“Have you heard of the Orange County Wine Elite?” I asked Stasha.
“No, but it sounds right up your alley – or your palate,” she replied.
“It’s a meet-up group that’s dedicated to blind-tasting high-end red wines,” I explained. “Remember that email we received from the group’s founder, Jorn ‘Joey’ Kleinhans, inviting us to attend one of his events? I checked out the OC Wine Elite website. Members meet for dinner, and contribute to the cost of eight or more great wines. The tastings are led by sommeliers. Everyone tries to guess the grape and origin. By the end of the evening, they’ve had a chance to sample some amazing wines and enjoy a paired gourmet dinner.”
“I was right – it is up your alley,” stated Stasha.
“Joey has one spot open this Saturday at the Palm Terrace Restaurant at the Island Hotel in Fashion Island. The theme is ‘A Duel to the Death: Burgundy versus Rhone.’ Joey is pitting French Pinot Noir against French Syrah and Granache.”
“But I didn’t think you liked French wine. In fact, what are you drinking right now?”
“A Santa Barbara Pinot, but just because my palate prefers California wines doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the French style of wine making. Besides, this is a chance to taste some really good French wines. And I bet Executive Chef Bill Bracken is creating a perfect culinary accouterment to the wines.
“In that case, you should definitely go.”
Go I did.
The event was held in a private dining room that comfortably seated 16 participants, which is the capacity for most of the OC Wine Elite events (that way, everyone gets a two ounce pour of each wine).
At each place setting was a prix-fixe menu, with a list of wines being poured that evening. The wines were in no particular order, so we had to guess which wines were poured with each course.
There were also colorful maps of the Burgundy and Rhone regions, just one of the educational components that help make these wine dinners unique. Also seated at the table was Joe Poshek, a certified sommelier, who provided helpful hints on how to identify specific wine varietals by their appearance, smell and taste.
Joey welcomed everyone, we each introduced ourselves, and then we were off and running … or drinking.
We were each given two samples of wine as the first course – Porcini Dusted Salmon with Braised Savoy Cabbage and Weiser Farms Potatoes, Beurre Rouge – was served.
I sampled both wines, and made my guesses on a scoring sheet. The first I suspected was a Pinot, which I rated a 4. The other tasted like a Beaujolais, which I gave a 5.
We went around the table and offered our guesses, and ratings. I was pleased to see that, once the wines were revealed, I had been correct in my guesses.
The next course – Roasted Breast of Squab with Beluga Lentils and a Natural Reduction – was again accompanied by two more samples of wine. The first I immediately spotted as a Pinot, and was rather pleased with the taste. I gave it an 8. The second wine had all the characteristics of a Syrah, which I rated a 7. Again, I turned out to be correct.
We proceeded through two more courses and four more wines. By the end of the evening, I had guessed 6 out of 8 wines correctly (including an Italian Super Tuscan, which Joey added to the mix just for fun). That’s a good average for someone not partial to French wines. I also discovered how well most of the wines went with the various dishes. I was amazed to see that three hours had passed. Time certainly flies when you’re focused on a serious activity like drinking fine wine and eating fine food.
“That’s what wine is all about,” agreed Joey. “Wine has no practical or important purpose. It is a way of enjoying life.”
“How long has the OC Wine Elite been around?” I asked Joey.
“I started this group one year ago with the intent to build a forum in Orange County to have wine drinkers that feel strongly about appreciation of high end wines come together and learn about them. No one else is doing that in this area.”
“I noticed that at the dinner tonight were people with various levels of expertise in wine.”
“Yes, some are collectors with 3,000 bottles in their cellars and they bring that experience. We have wine makers, educators, sommeliers, and also wine drinkers who are just starting to learn about wine. My challenge is to integrate everyone. I don’t want this to be a stiff affair, but I do try to keep it fairly structured to a degree. It’s well-moderated and takes a certain pace, with few independent conversations. I want this to be an intense wine workshop that is fun.”
Joey has certainly succeeded in his goal.
For more information on OC Wine Elite, visit www.WineElite.co.nr.