Once an occasional luxury, winemaker dinners can now be found going on almost every week. But as they’ve become ubiquitous, they’ve also lost a little luster, becoming less special and more formulaic over the years.
Rising up to reverse that tide this year is the Bacara Resort’s Miró Restaurant, whose Chef Johan Denizot is developing special menus and inviting internationally respected experts to lead the Meet the Masters dinner series every third Thursday of the month. The first dinner, on January 16, features Master Sommelier Fred Dame, who boasts one of the most legendary noses in the world and the encyclopedic knowledge to back it up.
“Sometimes these things can be a grind,” admitted Dame, who doesn’t do many dinners like this these days. “This is not gonna be like that. This will be fun.” Instead of focusing on just one winery or varietal, Dame said he “cherry-picked everything that would be spectacular and a really great match with the cuisine,” including a decade-old pink sparkler from Roederer, a Solomon Hills chardonnay made by Bien Nacido’s Trey Fletcher, and, his personal fave, a DAOU cabernet sauvignon from Paso Robles.
Dame promises to “go in-depth” on the selections, their history, and their winemaking and agrees that the educational part of the somm’s job requires extra diligence these days, since so much good wine information can be found instantly on the Internet. He still feels the sommelier’s role is important, though, relaying what he once told the New York Times: “When that iPad can pull out the cork, I know I’m in trouble. Until then, I’m in pretty good shape.” Plus, while it’s one thing to have facts at your fingertips, “It’s another thing to have tried the wine before and to know the experiences that your customer has had before,” said Dame. “We may open other avenues for them.” He did admit that, when teaching advanced courses, his students will correct him “in a heartbeat” if he misspeaks. “You better have your A game on those days,” he laughed.
A Monterey peninsula native, Dame is excited about the rise of the Central Coast wines but is most pleased that the next generation is increasingly adventurous with their tastes, whether it’s wine or craft beer or liquor. “Unlike the old standard where consistency is the key — you know, Bud tastes like Bud — young people are into experimentation and trying to find something different,” explained Dame. “The consuming public is really pushing the envelope. That makes the work harder for sommeliers and chefs, but it’s far more satisfying to be doing our jobs.”
Bacara’s Meet the Masters series features Fred Dame on January 16, champagne expert Nicolas Krafft on February 20, and sake-and-shochu wizard Yuji Matsumoto on March 20. Tickets are $150. See BacaraResort.com.