One of the best ways for wine enthusiasts to connect with their favorite wines is through wine dinners.

Local restaurants have been keen on this for some time and enthusiastically “share” their dining spaces with a particular winery (or wineries, as we’ll discover) for a special evening where the spotlight is equally as bright for the food as it is for the accompanying wines.

Many chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers and other culinary professionals work closely together to find the best possible pairings of wine and food, oftentimes creating an entirely unique menu apart from their regular offerings. Fortunately, Atlantic City, the culinary capital of its namesake county (at least as I strongly view it) does not disappoint in the next few upcoming weeks of May, and I’ve detailed a couple worth looking into below.

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FIN, Tropicana Casino and Resort’s exquisite seafood restaurant specializing in locally-sourced seafood and produce from a seasonal menu, on any normal night serves as an excellent place of refuge from the bustling casino floor. But on Tuesday, May 13, they combine this fresh concept with wines from California’s famous Jordan Vineyard and Winery and J Vineyards for a special prix-fixe dinner. Executive Chef Demetrios Haronis and Emmanuel Padilla, sales director from Jordan, will share their expertise over a five-course meal. Upon first glance of this menu, their passion for what they do is clearly laid out in each course.

Highlights include the second course’s lobster and jumbo lump crab cocktail with chipotle crema and avocado salsa expertly paired with Jordan Chardonnay 2011, in addition to their third course of warm pistachio-crusted brie with arugula, radicchio, Belgian endive and pomegranate vinaigrette smartly paired with the seductive J Pinot Noir.

If the last two I mentioned have piqued your interest, then their fourth course should seal the deal: dry-aged prime filet mignon with mixed mushrooms, au gratin potatoes, baby vegetables and a Jordan “Cab Sauv” demiglace paired with Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and 2009.

Taste whether you prefer the fresh vibrancy of the ’09 Cabernet or the slightly more “mature” 2005 with this dish. The reception begins at 6 p.m. with the gourmet dinner following at 7 p.m.. Tickets are $125 per person including tax and gratuity. As they always say, seats are filling up fast so RSVP before it’s too late!

Ruth’s Chris Steak House is taking another approach to their wine dinner. Aptly titled “The World of Cabernet” Five Course Wine Dinner will showcase different bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon from all over the world to be paired with select courses.

This is the perfect opportunity to taste first-hand how the same grape, when produced in various locations all over the world, can take on a whole new identity. I’m very pleasantly surprised to read this dinner begins with a rosé as its first course: Scalabrone Dry Rosé, an Italian blend including Cabernet Sauvignon, will be paired with wild salmon steak with tomato, basil and white wine sauce with braised romaine lettuce. More dinners should include and/or begin with a rosé in my opinion.

Ruth’s Chris’ third course also should delight steak lovers featuring its seared tenderloin salad accompanied by fresh mozzarella, beets and chimichurri pesto paired with Hussonet “Grand Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo, Chile.

I’ve frequently extolled the qualities of great Cabernet Sauvignon from South America, but how about the same grape produced in Walla Walla, Washington? If you haven’t tried so already, experience the voluptuous Cab Sauv blend, Frederick, from Spring Valley Vineyards paired with the fourth course and specialty of sizzling filet mignon, caramelized onions and a Cabernet/balsamic reduction.

“The World of Cabernet” dinner is happening 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 12, and while that may seem a ways away, as most things do, the date may creep on you before you know it, or worse yet, all the seats may be sold so RSVP today by contacting the restaurant. To get a seat at this wonderful dinner, it’s $95 per person, plus tax and gratuity.

Wine dinners have the ability to be a one-of-a-kind event; the food, the people — and the wine, of course — all lend to such a dinner’s uniqueness and enjoyment. For wine lovers, foodies and epicureans of all stripes, these special events seamlessly combine the best of both food and beverage and create that occasion where both a chef’s food and winemaker’s wine are better for being paired together.

I’ve just been able to cram a couple wine dinners in this little column but there’s a lot of others out there, and with a little internet sleuthing, you’ll dig up other ones happening in this city and elsewhere, including the Knife & Fork and Old Homestead at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, to name a couple. Wherever you choose to enjoy a prix-fixe wine dinner, consider my only bit of advice: come hungry and thirsty, be sure to hydrate with water, and you’ll be sure to have a memorable meal! In vino felicitas.

Paul Tonacci, Managing Partner of Atlantic City Bottle Company & The Iron Room, is a Certifed Sommelier, a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), an American Wine Judge through the American Wine Society, and a member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’ Société Mondiale du Vin. He’s attempting to raise the profile of wines from all over the world, including New Jersey’s own, and feature those among others in a list of more than 750 different wines in his restaurant. His column runs every other week.


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