The True Value Of Wine Dinners

Jo McGarry
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Friday - November 03, 2006
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I went to a wine dinner the other night for the first time in months, and I was reminded of what great value they can be, especially when you’re looking to learn more about wine. The supermarket aisles can be a baffling place to go shopping for a bottle of something tasty- and many people end up picking a bottle because the color is right and the label looks vaguely familiar.

Knowing what to look for is much more satisfying. The best way to find out what works for you - because the most important thing you can learn about wine is to drink what you like - is to taste first, ask questions and then buy. But while the more specialized wine stores like Tamura’s, Fujioka’s, R. Field at Foodland, The Wine Stop, etc. have frequent free tastings, wine shopping at a supermarket isn’t really like going to Bubbies for ice cream. There’s no one handing out samples to see what you think.

That’s why wine dinners can be really useful. They can also be incredibly boring. I can’t tell you how many dinners I’ve sat through where the winemaker talks too much or the food isn’t all that great. But when they’re good, as in the case of last week’s Robert Mondavi dinner at Sam Choy’s Diamond Head, they can be really fun and worthwhile. So, pick your wine events carefully, take notes if you can, and ask a lot of questions.

Make sure that you’re getting value for money, too. Set dinners can be pricey, but many renowned wineries keep the price around $50-$70, and you can find a few great value dinners for less. Pupu and wine parties are almost always the best value, and they’re generally the most relaxed, too.

There’s a fabulous wine party at Longhi’s once in a while, where people who really love wine (led by Charlie Longhi) taste about five different varietals. For $30 you get your own pupu platter along with the wines. Longhi’s general manager Mary Ann Bowman says the parties are so much fun that people often don’t want to leave.

“Our guests have great food, taste fabulous wines, meet new people and listen to the Paradise String Quartet,” she says.

What’s not to love?

Longhi’s has an award-winning wine list that includes an Award of Excellence from the Wine Spectator, given only to restaurants with top class wine selections. The next wine party is Nov. 7 at 6.30 p.m. I’d say it was easily one of the best value, most fun wine events out there - but seating is limited. One of the things I love about this November wine pairing is that the wines have been chosen to go particularly well with holiday foods. You’ll taste the Wolfberger NV Rose (sparkling wine), Picpoul de Pinet 2005 (a crisp white wine with unusually sharp grapefruit and lime flavors), Angeline Pinot Noir 2005 (perfect with turkey!), Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, and the beautiful Justin Obtuse 2005 (a gorgeously chocolatey, raspberry dessert wine).

You can’t beat the price of $30. If you’re just beginning to get into wine, gather a group and head for Longhi’s - I think you’ll love it. If you’re already a bit of a connoisseur, I think you’ll enjoy the variety of wines on offer and the fun, relaxed atmosphere. Call 947-9899 for more information.

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