Maine restaurants and inns celebrate summer with many special events, including wine dinners featuring five specially prepared food courses, each with a matching wine, for far less than you’d pay if you ordered the same dinner from the menu. When we looked for a wine dinner in southern Maine and another in northern Maine, we were lucky to find them at two of our favorite places: The Inn and Tavern at Brunswick Station, and the Lucerne Inn just east of Bangor. We stayed the night at both inns — something we recommend if you intend to more-than-sample the wines. There were some similarities in the dinners, and some interesting differences, but both were fantastic experiences.

 

Linda — The Tavern at Brunswick Station

The concept is a great one — host a dinner featuring great wines and have a talented chef devise a menu to match those wines. Most of us ordinary cooks find it impossible to come up with food that will bring out the best in wines or vice versa. So, I was more than a little impressed by the offerings at both wine dinners we attended.

The fact that Hugh Davies, the owner of Schramsberg (a Napa Valley winery whose sparkling wines have been served at the White House since President Richard Nixon resided there — and who took a Schramsberg wine to China on his first trip there), would be coming to talk about his wines at the Tavern’s wine dinner astonished our daughter Hilary.

“Are you sure?” she inquired. She was well aware of the reputation of these wines, two of which are served at the high-end Washington, D.C., restaurant where she works. There turned out to be a good reason for Hugh’s presence in Brunswick: His 25th class reunion at Bowdoin College was that weekend.

The Tavern’s banquet room included tables for six. At the start of each course, Hugh and Chef Kevin Cunningham explained the wine and food. The appetizer, seared bay scallops atop mini crab cakes, made a scallop lover out of me! George has been trying to do that for 33 years, without luck. The matching Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc was fresh and sweet.

I am not familiar with sparkling wines, but each and every one we tasted was light and paired very well with the courses.

The second course was my favorite. Imagine melt-in-your-mouth leg of duck served with crispy potatoes, carrot puree and a Malbec demi-glace. Everyone wanted to know what they did to the amazing carrots and the chef’s reply was “just really fresh carrots (gourmet red bliss ones), roasted and pureed.” I listened carefully to the chef and heard an aside of “a little butter and cream.” Aha!

Just in case you’re wondering how anyone can eat all this, rest assured that courses were small plates, and the wine a sampling. I sampled everything, ate what I loved and didn’t finish a plate.

Entertainment was a part of this dinner, and Hugh took the prize when he opened the Schamsberg Cremant for the dessert course with a sword! He warned us, “This is really sharp when you do it this way, so don’t drink out of the bottle!” The Mango Panna Cotta dessert was beyond description and is my new favorite dessert.

Linda — Lucerne Inn

If there ever was a perfect time for a wine dinner, it was the night we headed to The Lucerne Inn. A couple hours before, I had just finished school for the year, sending my first-graders home for the summer.

“Wine Down Wednesday”dinners at The Lucerne Inn are held on the second Wednesday of each month (except August) from 5 to 9 p.m. and have quite a local following of repeat guests. Maine Distributors and Bangor’s State Street Wine Cellar co-hosted our dinner.

Entering the dining area, we found a long table set for 36, with name place cards at each setting. Guests were friendly and chatty and as the evening wore on, the table was a bit rowdy. I really enjoyed sitting together at the long table. The more wine that was served, the more people opened up. It was just plain fun.

I quickly noticed two things. All the ladies were poured wine first. (It’s always irritating when the waiter opens a bottle of wine and serves the man first!) Secondly, the wines appeared a lot closer to a full pour than a sample. Caution! There was lots of wine left at my setting, not so much at most people’s. I’d definitely suggest accepting the inn’s bargain offer of a room for just $40 with the wine dinner package!

You could tell when each course was served, as the rambunctious crowd quieted right down. The Pork Belly with Sea Scallops paired well with Le Campuget Rose from France. The wine was reasonably priced and makes a super summer wine.

No surprise, the Tintero Rosso from Italy was my favorite wine of the evening. The salad of fiddleheads, spinach and porcini mushrooms came in the best tasting, crisp Parmesan shell you can possibly imagine! I don’t know if this is on the inn’s regular summer menu, but it should be!

The main course featured Pan-Roasted Halibut, potatoes and grilled vegetable ratatouille. It was so special that even I, a non-fish eater, ate a good portion of the halibut. All around me I heard remarks of how delicious that fish was.

Dessert, a fresh fruit tart, came with a sparkling wine from Italy — Tintero Moscato d’Asti — a perfect ending.

George

You may have heard the saying, “Eat to live. Don’t live to eat.” That’s never been my motto. Mine would be the opposite.

So, it’s surprising that I’ve never experienced a wine dinner where a wine seller and a chef work together to match wines to fabulous food, offering both a feast and an education, and very different from a normal dining experience. For sure, you’ll experience food and wine that you’ve never tried before.

A wine dinner begins with one or two appetizers, followed by three courses (each of which could be an entrée), and is completed with a dessert. As each course is served, and a matching wine poured, someone will tell you about the food and wine, some history, some story telling, some performance.

We learned a lot at each dinner, which was part of the fun during these special several-hours dining adventures. I was especially surprised to learn how well red wine can go with fish. I also enjoyed the chance to visit and dine with others, including two couples from New Brunswick at the Lucerne Inn. One couple was enjoying their eighth visit to the inn! Wine dinners are sort of an elegant version of a Maine church bean supper.

At the end of the dinner, you’ll be offered an opportunity to purchase the wines you liked at a discount. They must be picked up later at a wine store — thanks to Maine’s laws governing alcohol.

The food at both dinners was really exceptional — interesting presentations of a wide range of food, including meat and fish. Both of our dinners featured a lot of seafood — as you might expect. I honestly can’t tell you my favorites, because I loved it all!

OK, the braised Maine-raised pork belly with Maine sea scallops at the Lucerne Inn, and the panchetta-wrapped leg of duck at the Tavern at Brunswick Station were superb.

Commenting on the ducks I shoot in the fall, Linda said, “If you could make your duck taste like this, I’d eat it.” Guess I’ll have to call on Chef Kevin Cunningham for help come fall!

The best advice came from Chef Cunningham who said, at the beginning of our dinner: “Don’t eat everything put in front of you.”

Alas, I didn’t take the advice!

 

IF YOU GO . . .

Lucerne Inn
ON THE WEB: www.lucerneinn.com
ADDRESS: Route 1A, 2517 Main Road, Dedham
PHONE: 800-325-5123 for reservations; 843-5123 for inquiries and information.
Steve and Rhonda really enjoy seeing guests from central Maine, so be sure to say hello to them. Next wine dinner — Italian Grill with Wicked Wines — is scheduled for July 11, outside on the patio, a beautiful spot overlooking the lake and nearby hills.

Inn and Tavern at Brunswick Station
ON THE WEB:
www.innatbrunswickstation
ADDRESS: 4 Noble St., Brunswick
PHONE: 837-6565
Brunswick is an amazing place, with more than 40 restaurants, many unique and fine shops, Bowdoin College with its art museum, the Maine State Music Theater, and lots more. The Inn and Tavern host many special events, including an August beer dinner — for those of you who don’t like wine, but do love Maine microbrews. We hope to be there!

Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.


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