If you enjoy wine you no doubt have noticed the increase in the number of places offering wine dinners in the DC metro area. They can be an excellent way to experience wine specifically paired with each food course. And while not cheap, they can be a good value compared to the typical price of an evening at a fine restaurant.
They can also be an extremely convivial atmosphere to talk about wine with the actual producer. That was the pleasure I had recently at a wine dinner featuring the wines of Holloran Vineyard Wines. The dinner was held at Del Ray Cafe in Alexandria.
Bill Holloran was traveling up the east coast on a marketing swing and connected with a local retailer to arrange a private dinner for 30. Holloran Vineyard Wines is located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and the menu was heavily slated towards Pinot Noir. Plus we hadn’t been to Del Ray Cafe yet, so we signed up as soon as I got the email.
Our party had the entire upstairs section of the restaurant. The owner Laurent Janowsky is French, and that was fitting since Bill Holloran described his wines as “food friendly, with an old world purity.” The first one we had was the Holloran Willamette Valley 2010 Pinot Noir, with some passed hors d’oeuvres.
The wine was very soft, with a good bit of strawberry fruit. It was very subtle, and had almost no finish, it just disappeared from the palate. Definitely a wine for understated fare.
The next wine we tasted was the lone white of the bunch, the Holloran 2009 Dundee Hills le Pavillon Chardonnay. It was very crisp and nicely acidic, much like a French St. Veran. It went very well with an innovative appetizer of shad roe with an anchovy pancetta sauce.
Between the second and third courses we sampled two more Pinot Noirs. The Holloran Eola-Amity Hills 2010 Pinot Noir was a slightly more amped up version of the Willamette Valley – slightly more texture on the palate, a bit more tartness to the strawberry fruit. The second course was an excellent roasted maple leaf duck breast with port reduction and cauliflower au Gratin.
The last Pinot Noir was the best, the Holloran 2009 Dundee Hills le Pavillon. It had a vibrant, fresh nose and a bit of earth on the palate. It had the biggest finish of the bunch and lingered nicely. Bill told me that the wine is from vines over 40 years old, and it tasted like it.
The final course was a truly delicious roasted elk tenderloin, which I had never eaten before. It was topped with cracked cardamone, orange zest, coriander and black pepper, along with a sangria sauce. The meat was a bit tougher than a steak in consistency but very much worth the effort. The wine was a Holloran 2009 Tempranillo, which wasn’t bad but not on the same level as the Pinots. I found myself wishing for a sturdy Cabernet.
All of the above was $90 per person, tax and tip inclusive. That’s not much more than if you’d ordered a nice bottle of wine with dinner at most good restaurants, yet you get to taste far more wine. The experience feels like a splurge, yet is also a good value. The best way to hear about them is often to get on the email lists of wine retailers, and many restaurants also market these first to house lists.
A better experience at a better cost – in the age of the sequester, isn’t that what we’re all looking for in DC?
Read Parente’s last column, Curious About Curious Grape? A Review here.
Christopher Parente is managing director and partner of Strategic Communications Group, a social media and public relations consultancy based in Silver Spring, Maryland and Tysons Corner, Virginia. He also publishes Work, Wine and Wheels, a top 100K web site in the United States as measured by Alexa, an online measurement company. You can follow Chris on LinkedIn or Twitter.