Winemakers Dinner

2001 International
Food & Wine Festival

An enthusiastic account
by Michael England

Promptly at 6:00 the waiting group was ushered into the foyer, where each party was shown to a preassigned, round table for ten. We were invited to leave our things at the table and return to the foyer for the opening reception. This was the first course on the menu (beautifully printed and found on each plate around the tables). We were served an excellent Mumm's sparkling wine (the Napa Valley winery featured for the evening's three sparkling wines). Waiters circulated offering trays with a selection of wonderful hors d'ouevres prepared by the chef from Tony's On the Square, one of the gourmet chefs for the evening.

The theme of this first Winemakers Dinner in the Festival was Hot From L.A.! (When I had booked the dinner by phone, the booking agent commented with interest on us travelling all the way from San Francisco to eat California cuisine. The cuisine sounded just fine to us, and it certainly was.

An unusual little combo all dressed in stylish black trench coats played very nice, soft jazz. Two of the musicians played unique electronic instruments and the whole sound was quite pleasant.

Chris and I returned to our table, in the very front just beside the stage. During dinner we gradually became acquainted with our tablemates (encouraged by a mini-pep rally from the evening's host, urging us to get to know our new best friends). We found that they were a pleasant, diverse group of people. Our table group enjoyed each other so much that toward the end of the evening, Chris loaned our waiter his camera to photograph the whole group. We collected their e-mail addresses so we could send the photo to them.

Throughout the meal, after each course the hostess introduced the chef and winery representative for that course. (The three still wines came from Sterling, also in the Napa Valley.) Since the food and wine were superb, gourmet offerings, it was easy to applaud them lustily. Here's the menu:

Fresh Mozzarella Roulade on Grilled Flatbread
Eggplant Caviar on Pita
Ancho Rubbed Beef Tenderloin with Salsa Verde
Thai Barbeque Tuna with Asian Slaw

Mumm Cuve© Napa Brut Prestige NV

Singapore Style Langoustines with Sesame Thai Noodles and Preserved Lime

Mumm Cuveé Napa DVX 1996

Pan Seared Santa Barbara Sand Dabs
Sweet Corn Tortellini with Mascarpone and truffles
Robin Stotter, WOLFGANG PUCK FOODCO., Beverly Hills, CA

Sterling Winery Lake Vineyard Chardonnay 2000

Green Tea poached Free-Range Chicken with Soybean Ragout and Tofu Flan

Sterling Winery Lake Vineyard Pinot Noir 1999

Ginger Marinated Grilled Colorado Lamb Chop served with Green Beans and Sauteed Wild Mushrooms drizzled with a Spicy Cilantro-Mint Sauce
Robin Stotter, WOLFGANG PUCK FOOD CO., Beverly Hills, CA

Sterling Reserve Napa ValleyCabernet Sauvignon 1998

Gravenstein Apples with Butterscotch

Mumm CuveNapa Demi-Sec NV

The most delightful surprise of the evening for me (but certainly not the only superb course) was the Tofu Flan, which was delicious. (The chicken and the soybean ragout with which it was served were also tasty.) I was particularly delighted to see Gravenstein apples as dessert, and was able to tell the rest of the table about how they are primarily grown in Sonoma County around the town of Sebastopol (a bit north of San Francisco). Chef Millner also explained that they have a very short season, which makes them even more precious, particularly in Florida.

The wines were wonderful, my favorite being the pinot noir, which almost made me gasp with pleasure when I sniffed and tasted it. (Unfortunately, the Sterling representative told us that it's in short supply and hard to get.)

Almost three hours later we were all stuffed and a little bit sloshed from six glasses of wine. Those who wanted to see the culmination of every Epcot evening Illuminations: Reflections of Earth were shown to a reserved viewing spot. Many stayed to chat, but Chris and I did want to see the show, which we always enjoy. We were shown to a prime viewing position, roped off from the hoi pollo (he wrote patronizingly). We could see perfectly, even in the lightly falling rain. It was a thoroughly delightful evening, worth every penny and more. I recommend the Winemakers Dinners heartily.