There are books, websites, magazines, infographics, even an entire profession devoted to selecting the perfect wine that will turn a meal into a foray into the sublime. It’s intimidating. I kind of know what kind of wines I like and as a home cook, I kind of know what dishes I can reasonably cook for a crowd. We (my husband) invited 3 other couples to our home for a Napa Valley wine tasting dinner. He promised four wines from around Napa to give our guests an idea of the variety of a great Cab. My first reaction was, oh my God, a sit-down dinner for 8 with a menu that would pair with 4 different Cabs. My second was, oh my God, I don’t think we have that many wine glasses or have ever had that many wine glasses.
While I wrestled with the menu and glassware, my husband chose the four wines. I found tasting notes for our wines and wrote them on a large chalkboard, with each wine corresponding to a numbered decanter.
My first choice of an entrée would have been ribeye, because, seriously, is there anything that goes better? The very same fat that tames tannins in the big California cabs also causes flare-ups in my gas grill. The weather forecast was only in the low thirties the night of our dinner party and I knew me standing sentinel in the freezing cold grilling ribeyes while on fire prevention duty would not make my guests feel at ease. I could slap 8 tenderloin steaks on the grill, come inside, share a glass of rose´, flip them once, chat some more, flip them a second time to get my grilled hatch marks, refill my glass, and then pull 8 med rare steaks off the grill without ever putting on a coat. The problem I had to solve was somehow getting a high fat taste. Well, baa, baa, black sheep, it was lamb rib chops to the rescue. The lamb had the succulent fat to stand up to the tannins so at least my guests could see what cabs and fat can do. The rib chop is a perfect tasting portion and super quick to grill.
Making side dishes while I entertained and grilled would be troublesome, so I picked two that I could make ahead and just reheat. Earlier in the day, I steamed pee wee potatoes, and then right before I put the steaks on, I smashed them with a fork, drizzled with olive oil & flake salt, and stuck them in the oven to roast and get crispy. The butternut squash puree´ was even easier—the night before I roasted butternut squash chunks with olive oil, garlic, and salt and then pureed the chunks and dumped them in a small, covered casserole. While chatting over the rose´ and charcuterie, I grated some fresh nutmeg over the puree and put it in the oven to heat up.
The only hiccup during the cooking was it was very windy that evening and my grill had a little trouble maintaining the temperature when I opened it. My concern over timing because the grill was running a little cool made me forget to ask if anyone wanted their steak other than medium rare. As I was plating, a sheepish request was made for well-done. My fault, I always ask so I can put a steak on grill sooner or later than med rare.
We sat down to dinner and a sea of glassware. I ended up ordering 8 Riedel XL glasses from Amazon, and then used every other wine glass in the house—stemless, burgundy, promotional glasses from the Society of Smugglers, and the ones my husband hates the most—the Cab glasses with the Wegmans stamp of the foot. We drank rose´ out of white wine glasses. Since I didn’t have a glass left in the house, I passed around chalk markers to mark our wine glass with our names. Because if you lost your glass tonight, you were out of luck. We had decanted the four cabs and each decanter had a number, so we used the chalk markers to label the glasses with the number of the wine as well.
At the end of the night, it was really about drinking wine with friends, but the evening went more or less smoothly because of the planning. Although I spent the most time thinking about the meal, the number of wines and the glassware is just as important of a consideration. My husband suggested just reusing the same glass. I was stuck on the fact that it is easier to compare wines in a flight and the logistics of how to pass 4 carafes up and down a table without our food getting cold while waiting for the next tasting. Having eight dinner plates is pretty common; having 32 wine glasses took some ingenuity, a little shopping, and, for me, swallowing my pride that I had to use burgundy glasses and one orphan wine glass meant for an indeterminate varietal for the cabernet. No one cared about the mix and match glassware, but being able to smell and taste all four wines at the same time was awesome.
Sharing wine with friends is such an intense pleasure and the evening was worth the planning and hand washing 32 wine glasses (and yes, cleanup was a bitch!)
The wines we served
2012 Beautiful Generation – Cliff Lede Vineyards
2013 Mountain Estate Cabernet – Fisher Vineyards
NV Overture – Opus One
2012 Rutherford Cabernet – Martin Estate Vineyards
The Overture got the most votes for favorite wine, Beautiful Generation came in second, and my ranking went : Overture, Martin Estate’s Rutherford Cab, Fisher’s Mountain Estate, and last but certainly not least, Beautiful Generation.