A wine dinner is like a Swedish massage. Once you have experienced it, you are hooked for life.
Typically a benefit of living in a large metropolitan area, wine dinners are fortunately well-represented along our more sparsely populated Space Coast, where several restaurants have served up these bacchanalian feasts for decades. Foodies can choose from a variety of venues and price points in Brevard and Indian River Counties, from Lizzie’s Euro Kafe in Cape Canaveral to Trend Kitchen in Indian Harbour Beach to Cobalt Restaurant at Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel and Spa.
Café Margaux in Cocoa Village and the Grapevine Café at Indian Harbour Beach’s Green Turtle Market hold the record for incorporating these special events into their yearly schedules.
In 1990, Café Margaux owner Alex Litras introduced wine dinners as a proving ground for experimenting with flavors. Green Turtle market owner and sommelier Tim Dwight joined the trend 20 years ago.
“I believe our current count is around 250 dinner over that time,” said Dwight.
Café Margaux arranges its wine dinner season from April to January, but this year will add a March 10 spirits event that pairs Dalmore Highland Scotch with a six-course dinner that concludes with bespoke Vosges Haut-Chocolat.
Green Turtle averages a wine dinner every four to six weeks.
While a good wine dinner seems an effortless affair, the reality involves extensive orchestration.
PLANNING FOR PERFECT
“We try to plan these menus a year in advance. The pairings are customized by tapping the combined bank of knowledge from myself and all the players in the kitchen. In the dining room, it requires a lot of attention to details; the staff in the dining room should flow like dancers, a corps de ballet.”
“The combination of flavors and results for the food are limitless, but the wines will not vary,” said Litras.
“…the food has to complement the wine. Rather than taking the most prominent element it the wine and creating a dish heavy in that flavor, we look for all the subtle complexities of the wine, so later the food ingredients can draw those subtleties out. When we use the more understated flavors in the pairing, you’re not quite sure why the pairing works, just that it does.”
At Green Turtle, Dwight and executive chef Dennis Lott always feature a range of wines rather than just, for example, all French Bordeaux or California cabernets.
“That allows our kitchen to create a broad range of culinary treats and our success is always in match- ing appropriate foods and wines,” said Dwight.
“We love to be surprised and sometimes our chefs will come up with pairings that sound unlikely on paper but work wonderfully on the plate.”
The definition of pairings in a wine dinner may not be familiar to the uninitiated.
“A perfect pairing is not an exact match of flavors,” explained Litras. Instead, “Flavors and aromas need to be subtle or the pairing will not be elegant.”
“It’s a real balancing act.”
A STUDY IN FLAVORS AND MORE
Wine dinners don’t just enhance your taste buds, they also add to your knowledge of enology, thanks to the insight of master sommeliers, representatives from wineries and industry insiders who often are a part of these events.
“Most of our popular dinners, and happily, most of them sell out, have been hosted by winemakers or winery owners from California or Italy,” said Dwight.
The taste, the pampering, the service and the opportunity to up wine knowledge attract regulars such as Jay and Sandra Ohland. The Viera couple have been penciling in every Café Margaux wine dinner for close to a decade.
“The wines are always so good, and the chef always prepares something unique,” said Jay Ohland.