Wine Not Take a Taste?

RIVERBANK -- The wait was worthwhile to the gastronomically curious mingling in line outside a tasting tent the size of a church Saturday at the 31st annual Riverbank Cheese and Wine Exposition.

There was something everywhere to seduce the taste buds into wanting more. To the left, a variety of freshly made ravioli. To the right, platters stacked with hunks of Fiscalini Cheese Co.'s Purple Moon and San Joaquin Gold.

Servers toted trays of other cheese makers' cheddar, gouda, creamy spreads and crackers, and even sweet fried cheese cake. In one hand, tasters balanced plates and cobalt blue glasses filled with assorted wines as they reached for mounds of grapes and other hors d'oeuvres with the other hand.

By the time the expo ends today, about 1,250 gallons of wine and more than a ton of food will be consumed or bought, according to Chris Elswick, event chairwoman. The tasting is so popular, some sessions were sold out hours before they began.

"I think we're onto something extremely successful here," Elswick said.

The Riverbank Cheese and Wine Expo has become a traditional way to welcome the autumn season in the valley.

The Rotary Club took over the event last year from the Chamber of Commerce after it disbanded. A new chamber has since formed, but its members are not interested in organizing the time- consuming event.

In addition to a new host, other things are changing at the expo. The price of wine tasting increased this year by $10. Some who attended were surprised by the $35 entry fee for an hour of tasting. Those who bought tickets ahead of time paid $30.

"It's steep for what you get," said Frank Downs, 52, of Sacramento. "But after driving all the way here, I wanted to taste some wine."

Elswick said the wine-tasting tent includes more food than ever, such as ravioli by De Vinci's Deli & Catering.

The price is higher, but so is the quality, said Jill Montavon, 27, of Modesto, who said she has been attending the event since she turned 21.

"There is more selection. And it's better outside in the tent. It used to be in the community center. It was always crowded. They can fit more wineries out here," she said of the tent's location beside the Riverbank Community Center, which now houses cheese tasting and food demonstrations.

Bill McFadyen, 33, of Modesto said he isn't much of a wine drinker, but he's learning. Barefoot Cellars gave him a brief education on how to swirl, sniff, sip, slosh and, if you like, spit.

"This is good if you are looking for a wine that's right for you," he said. "Maybe I'll find something I'll want to buy later."

The expo continues today along Sante Fe Street in downtown Riverbank. It will start at

10 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. There will be three tasting sessions today, at noon, 1:30 and 3 p.m.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at ehightower@modbee.com or 578-2382.