Chefs were the stars at the Epicurean Theatre. All photos by Tracey Serebin.

Wine Dinners Are Back! The welcome return of in-person culinary events

Virtual wine tastings got us through the past year, but nothing beats the in-person version — especially if you get to enjoy the wine in tandem with scrumptious food prepared by master chefs.

Here are three venues that recently launched wine and food events — in person.

The Epicurean Hotel: Supper Club in the Theatre

Three talented chefs presided over this six-course feast: Chad Johnson of Haven; Adam Hyatt of the Epicurean Hotel, Tampa; and Ewart Wardhaugh of the Epicurean Hotel, Atlanta.

Complemented by wines from Winebow Fine Wine and Spirits, the dinner was a tribute to Epicurean’s past, present and future — a celebration of getting back together and a look ahead to the opening of the Epicurean Hotel in Midtown Atlanta this summer. This will be the second location of the Epicurean Hotel brand, which is a collaboration of Mainsail Lodging and Bern’s Steakhouse, as well as a partnership with Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Like the origial Epicurean in South Tampa, its Atlanta counterpart will be a culinary-driven hotel, with the experiential agency Southern Culinary & Creative developing unique events and classes.

After a Champagne welcome, we took our seats in the Epicurean Theatre. The experience was charged with an almost voyeuristic thrill, as we got to watch these amazing chefs at work in the kitchen as big screens above their heads showed them plating their dishes with finesse. The energy in the room was very lively as the chefs explained their dishes and answered questions.

The chefs confer.

As we watched Chef Hyatt put together a Japanese A-5 Wagyu beef nigiri, Michael Pollice from Winebow introduced the 2019 Ghost Block Sauvignon Blanc, explaining that it came from a family-owned vineyard in Napa with a small production of only 2,500 cases. It was very light and bright, with citrus notes.

Our second dish, created by Chef Wardhaugh, was a seasonal market crudo of white Hamachi fish from Hawaii; the succotash and hijiki seaweed underneath made the fish pop. It was paired with winemaker Aaron Jordan’s 2018 Failla Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, of which only a few hundred cases are made. The French oak and buttery taste paired perfectly with the fish.

Chef Johnson then introduced his pressed chicken thigh with egg, truffle and breakfast sausage. A very heavy dish, it was paired with a 2019 Lioco Mendocino Pinot Noir, with notes of cherry and cranberry that made it taste more like a burgundy.

Chef Hyatt’s chicken liver ravioli with fiddlehead ferns and caramelized tomato butter.

Chef Hyatt’s chicken liver ravioli with fiddlehead ferns and caramelized tomato butter was a strikingly different dish, accompanied by a 2017 L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot from Columbia Valley. Chef Ewart’s bourbon roasted duck breast tasted similar to a pork loin, with compressed rhubarb, goat cheese and asparagus. It was accompanied by the very tasty 2017 Emily’s Cabernet Sauvignon from the Miner Family Winery, deep ruby red and smooth on the palate. A part of the proceeds from sales of this wine go to the V Foundation for Cancer Research in honor of winery co-founder Emily Miner.

Chef Ewart’s bourbon roasted duck breast.

The last course, designed by Chef Johnson, was a banana chiffon with charred pineapple pieces and a touch of cinnamon that reminded me of Christmas, with a green verbena ice cream that had a yummy fairground flavor. 

Del Frisco’s Grill: Wine Dinner with Gary Farrell Vineyards  

Our welcoming quaff: Bisol Prosecco Rosé.

An intimate gathering of 16, we were welcomed with a glass of Jeio by Bisol Prosecco Rosé which was very bubbly. Del Frisco’s Manager Matt Sinclair introduced us to Meagan Reister of Vintus, representing the Russian River Valley’s Gary Farrell Vineyards. She opened the dinner with a video of Theresa Heredia, the winemaker, as we tasted a chilled lobster cocktail.

Our second course paired two wines, a Russian River Valley Chardonnay alongside an Olivet Lane Vineyard. Megan explained that the Olivet is known as “The Solo,” as it pulls from only one vineyard, while the Russian River is known as the “Symphony” due to the 18 different sites where its grapes are grown. The Russian River was the smoother and richer of the two, while the Olivet was stronger, more concentrated and a tad minerally. Our group discussed the wines over a dish of Chilean seabass with a spring vegetable ragu. The fish was light and paired well with the “Symphony.”

Megan shared a video of Theresa being interviewed by Landry’s Master Sommelier Keith Goldston as we enjoyed our third course with two Pinots tasted side by side. The Russian River Valley Pinot Noir had deep fruit but was earthy and acidy, pulling from 36 different vineyards. The Hallberg Vineyard Pinot, from the top vineyard in Green Valley, is ruby and has a slight taste of tea with a hint of tobacco and is closer to a light merlot vintage. 

Pinots and prime at Del Frisco’s.

We discussed these wines as we received our third course of prime NY strip with garlic and white bean puree, Pinot and roasted grape butter and balsamic cippolinis. The meat was cooked perfectly, pairing very well with the Hallberg wine.

For our dessert and final course, a chocolate pecan torte raspberry coulis arrived with a Fonseca Bin #27 Ruby Port with a deep fruit taste — a wonderful combination to end the evening.

The GROVE Restaurant: Adobe Road Winery Dinner 

Adobe Road Winery’s celebrated SHIFT blend.

GROVE, located in Lakewood Ranch, hosted an Adobe Road Winery Dinner featuring an immersive five-course menu highlighting the Racing Series and other varietals from Adobe Road.

The event took place in the restaurant’s event hall, with plenty of open space for socially distanced tables. A glass of 2019 Sparkling Rose kicked off the evening, as servers came around with brie and apple crostini and smoked shrimp with avocado and cucumber. 

Sommelier Austin Harlow and Chef Greg Campbell welcomed us, and Kevin Buckler CEO of Adobe Road spoke about the winery and his passion for wine and fast cars.

A 2017 Sauvignon Blanc was served with our first course, very citrusy and sweeter than I like, but the two seared scallops were cooked perfectly. The 2018 Chardonnay served next complemented the scallop dish better and was very smooth and refreshing. It also paired very well with the butter poached sea bass with saffron risotto — so soft and yummy, it melted in your mouth.  

The SHIFT Red Blend was served with Chef Greg Campbell’s duck breast.

For the third course we moved into their reds, with a 2016 SHIFT Red Blend from the racing series. It was so smooth, with a deep cherry flavor, tasting like a lighter red zinfandel or a Barbera blend. The wine was a perfect complement to Chef Greg’s duck breast dish with rosemary, black cherry and sweet potato.

For our fourth course, we enjoyed a 2018 Redline Red Blend. A deep, heavy red with a smooth smoky taste, it paired very well with a smoked beef tenderloin, herbed potato and fig demi sauce. 

By the fifth course I was full, but couldn’t pass up tasting a 2018 Black Dog Cabernet Sauvignon, a pure Cab blending grapes from Sonoma County and Napa Valley. With its deep raspberry flavor, the wine was delicious with the pistachio chocolate torte.

Black Dog cab and pistachio chocolate torte — a perfect combo.

All three events presented different culinary experiences with masterful chefs, interesting dishes and amazing wine. I am so happy that these wine dinners can now be experienced in person.