It is said that the good times flow at wine dinners. After falling off dramatically in the past recession, it seems that wine dinners are quickly regaining their popularity these days.
More and more restaurants are hosting wine dinners. And why not? Wine dinners that are done properly can be, and are, great fun, educational and informative. Wine dinners, like wine tastings, are another great opportunity you should not miss out on. Remember the best way to learn about wine is to drink it. If you haven’t been to a wine dinner lately you are missing out on a lot of fun.
Speaking as a vintner and wine distributor, I am always suggesting to restaurants and customers that they put on wine dinners (of course featuring my wines). When it comes to combining wine and food, there are exciting and fascinating experiences to be explored.
So what is a wine dinner? In essence, it is a multi-course dinner (generally three or more) served with multiple wines. One of the first things you will learn is pricing is all over the board. Locally, pricing for three- to five-course wine dinners runs from $40 to $150 per person plus tax and gratuity. Pricing largely depends on the restaurant and the wines being poured. In larger markets such as Chicago, New York, London, etc. prices can run to $500 per person or more.
What’s a Wine Dinner Worth?
Recently my daughter Elizabeth and I poured the wines at a dinner hosted by Fat Cam’s restaurant at Garver Lake in Edwardsburg, Michigan. The event was a five-course dinner featuring five wines (see menu here). For an overview of the event, see local newspaper food editor and critic Marshall King’s blog post from March 8, 2013 (here). One of the items mentioned in King’s blog is the value of the dinner in comparison to the price. King pointed out that he felt the value for the $65 price tag of the dinner was “good.” He did, however compare it to other wine dinners he has attended at another local restaurant that cost less.
King’s comments on value warrant consideration. Value is an important item, but it is my belief that you cannot truly compare one wine dinner with another in an “apples to apples” way. At some dinners, as was the case at Fat Cam’s, the wine may simply cost more than the wine at other dinners. The wines poured were (as King correctly noted) not inexpensive wines. In that regard, it needs to be pointed out that all five wines were boutique wines (made in small batches by winemakers who put their heart and soul into every bottle). And three of the five wines have been rated between 85 and 91 points by professional wine rating experts. The very opportunity to experience more expensive wines (wines you would probably not spend $60-$80 a bottle on just to “try”) puts the “value” of a wine dinner in a different perspective. In the same vein, I want to be clear that I am not implying that the more expensive a wine is, the better it will taste. I do not believe this. I do believe that, in general, boutique wines have a tendency to be more labor-intensive to produce…and thus might be more expensive.
Wine dinners usually give you an opportunity to try foods that are not normally on the menu and are specially created by the chef to pair with the wines being served that evening. That chef may NEVER make those dishes again. But for one night the chef has a unique opportunity to step outside of his or her normal culinary routines.
Each of us will have to draw our own conclusions as to the perceived “value” when making a decision to attend a wine dinner. The bottom line is that with wine dinners you get the opportunity to gain more knowledge and educate yourself on wines. It affords you the opportunity to taste wines that you may not normally get to, at a price far less than if you purchased the bottle of wine. It is difficult, indeed, to measure the value of this experience. Only you can determine if the price tag affords the desired “value.”
Tiedemann’s 12 Suggestions on Wine Dinners
As I have pointed out in past posts, a little effort put forth exploring the format of the dinner, the menu, the wines being poured and the evening’s educational opportunities will reap big rewards in your enjoyment. Before you head out for an evening’s wine dinner, check out these suggestions for getting the most of the experience:
1) In today’s world of social media, most restaurants with wine programs have electronic newsletters and Facebook pages. These are great sources of information for getting the latest about upcoming wine dinners and wine events. So take a little time and get on your favorite restaurant’s mailing list. Social media-savvy people can find out well in advance about upcoming wine dinners or events on Facebook, Twitter or website event calendars like ours on this blog. It also helps to be under the age of 40 so you know how to do “this stuff.” Also, most restaurants will post the menu ahead of time on their websites so you can be aware of what they are serving and the wines they are pouring.
2) There are generally two types of wine dinners available. First there is the non-event type where you go to the restaurant and you are served a pre-determined menu and wine selections. This is similar enjoying the evening’s meal special with wine already selected for you. For an example of this, check out this link to an upcoming event at LaSalle Grill in South Bend here.
The next is the wine dinner normally held in a private room or other designated area away from the other patrons of the restaurant. The dinner comes with food, wine and education. It is normal that someone (winemaker, distributor, vintner, sommelier or chef) makes a presentation explaining the food and wine pairing. This is where you will need to set your own expectations for the evening. Are you looking for a good dinner with wine and friends, or an educational and informative experience? In either case you will have a great time. Just decide what you want your experience to be before you make your reservation. Wine dinners are perfect if for nothing else but the opportunity to experience good food and wine pairings.
3) Inquire as to who will be making the presentation on the wines. There is a big difference between a distributor’s presentation and a winemaker’s or vintner’s presentation. The distinction is whether you are paying for a winemaker’s dinner or a dinner with wine.
4) Go to the dinner with friends: the more the merrier. If you go alone or with just one other person you most likely will be seated with strangers. This could be engaging or awkward. There is no sense in spending an evening with someone you are uncomfortable with. Remember the goal is to have a pleasurable evening and enjoy good food, wines and friends.
5) Look at the menu in advance so you can evaluate the combination of food and wine to make sure it works for you.
6) Seek out restaurants where you already like the food or wineries that make wines you enjoy if you are dining at a winery. Trust your palate and the reputation of the chef or the winery that they will make the food and wine marriage work.
7) It is good to select wine dinners that have a wine focus such as Italian, French, etc. A focused wine dinner can make much more sense and give you a different take on educating yourself about food and wine from a particular area.
8) Don’t wear white or silk clothing in case of a spill or splash of wine. (I have a few shirts with spots!)
9) Experiment. Don’t miss trying all of the wines being poured. Remember to be adventurous.
10) Drink plenty of water between each wine selection. If you read my last post on wine tastings (here), you may have seen my friend, and Napa Valley wine expert, Didier Loustau’s comments confirming my opinion of the necessity of drinking water.
11) Ask questions of the wine presenters and take copies of any tasting notes provided. Take notes if you can and snap photos of the bottles on your cell phone so you can reference them later. Make sure to share your experience with friends if you have a good time.
12) If you have had too much to drink at the end of the dinner, don’t drive. Call a friend or family member to come get you. Always drink responsibly.
See you at the next wine dinner. Cheers.