chianti Classico did. Tim Grace, whose parents moved from Steubenville, OH to Italy to learn the art of wine-making when he was just a child, said that the foremost concern for their Chiantis is an authentic representation of the region.

A small vineyard located just south of Panzano, in the heart of Tuscany’s prestigious Chianti Classico region, the winery is named after a historic 19th century windmill located on the property near its cantina. The vineyards have been fruitful for over 350 years and produce exceptional Sangiovese, which the Graces use exclusively in four of their five wines.

Grace explained that blending Sangiovese is difficult, as other varietals easily overpower the grape. In order to capture the essence of the region, the family decided to focus on 100 percent Sangiovese Chianti. “It's important to me that someone can taste my wine and know where it comes from,” Grace said with pride.

His only exception is the Il Volano, which adds 25 percent Merlot. Grace, a genuine artisan, said that in many ways, Il Volano is the wine he is most proud of. Having set out to capture the experience of an upmarket Chianti in a value-priced table wine, that vision was realized in Il Volano, which retails for around $13 and is a perfect compliment to hearty Italian fare, especially with meats and red gravy.

Chianti aficionados won't mind paying just a few dollars more for the Chianti Classico, especially if they happen upon a 2008 - a splendid year that compares favorably with their Classico Reserva of other annums. An intense flavor from100 percent Sangiovese with notes of red berries, cherry jam and white pepper, it's a complex wine with a particularly long-lasting finish. Their upmarket, single-vineyard Gratius is the perfect splurge wine to accompany that special Italian meal.


Clouds threatened Saturday's beachfront event and as things got underway, it looked as if the skies could open. Bacchus (the Roman name for Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine) must have been smiling down on the affair, however, as the clouds mostly lifted for a breezy night of near perfect evening weather. 

On Saturday, I stuck with Cabernet Sauvignons, which seemed to be the best represented varietal, at least for reds. I was pleasantly surprised by Gina Gallo's 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet. Gina is the last living Gallo making wine, and her Gallo Signature Series would certainly make her grandfather, the legendary Julio Gallo, proud.

At 93 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7 percent Petit Verdot, the 2009 is a complex wine with intense flavors of blackberry and currant with hints of chocolate and spices. Smooth tannins suggest warm oak and create a very soft finish.

In addition to dozens of winemakers, the event also featured craft ales, the entire Macallan Scotch line-up and a handful of other spirits. West Virginia's Smooth Ambler Spirits brought their Old Scout Rye, a 99-proof, straight rye whiskey, which proved a quintessential example of this American classic that I believe to be superior to the more popular bourbons. 

They also had a barrel-aged gin that soaks in oak for three months, giving it sort of a caramelized sugar flavor behind the more citrusy notes. They market the notion that it sips like a gin, but finishes like a whiskey, which is a fair description. It can substitute for London dry gin to give just about any cocktail an interesting twist.

A gentle, cool breeze, a stone crab buffet, fine dining prepared by the resort's master culinary team and live music all made for a perfect atmosphere to enjoy the evening's offerings. The event benefited the Child Protection Center in Sarasota. CPC's mission is the prevention, intervention and treatment of child abuse.

Over 30,000 children are treated at the center annually, which serves as a safe refuge for children that are being abused, as well as a treatment center to start the healing process and an educational center for individuals and the general public.



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