Let the good times flow
Let the good times flow
A wine dinner worthy of “Downton Abbey” can be had at Blantyre, a resort hotel in Lenox.
At a wine dinnter, guests get to taste along with the people who make the wine they love.
Winemakers and guests get to savor a menu prepared for the occasion by chefs who are generally thrilled to step outside the nightly grind and test their improv skills.
Blantyre does no more than three wine dinners a year, but each, in keeping with its Gilded Age affect, is strictly gold standard.
Guests recently ponied up $500 per seat at a single 25-foot-long table and savored a sequence of bijoux courses paried with wines from the creme de la creme Bordeaux property Chateau Margaux.
Stonehedge Inn & Spa in Tyngsborough has hosted monthly wine dinners for more than 20 years.
A key asset is the property’s 60,000-plus-bottle wine cellar built into a hill.
Having a serious wine program in place gives any restaurant a leg up in attracting winemakers of note, since they’re typically eager to support restaurants that are good customers.
Stonehedge’s Levent Bozkurt says the arrangement is usually advantageous for the restaurant’s wine-dinner customers, too. “We don’t try to make the same margins as when someone orders a la carte in the dining room.” (Prices range from $95 to $125.)
There’s no reason to think that a restaurant you love for its unbuttoned attitude is likely to morph into a nest of snobbery just because there’s a winemaker coming in; by the same token, don’t expect an establishment known for elegance and formality to kick off its brogues and show you its tattoos.
Serious places tend to host serious events, and more casual spots go easy on the gravitas.
Chef-owner Jeffrey Fournier of Newton’s 51 Lincoln relishes the kitchen creativity that wine dinners allow.
Fournier says it is his favorite way to cook for diners: “They put themselves completely in my hands, and it leaves me free to be more adventurous, play a bit more freely with the ingredients.”
Massachusetts liquor statutes ban restaurants and wineries from retail activities. Wine dinner attendees eager to purchase wine then and there will be disappointed. The work-around is for a retailer who stocks the wine to participate in the event. Guests can check off the wines they wish to order on an offer sheet circulated at the table, taking delivery later.
How much fun you have may depend on whether the event takes on the feel of a seminar, larded with esoteric detail, or just a roaring good time with a train of interesting dishes emanating from a motivated chef and a string of entertaining anecdotes from a chatty speaker. The best experience is likely to be one that presents a bit of both.
If you’re making a note to get yourself on someone’s mailing list with a view to being a guest at one these events, Christopher Howell of Cain Vineyard and Winery, a winemaker who’s in high dinner demand around the country, has a word of caution: Choose a wine dinner at a restaurant you are interested in, where wine you really want to try will be served. That may sound obvious, but “it’s like a blind date,” he says, “Getting the right guests is what makes a successful event.”
The impulse to reward regulars is something restaurants take seriously, and it means that scoring a seat at the table isn’t always as easy as picking up the phone or sending an e-mail.
The season for these events runs roughly from late fall through early spring, when the work in Northern Hemisphere vineyards has wound down.
With the vintage safely in the cellar, vintners can turn to the all-important business of talking up their properties.
Restaurants with the space may begin with a 30-minute reception where guests can mill about before being ushered to their seats, often at a single, communal table.
A typical event is scheduled for a night early in the week (when the dining room is likely to be less populated) and priced from around $85 to $125.