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Christopher S. Miller
I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED in many wine events in several different capacities, including my favorite and latest as a consumer and wine columnist. As a Chef and restaurateur, I used wine dinners as a marketing tool as well as a way to keep my kitchen and wait staff enthused about new foods, food preparations and wines. These dinners also kept my cuisine developing, and I would use the best courses as new dishes on my à la carte menu. The most popular wine dinners were those done in conjunction with renowned wineries. So much so that my clientele would complain if I didn’t have a wine event scheduled every month. In the last several years, the interest in wine has exploded and so has the number of events surrounding wine, especially here on Long Island.
One event that I missed (I was a bit skeptical about it) was this summer’s Hamptons Wine Festival. The event was heavily sponsored by one of Metro New York’s largest wine and spirit distributors; which caused the event to be lopsided in the selection of wines available. Let’s face it, it’s tough to get excited about tasting “branded” wines, such as Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label, Sterling, BV and Gallo. There is nothing wrong with these wines, but they are familiar and can be tasted anywhere. Also, only one local winery was represented due to the sponsor’s portfolio constraints, which is a bit of a slap in the face to the locals. What I look for at a wine event is a special experience, to taste and learn about wines and regions that I am not familiar with.
In late October, I attended the Opus One Toast for the Cure Wine Dinner at Teller’s restaurant. The event featured two unique opportunities: a charity fundraiser for Breast Cancer Awareness and tasting a historic wine from several different vintages. Opus One is the first joint venture between a first growth of Bordeaux, Château Mouton-Rothschild, and Napa Valley’s Robert Mondavi Winery. The Opus One National Sales Director was there to introduce and answer questions about the wines, which included 1984, 1995, 1999 and the release of the 2002 vintage; all matched with courses designed specifically for the wines by Executive Chef Eric Blauberg. I worked with Eric while I was a sommelier at The 21 Club and saw first-hand his commitment to designing food dishes to accompany particular wines and wine events. His experience was evident, as matching food to several vintages of Opus One could be challenging. The wines ranged from the elegant and finessed 1984 (quite Bordelais in style), to the brooding, full, lush and fruit forward 2002. Lucky me, I got to compare these wines to a 1979 Château Lafite-Rothschild I had tasted a few days earlier. The 1984 tasted like a younger version of the ’79 Lafite. The 1995, 1999 and 2002 were in a more Californian style, yet all were quite impressive, with the 1995 being my second favorite of the evening. My favorite dish of the night was Pulled Duck with Cepe Risotto and Snow Peas, served with the Opus 1984, but all the dishes were of equal quality and interest.
With all the attention wine is getting these days, more restaurants are working to improve their wine programs. This includes wine service, the list itself, storage and events. Teller’s Chophouse in Islip will be making the Opus One Dinner an annual event so look for it. Mac’s Steakhouse in Huntington has a stunning wine list and is working hard to focus on fun and serious wine dinners every month. In October, they had a dinner featuring the wines of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. In November, they featured Piedmont wines and white truffles with Tony May of San Domenico Restaurant and his Chef. Another venue to look for is Jonathan’s, also in Huntington. They will continue their exploration of Italian wine regions in January. Jonathan’s featured the wines of Campania and Veneto in two separate dinners during November. So with all these options, choose a wine dinner and prepare your palate. Remember the best events will incorporate fun, adventure, and most importantly, passion.