Wine Dinners: It’s that time of year |

Wine Dinners: It’s that time of year

Kelly J. Hayes

Spring has sprung in the Rockies, and Champagne will be popped in celebration on Thursday, March 12, at the Viceroy Snowmass hotel’s TORO restaurant.

OK, so the actual date of the vernal equinox, the first official day of spring, is a week later, on March 19. But with the longer days and the abundant sunshine, the time is right to gather and drink some wine.

Moët & Chandon, the classic bubbly from Epernay, France, will be the featured pour, as specialist Jake Walker will pull the corks on four different styles of Champagne. The sparkling wines will be paired with a four-course meal prepped by TORO executive chef Alberto Figueroa.

This is just one in a series of wine dinners scheduled to be held in the mountains this spring that take a deep dive into some of the most sought-after wines in the world. On Friday, March 13, the Little Nell Hotel in Aspen is planning on welcoming Alessia Antinori, vice president of Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori and scion of one of the world’s most prestigious wine families. She will attend the special dinner event to toast the 30-year history of the hotel. Ten wines from the past three decades of Antinori releases will be poured with Element 47 chef Keith Theodore’s four-course meal. This is an extraordinary opportunity to interact with a member of a winemaking family that has been producing vintages for 26 generations, extending back as far as the 1300s.

And over in Vail, the Sebastian Hotel will host chairman and CEO David Duncan of Silver Oak and Twomey, who will bring wines from the LEED-certified winery and pour some of California’s finest cabernet sauvignon for diners March 26. Executive chef Tyson Peterson, of the French- and Spanish-inspired Leonora restaurant, will prepare a four-course meal to accompany Duncan’s personal selection of wines.

Spring wine dinners are a great way to sample wines that you may not have the opportunity to taste in a single sitting on your own. I mean, how often might you open four different Champagnes on your own to pair with a meal? Not likely. And even if you are a collector, chances are that you would not do a tasting of the various vintages of Antinori or Silver Oak at home. These are wines that you would more likely keep for individual enjoyment. But with a wine dinner, the ability to taste and compare different blends and vintages along with food comes into play.

Then there are the unique experiences of learning about the wines from the hosts of the dinners who bring their intimate knowledge of them to the table. Having experts guide a group through a tasting can make a meal a revelation, as informative as it is fun. The prospect of being able to ask a member of the Antinori family or the CEO of Silver Oak about how their wines are made or marketed, or even just what their personal favorites may be, is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

And while wine dinners are not cheap, especially in four- and five-star resort properties, they generally provide great comparative value. Four-course meals would normally reach or exceed the price of the dinners without wine. But add in the hard-to-acquire wines and the generous pours, and the prices are usually bargains. Plus, wine dinners offer the kitchens a chance to show off their skills as chefs go all out to create menus that synchronize textures and flavors with the wines on offer. The result is often a memorable culinary and wine experience for all who attend.

At TORO Kitchen & Lounge, star chef Richard Sandoval’s Snowmass restaurant, executive chef Figueroa has been challenged with preparing a diverse meal with an offering of Moët Champagne. For the main courses, he will deliver first a boldly flavorful branzino with taro gnocchi, Thai pesto, charred hearts of palm, and crispy sage paired with the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2012. That will be followed by a Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé Champagne to be poured alongside elk tenderloin medallions with wild mushroom risotto, peas and a thyme port demi-glace. A Colorado classic paired with pink bubbles.

While the expert Walker will be on hand to guide guests through the wines, you may want to know in advance that the House is pronounced “Mo-wett” with a hard “T” rather than “Mo-way,” the more obviously French pronunciation. Why? Because the name originated from that of Claude Moët who founded the House in 1743. Though Claude was born in France, his surname is of Dutch origin and includes the very un-French umlaut.

See, it’s not even spring and you’ve learned something new.