First, you have the sponsored wine dinner. It’s a mutually beneficial event for both restaurant and winery. The wine brand will supply the wine at a reduced rate, maybe kick in a bit for advertising, and bring along a wine maker or brand ambassador to talk to the eager diners.
The restaurant will partner the wines with carefully selected dishes, and hopefully manage to pull off a complimentary merger. This will all depend on not only the chef’s palate, but quite possibly the sommelier’s (if they have one), and whether or not the wine brand have had the insight to provide a free sample (vital!), and the desire of the chef to please his/her diners.
Diners will be both regulars and people from far and wide – they follow either the food or the wine, and so may never have heard of the restaurant, or may be new to the wine. They will attend in groups and dine at separate tables, but will most likely join in discussion through the night, and the speaker will hopefully do a tour of duty to all tables, having a sip and a swirl at each, and probably fall down the stairs on the way out.
Secondly, there is the “Educational” wine dinner. In this case, there is definitely a sommelier (or someone who thinks they are a sommelier) present. It will probably be instigated by said sommelier, who will select a theme and suggest flavours or even dishes to the chef for accompaniment.
But this dinner is most certainly about the wine, not the food. The level of education will depend on the style and reputation of the restaurant, and the fervour of the presenter, and can be anything from a champagne piss-up with all the oysters you can eat, to a guided tasting of obscure reds from the foothills of the alps, partnered with micro-cuisine and a series of foams and jellies.
Diners will most likely mingle, definitely be regulars, and, depending on the caliber of the tasting, will be anything from enthusiastic amateurs to total wine wankers. Guaranteed, they will be piss-pots, and will remember nothing they learned, and the “education” they received will be forever relegated to those little grey cells in the brain they just killed.
Much time and effort will go into the food matching – the winery will want the food to be excellent, and yet sit behind their magnificent wine, contrast a little and compliment a lot. Presentations will involve audio visual equipment and glossy branded brochures. They will be technical, detailed and hold up the main course so that everyone is thoroughly bored and starving by the time it arrives, and the food will be overcooked.
Diners won’t notice however, because they are too busy heckling with peers and throwing back sample-sized glasses by the dozen. The attendees are only there to catch up with others in the business, and despite all the time and effort, will barely notice the product at all.
Lastly, and rarest of all is food focused wine dinner. It’s a little like the educational wine dinner, but rather than the food being designed to partner the wine, the wine is chosen to partner the food.
Again, the quality can vary, but usually it’s upper echelon. The food will often be themed – either seasonal, celebrational or experimental. Next we pray there is a sommelier with integrity present, and they don’t just drag out all the bin ends and hope that somehow they can match all the wine they can’t otherwise sell with the splendiforous cuisine they prepare. There is no presentation, no discussion.
Diners will usually be repeat customers, but events of excitement can draw in guests a little further flung. They come for the food, and so will be the most demure of all the wine-dine categories, and tend to keep quietly to their own tables. Whether they leave swaying or not will depend very much on the quality of the aperitifs and the number of courses.
Those who are wishing to partake in a little themed tipple might want to look into the following:
- For a structured yet fairly casual blind tasting (themed), followed by dinner with the Dubai Wine Club, visit here: www.meetup.com
- Wine retailers have clubs that can be subscribed to, where you can find out about wine dinners (usually on a weeknight, and with three days notice – argh!) and other events: MMI here, African and Eastern here, and Les Clos here.
- Some bars and restaurants have several wine dinners or at least wine tastings throughout the year: Oeno Wine Bar, Table 9, Rostang and Ossiano at Atlantis, Asado (reviewed previously), Le Classique and The Cavendish (reviewed below).
If you want to go to a trade dinner, you’re going to have to get yourself into the biz.
Feathered Game Wine Dinner (Oct 9)
The Cavendish have taken the food focused approach to wine dinners, as I found when I attended their Feathered Game evening. Fortunately, the feathers had been removed. Fortunately still, the entire dinner was a bit of a surprise – a pleasant surprise.
I had missed out on the Table 9 Cossetti dinner (a restaurant I love, and some interesting wines from Piedmont) who unfortunately decided to throw their event on the same night. The Cavendish however invited me first, and even comped me, so I begrudgingly caught my taxi in the opposite direction, heading to the skyscraper-lined dustbowl that is JLT.
For the umpteenth time in my life, I was reminded not to prejudge. The Cavendish is not a dark English pub diner as I had expected, and the Bonnington is far from the backwater Lego-block building that I had assumed. They are both quite five-star, and despite a couple of personal design hates (a marble lined foyer that feels like the gullet of Hades and the dreaded table skirts on everything with legs – even the chairs were wearing dresses), it was nicely swanky. They’ve also pulled some prime staff from other very fine establishments. Bernd Zeithen, Assistant F & B, who was attentive all evening has come from the One and Only Royal Mirage, and Cavendish Chef Paul Bussey has had stints at some other English greats like Verre, The Ivy and Rivington Grill. Not only that, they’re both pretty keen, so hopefully they continue and turn the Cavendish into a destination that’s worthwhile on attending even when there’s no wine event.
They started us with a Graeme Beck NV Brut, served with a Roast pheasant consommé with confit duck, herb and truffle tortellino. The sparkling is astoundingly good for a mid-priced champenoise – crisp and yeasty, lean and honeyed. The broth was incredible – full flavoured yet lean, and the tortellino was tender, tasty and perfect to start the evening.
Entree was Pressed game bird and foie gras mosaic with brioche and rhubarb chutney, accompanied by a delicious 2005 Riesling Kabinett by Richter Wehlener. The mosaic (terrine), was very, very well done. Soft and flaking foul with buttery foie gras and a gentle gel holding it together with a little herb and peppery spice. The wine, though gorgeous, juicy and lush, aged nicely, was slightly ill-matched and faded behind the rich dish. The acid did slice through the creaminess of the terrine as desired, but the flavours and body were too light, and I would have preferred a fuller bodied wine – maybe a dessert wine with botrytis, or even a medium bodied and berry fruit laden red.
We had three main courses – the first a roast quail and wild mushroom pithivier (pie) with endive, toasted walnuts, celeriac and apple salad. This was knee-tremblingly good, and had not only the girls on our table, but others in the restaurant sighing and writhing with pleasure. The quail was somehow a fat and juicy slice, and encased like a beef wellington in the pastry. The salad was a perfect acid and herby flavoured contrast, also encluding some sweet and peppery watercress. The Syrah-Viognier from Porcupine Ridge was a close to ideal match – spicy, aromatic and sweet up front with a gentle cedary backbone.
The second main was fish – the downfall of every wine dinner. Why is it always the course where the organizers try to shake things up a bit? It would have been delightful with the Riesling, but instead came with a Hugel Gewurztraminer, which although on its own or with some rice paper rolls would have been perfect, had too little zing to counter the bacon. The other problem was that they had already given us red. A big red. So – pan-fried fillet of sea trout with braised baby gem, peas, wild boar bacon and horse radish cream, disappeared like the wine behind flavours too large to counter. Not only that, where was the feathered game promised? Nice dish, nice wine, but better skipped
The third main was roast young grouse wrapped in bacon with bread sauce, game chips and its own liver on toast was let down by overcooked bird. The savoury and supple Nappa Valley Merlot from Swanson would have been a good compliment to the dish if I was still hungry, and the course presented better on paper than in person. The liver biscuit was super, but it was all I could fit in, particularly considering there were two more courses to come.
Pre dessert was a lovely little scoop of home-made mango sorbet with macerated raspberries mint, and lime foam. Just right. And Dessert was even better. Somehow I found room for the four little plates – a festival of rhubarb – as it was called by a member of our table. A strap of raspberry leather sat underneath a mini souffle, a crumble, icecream and a dried rhubarb straw. Incredible, particularly the souffle. The wine was quite good – a Montes Late harvest Gewurztraminer, but we passed over it for a little more of the sparkling, which, with it’s own raspberry/rhubarb nuances from the Pinot Noir was a cheeky match.
Overall, a good night, with some great hits and a couple of misses, and I must remind you, paid for by the Cavendish. My companion however shelled out for herself, and was very happy with the value. I would go again. Next time, I would go for the three-course option rather than the 5. Paul and Bernd – I’d love to see that mosaic/terrine and quail pithivier on the everyday menu, and thanks.
The Cavendish have their next wine dinner on November 13 – Furred Game (but probably served without the fur)