Wine Dinners at Golden Ocala
The Wonders of Wine Dinners
Wine dinners are a lot more than tasting food and wine by the course. For Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, it’s a science — an experience that all depends on the preparation process and how that process spills over, so to speak, into the educational elements of the event itself. While the science stems from the formula cultivated by Executive Chef Rick Alabaugh — based on his 37 years of culinary experience — a wine dinner is a history lesson from start to finish. It’s an understanding of where a particular wine comes from, how it tastes, how that flavor is exposed in its purest form and how a wine needs to be consumed to capitalize on the fullness of said flavor.
It is our hope that you will read the following words and consider them the next time you desire to effortlessly combine wine and food. Sure, you may walk away from the next wine dinner having taken none of this knowledge into consideration and still feeling completely satisfied. But just think about how much more satisfied you could have been — all the flavor you may be missing out on and all the textures that are potentially going to waste.
The process of planning a wine dinner begins with deciding if you want to showcase a particular wine maker, region or vintage of wine. This decision can be based on name brand, popularity or a Golden Ocala member request. While many people like famous wines like Mondavi, Shafer Hillside or Caymus, Chef Rick often refers to little-known wines that he finds in Wine Spectator or Food & Wine. So, why not simply go with the greatest hits? Because without evaluating brands that people may have brushed off to due to unfamiliarity, individuals could miss out on all-around deliciousness. In short, do not let published prices and ratings fool you. They often do not coincide, because preference per person is key.
Deciding on a brand and the variety of wines within that brand often involves going to vineyards and trying wine out of a barrel. Unfortunately, being in North Central Florida does not grant Chef Rick and his team access to venues of this nature. But if it did, he might request three whites and two medium-body reds to start. He would take a small bite of cheese or just place a piece on his tongue, so that it lines his mouth. From there, he could taste the wine selections without reservation. The taste allows Chef Rick to obtain the wine’s characteristics — which he can also do by requesting several bottles from a wine distributor.
When Golden Ocala has its wine selection in place, the next step is to pair the dinner courses with the chosen beverages. This involves matching the characteristics of wine with the characteristics of the food. For example, a Chardonnay and a Riesling may be paired with macadamia-crusted scallops, because a sweet wine and spicy meal do not mix, as they are competing flavors. Likewise, a bleu cheese-encrusted filet would pair well with a dark-red Cabernet, because both have bold flavors that stick to your mouth and therefore, need to stand up to one another.
After wine and food are paired to their best, Chef Rick and his staff prepare dishes two or three times prior the wine dinner to avoid stumbling during the main event.
Where’s the Wine?
The next biggest question is how the wine will be prepared for serving. Red wines, for example, achieve maximum flavor between 60 and 65 degrees or a maximum temperature of 70 degrees, while white wine can withstand about 40 or 45 degrees. But if that’s already been accomplished, what else must be done to achieve every characteristic of the wine without obstacle? Well, if certain wines, such as Cabernet, have sat for awhile, they may need to be decanted to eliminate settlements or particles like grape leaves, as well as to let oxygen in through a larger surface.
From there, wine glasses come into play. Golden Ocala usually serves any and all wines from crystal clear glasses to show off the details and rich color of each beverage. Red wine is poured into a large glass with fuller and rounder bowls, so that the taster can experience the wine’s aroma and that wine can meet more air. One type of red wine glass, the Bordeaux, is intended for heavy wines, such as Cabernet or Merlot, while the Burgundy is designed for a light wine like Pinot Noir.
Meanwhile, white wine is typically served in a U-shaped and upright bowl, ultimately releasing the scent of the wine and allowing it to remain cool. A youthful white wine calls for a larger opening to bring out the sweetness of the beverage, while mature whites will have straighter and taller openings to bring out a bold flavor.
Preparing for Wine Dinners
Chef Rick and his staff are not the only ones that have mandatory preparation procedures for every wine dinner. Without your cooperation, authentic wine dinners can never live up to their positive reputation. So, remember this — eat something light before the event. This will keep your stomach from feeling the emptiness that would prompt you to eat and drink far too quickly to distinguish and savor each pairing. Basically, Philly cheesesteak is out, but soup or salad is a must. Secondly, do not drink beer or liquor before the wine dinner. Alcohol dulls your taste buds, distorting flavor and diminishing the full impact of the pairings.
Participating in a Wine Dinner
The mission of any Golden Ocala event is for you to enjoy every second, and wine dinners are no different. That being said, there are specific instructions that Chef Rick and his staff will give you, in order to keep a great balance that finely tunes the courses and the doses of pairings that make up each course. Directions may include — taste the wine before grabbing your plated proteins and dragging them through various sauces. From there, you may be asked to sample them and then take another sip of wine. You may even be asked to hold your wine glass by the stem, so as not to overheat your wine or cloud the wine’s visual appeal with smudges. Suddenly, the food and wine will begin to dance in your mouth, giving off a sensation that is guaranteed to sustain you until the next wine dinner comes around.
If this sounds like your idea of a party, we have good news! Golden Ocala hosts up to four wine dinners per year, with the next one on Wednesday, November 7th. You’ll be presented with a highly underrated wine, Chappellet, as well as four courses plus dessert, all for $100. For more information, refer to the Gazette or call Golden Ocala at (352) 629-6229. The mouthwatering meals that you’ve managed to live without are now only a swirl of your wine glass away!