The Wine Project, every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at The Riverhead Project restaurant in Riverhead, is a “dinner party in a wine bottle” according to owner Dennis McDermott. The night brings a group of wine lovers together to enjoy a casual multi-course dinner while tasting a variety of different wines. At $40 per person, there’s no reason not to make a reservation.
Each week at The Wine Project, a different wine expert visits the restaurant with a selection of wine options. I was lucky enough to attend last month when the wine expert was Carie Hebert from Vias Imports.
The night begins with the guests, who make reservations in advance, taking a seat at the restaurant’s family style dinner table.
Carie began pouring the first wine, just a tasting amount, with a simple explanation. The wine in question was Principe Pallavicini Frascati Superiore DOC 2011. “This wine is rich in history going back over a thousand years,” she said. “It’s a great aperitif because it’s fresh, fruity and simple.”
The first course served was a cold shrimp and fennel salad with a champagne reduction, a perfectly light summer salad.
After the salad, a main course of buttermilk braised all-natural fried chicken legs was served as well as a side of baby bok choy with la doubanjiang (a spicy paste) and Szechuan peppercorn. This was a special on the restaurant’s regular dinner menu that night. The chicken was delicious—extremely juicy and tender but with a light, crispy skin. The bok choy definitely was a little spicy for my taste but it did complement the milder chicken well.
After that, a Plancha Thai Halibut dish was served, also a dinner special on the menu. This meal included lollipop kale, wheat berries, black garlic aioli, Kaffir lime leaf oil, and Thai basil. The fish was also cooked to perfection.
Last was dessert, another light and airy summer choice. It was a lemon curd with fresh strawberries, orange raspberries, and basil chiffon dressing.
Throughout the night, Carie poured six additional wines in between courses. These included Istituto Agrario Di San Michele Pinot Grigio 2011, Graham Beck Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012, Domaine Gilles Nobet Pouilly-Fuisse 2011, Capestrano Montepulcaino d’Abruzzo DOC 2010, and Statti Gaglioppo Calabria IGT 2011.
The last wine poured was Terredora di Paolo Aglianico Campania IGT 2010, “a great ancient varietal set on volcanic soil with lovely plumy, blackberry notes. Hint of spice and dusty tannins.”
“I love doing the wine dinners at The Riverhead Project,” Carie said. “It brings a group of strangers together to enjoy a great meal. You eat items that maybe you wouldn’t normal pick off of a menu along with wines you might not normally try. It creates a journey for your senses and furthers to develop your palate.
And, for me wine is very simple. The main purpose of wine is to bring people together around a great meal and to just sit back and enjoy that moment in time.”
Obviously the menu changes each week, so the above courses will not necessarily be served again. Also, the restaurant recently acquired a new head chef, Lia Fallon, so the menu may have a slightly different flair. With all of the food and drink options though, it’s still bound to be a tasty night.
Jessica Green, the beverage manager at the restaurant said that The Wine Project is “something that gets everyone together… Not a lot of people know about wine, but it’s not intimidating or stuffy. You learn about things you already knew or learn completely new things. Some people come every week.”
One of these people is Chris Hufe of Southold, who has been coming to The Wine Project every week since it started in August 2011.
“It’s a different food very week and a different wine distributor, so the food and wine is always a unique match,” Mr. Hufe said. “It’s very different and interesting…and $40 for four courses is such a great deal.”
The rest of the July schedule includes tonight, July 23, with Kristy from Polaner, and next week, July 30, with Karen from Paumanok Vineyards. For reservations call (631) 284-9300.