If you have littles, you know how hard it can be to make plans ahead of time.   The best laid plans are easily derailed by a runny nose or a meltdown brought on by a missed nap.  My good friends understand this, so we are all fans of the last-minute plans.  One example, that is quickly becoming a tradition with my sweet neighbor, is the last-minute potluck. The conversation usually begins like this. “I need to get out of my house.  What are your plans for dinner?”  And it usually ends with, “I’ll be over in 30 minutes.” 

Now, if asked to describe my ideal evening, it would be good food, good wine, good friends, on a good porch.  We had all of those last night.  We must have been on the same wavelength because we were both planning on Portobellos for entrees and a tomato salad.  Our combined effort became a delightful Italian feast, alfresco. Our spread included:

Grilled Portobellos marinated with balsamic, olive oil, and herbs

Sautéed Portobellos with fresh mozzarella

Tomato Basil Salad

Tomato, Cucumber, and Olive Salad

Roasted Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes

Grilled Ciabatta with Goat Cheese and Grilled Red Pepper

Arugula Salad with Parmesan and Lemon

We paired the meal with a  2007 Wellington Meeks Hilltop Zinfandel.  Gorgeous berries and just enough spice.  Black pepper and licorice.  Intense fruit and soft, smooth finish.  Super yum.  A good rule of thumb when pairing food and wine is to match regions.  Cheese from the Loire Valley?  Open a Vouvray or Cab Franc.  Paella on the menu? Rioja or Granacha should work. Central Italian fare?  Primitivo, Zin, or Sangiovese if you are looking for a red.  Of course, this isn’t a “rule,” just a starting point.  As your palate develops, you will know just what you want, which may or may not be a regional match.

I love a good Merlot with good chocolate and that is exactly how we ended our evening.  After a rousing game of flashlight tag, complete with an Opossum sighting, we opened a 2007 Pellegrini Cloverdale Ranch Merlot to have with a bar of Patric 70% Dark Chocolate.  The wine brought out the berry in the chocolate; the chocolate enhanced similar notes in the wine.  A perfect pairing and a perfect way to end my favorite kind of evening.