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Heather Jones

Building an Event Menu Around Wine

Wine can be the star of your event's menu--here's how to make magic happen.

Creating engaging, memorable events takes thoughtful planning and layers of details that intrigue and invite guests in. When you design your next event for a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the vine, or even someone who simply knows that guests appreciate a good bottle, consider adding another dimension to the meal experience: Build your menu around wine.

Begin by finding out what your client’s wine preferences or experiences are. Some will have a favorite, others will need more guidance. Your sommelier or chef could offer a tasting, which is a great getting-to-know-you experience and a chance to both spoil your clients as well as learn more about their stories and personalities. All of this information will help you customize an amazing event for them.

Once you have chosen one or more wines, your chef can build a menu around the profile of the wine. He or she can choose ingredients that pair well, and suggest dishes that incorporate those ingredients. If your chef wasn’t part of the wine tasting or selection process, make sure the chef has a bottle of each wine so he or she can taste it and make notes to help with menu creation.

Clients have different levels of experience with wine. Some will have a preference of which one should be served with each course, which you should communicate to the chef. Others will want that decision left to the professionals.

If possible, ask that the chef or sommelier be available on the event day to discuss with guests why the food was paired with each wine, and what is unique or interesting about the selections. This creates a more interactive experience and a greater level of engagement.

There are lots of rules when it comes to pairing different foods with different wines, and your clients will be interested in knowing what went into the process. At the menu tasting, be prepared to prompt the chef with questions that will lead to explaining some of these rules, especially if your clients are intrigued but less experienced with wine pairings. You will not only demonstrate how much care has gone into the crafting of the menu, but you will help foster a deeper connection between your clients and their customized dining experience.

Make sure you build in more time between each course when you feature a menu built around wine. The event planner, caterer, service staff, venue and entertainers all need to be on the same page so no one rushes a course, yet the timeline still flows smoothly. Note in your timeline documents when each wine will be poured, who will discuss the food and wine with the guests, and what each setup needs to include.

If you are planning an event where glassware will be rented, ensure that you have the correct number and type of necessary wine glasses per person and that the service staff knows how to properly set them. Also, understand that the place setting for multiple wines will take up more room, so plan the number of guests per table accordingly.

The concept of building menus around wines is becoming more popular each year. Together with your clients, chef or sommelier, you can create the ultimate menu around wine.

Heather Jones is the catering sales director for Wente Vineyards, a family-owned property in Livermore, Calif., that is home to a winery and vineyards, a golf course, restaurant, and a range of unique facilities for hosting weddings and special events.


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