The DetailsThe Capital Wine Festival, in Washington D.C., is hosted at The Fairfax Hotel on Embassy Row, an elegant and very comfortable hotel that exudes a sense of quiet power. The wine festival is a long event, stretching from January through March, and consists of a series of wine dinners focusing on a single winery or winemaker. The dinners cost between $125 and $155 per person; the hotel offers packages that include the wine dinner -- especially recommended in order to avoid driving after many, many glasses of wine!
The Evening UnfoldsI attended the first of the 2011 series of wine dinners focused on Italian wineries Poggio al Tesoro and San Polo.
It starts at 7 p.m., and begins rather like a wedding -- at the check-in table, find a paper-tent with your name and, most importantly, your table number. You don't need that info right away, as you're first ushered into a smaller room for an opening reception, in this case a glass of Poggio al Tesoro's Cassiopea Bolgheri 2009 rose. I sipped at it slowly, even though it was delicious, with the thought of pacing myself. However, there was no need to worry about pacing myself with food -- none was served.
There's some slight mingling at the reception, but attendees mostly come in couples or small groups so if you're attending alone, be prepared to make bright conversation with the other solos.
Dinner starts about twenty minutes later, and begins with an introduction delivered by the winemaker to the featured winery of the evening. Each of the four courses will have its own wine pairing -- sometimes more than one. The dinner ends after about two and a half hours.
The VibeThe crowd seems to be largely drawn from D.C., which means that there's a slight formality both in dress and in attitude. (Men were wearing suits, women wearing cocktail attire.) I recognized at least one Congressional representative, and chatted with another person attached to a nearby embassy.
The Wine and Winery OwnerWine dinners feature either the wine maker or the winery owner, in this case, it was the co-owners of Poggio al Tesoro in Tuscany, and San Polo in Montalcino. Marilisa Allegrini and Leonardo LoCascio took turns introducing the region, their wineries, and the characteristics of the six wines poured that evening. (This includes a wine poured at the reception, and the second course had two wine pairings.) Intros at the beginning are more lengthy, wine descriptions between courses more pithy.
The presentations were at their most interesting when they went beyond tasting notes -- which you'd be able to get at any good wine store, after all. Wine lends itself to personal stories, which are often touching. For instance, the best wine of the evening, Poggio al Tesoro's "W", a cabernet franc, is so named because it's dedicated to Marilisa's late brother, Walter.
The FoodEach course is clearly designed to complement the wine -- and also is meant not to overshadow the wine. (In other words, the food is not the point of the evening; portions are on the smaller side.)The wine is poured generously, so this is where self-pacing becomes important.
At the Poggio al Tesoro and San Polo dinner, the meal started with a fish course (pan seared grey sole with spinach and capers and lemon pasta), moved onto poultry (prosciutto, fennel and garlic stuffed quail, with faro and red wine sauce), and garlic and herb rubbed roasted hanger steak with cannelini beans and black Tuscan kale.
Dessert was the most creative of all the courses, an unexpected savory and sweet pairing of taleggio cheese served with a warm chestnut brown pudding.
Research for this piece included industry-standard complimentary media access to service/destination/products described. Ethics policy.