The vines that bind

The vines that bind

At some point, between making the bed on Monday morning and putting the trash out on Sunday night, we think to ourselves, is this what life is all about? With most of us bogged down by the practicalities of life, we could all use a little inspiration every now and again. Fortunately, many of Charlottesville’s most reputable restaurants and resorts offer weekday wine dinners that will leave you bubbling over with joie de vivre again. Priced comparably to a fine-dining restaurant tab, wine dinners are a unique opportunity to clink glasses and forks with winemakers, importers, distributors, retailers, restaurateurs, collectors and other fascinating people who share a love for food and wine.

Bill Curtis’ Tastings of Charlottesville is one of many area restaurants that feature wine dinners. Earlier this season, he hosted a presentation of garagiste wines from Bordeaux.

In October, I attended a Wine Club event at Tastings of Charlottesville featuring the wines of Jean-Luc Thunevin of Chateau Valandraud. Thunevin, a well-known winemaker from Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux, France, was one of the first “garagistes,” or renegade winemakers, in a region rooted by hundreds of years of tradition. Presenting the wines was Christian Dalbavie, an eloquent man with a contagious enthusiasm. As an independent sales and marketing agent for Thunevin, he gave the eight wines we tasted that night a historical context, as well as a face and credo for what would otherwise be a faceless estate. Presenting the food was Tastings owner, Bill Curtis, who came out in his whites after each course (he had to cook them first) to collect musings on the wines and how they paired with his rustic, hearty dishes, such as pot-au-feu. He warmly incited a show of hands for our favorite wines of the line-up and a lively banter about why one wine moved us more than another.

Last month’s highlight was a wine dinner hosted by the Wine Warehouse at the Clifton Inn, showcasing the wines of Tablas Creek (Paso Robles, California) and Chateau de Beaucastel (Rhone Valley, France). This partnership between two estates allowed for a direct comparison of the wines’ differing terroirs (i.e., soil, climate, topography, etc.). After a half hour of mingling over our first white with passed hors d’oeuvres, we sat ourselves at one


Clifton Inn Average price $65 excluding tax and gratuity. 971-1800.

Keswick Hall Average price $89 excluding tax and gratuity. 979-3440.

L’etoile Average price $55, excluding tax and gratuity. 979-7957.

Tastings of Charlottesville Average price $40, including tax and gratuity. 293-3663.

long dining table that felt both formal and informal. Within moments, I found myself breaking bread with a food-and-wine obsessed couple distantly related to famed Venetian Soave producer, Roberto Anselmi, and a local nursing student who has worked at culinary meccas like New York’s Gramercy Tavern and Paris’ Taillevent. We shared an involuntary medley of utterances when we tasted the wild mushroom pappardelle with braised veal cheeks, and then a weighty silence when we tasted the 2007 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I even considered asking Ms. Anselmi for her second wood-fired lamp chop after finishing both of mine, but was saved from embarrassment by the prompt arrival of the cheese course. The importer’s sales manager, Olivier Lotterie, mirthfully introduced each of the seven wines and chef Dean Maupin’s exquisitely balanced food complemented each of them. By the end, a bottle of 1995 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape sat on the bar and in our glasses, and we all exchanged contact details before bidding one another farewell, returning to the reality of our Wednesday nights.