I’ve been hosting wine pairing dinners for years now. At home, for family and friends. This tradition started before I started blogging, and I have written about it before, but as I have a lot on my plate on an evening like that, I don’t manage to photograph everything as well. But this time my blogging buddy and friend Conor came over for one of my wine dinners, bringing ‘the wife’ and his camera. If you follow his blog (and you should!), you know that his photographs are superb and make everything look delicious. And so I was thrilled that he did not only came over, but offered to photograph ‘the making of’ a wine dinner so I could finally do a ‘full’ report of what a wine dinner at my house entails. Thank you, Conor!
But before I show you Conor’s photos, let’s start with a bit of history. I’m writing this post also for my own benefit, to help keep the memory alive. The first time I hosted a wine pairing event for friends and family was in April of 2010, when I hosted a soirée focusing on dessert wine. Dessert wines have always been one of my favorites, and I wanted to introduce them to my friends. Sweet wines are often looked down upon, but there are many noble ones that are simply exquisite. This was an evening that started after dinner, and I provided cheeses, fruits, and chocolate to accompany the wines. With Moscato d’Asti, Eiswein (icewine), moscatel (fortified muscat from Spain), late-harvest gewurztraminer from Alsace, Sauternes, Tokaj, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Passito di Pantelleria, Banyuls, PX, and an aged vintage port, the lineup covered many different types of dessert wine. To this day I remember how well fresh pineapple pairs with Tokaji from Hungary, a dessert wine that is not only sweet but only has very high acidity.
Then in November 2010 the format was born I’ve been using to this day, and I hosted the first proper wine pairing dinner for a group of 16 friends. The theme of this dinner was simply Italian wines with Italian food. There were six courses, everyone had two wine glasses, and with each course I served two different wines. If you pour carefully, you can pour a single 75 cl bottle into 16 glasses. And so everyone got to try both wines with a course. Sometimes I opened up an additional bottle of the wine that everyone liked best with the food. I chose the wines based on my expectation of what would work, and these dinners were a great way to share my love for food and wine with my friends, as well as improve my wine pairing skills. It was interesting to see that often the group did not agree on what was the best pairing.
I didn’t have sous-vide equipment back then, so I had to very carefully think of a menu that I could prepare and serve for such a large group using mostly the oven. The menu included monkfish wrapped in prosciutto and prime rib.I didn’t have a large enough dinner table either, so we used three different tables including the coffee table as you can see in the photo. Other traditions that started then were that the cost of food and wine was divided among the guests, and that everyone had to help out in some way. Either by coming over to prep in the afternoon, or by helping to serve or clean. This way, we could all enjoy the evening.
Then in May 2011, the theme was fish and there were so many friends that wanted to come that I decided to host two evenings. On the first evening the weather was so nice that we had dinner in the backyard. By then I had the sous-vide, which made it a lot easier to serve perfectly cooked fish to such a large group. The menu included turbot with white asparagus, paired with white Burgundy.
Then for the next dinners in November 2011 for which the theme was game (in Dutch it sounds a lot better: Wild & Wijn), Kees had the brilliant idea of building a deconstructable table of the exact same size as our dinner table, so we could have dinner with a group of 16 on a single long table.
The themes of the following wine dinners were:
- Cheese, April 2012, with about 5 kilograms (11 lbs) of cheese
- ‘Fast’ food, December 2012, with hamburgers made from scratch and hand-cut fries
- Burgundy, May 2013, with Pôchouse, Coq au Vin, and Boeuf Bourguignon
- Piemonte, November 2013, with Bagna Cauda, Vitello Tonnato, and Beef Braised in Barolo
- Asian food, May 2014, with Thai fish cakes, Babi Pangang, and Rendang
- Vegetarian, November 2014, with Fennel polpette, Lasagne alla Genovese, and Cauliflower Ravioli
- Seafood, May 2015, with Spaghetti alle Vongole and Calamari
- Carnivores, November 2015
The wine dinners have become so popular with my friends that I am now hosting three evenings for each theme. To keep things interesting for myself, I use different wines for each evening. The themes for 2016 will most likely be a repeat of 2011, fish in spring and game in autumn. I’m already looking forward to them!
The next post will be about the recent ‘Carnivores’ wine dinner with Conor’s beautiful photos, so stay tuned!