Taste Test Review: Vintner’s Dinner

Food and wine pairing events have been popping up more frequently in recent years as the farm-to-table movement has gained momentum.

Food and wine pairing events have been popping up more frequently in recent years as the farm-to-table movement has gained momentum. Typically reserved for fine-dining establishments (Bender’s in Canton and DBA in Akron are known to host a few), the events often feature a fixed-price menu focused on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients and fantastic wines.

I recently learned that Marlboro Township’s own Maize Valley Winery has a recurrent Vintner’s Dinner with a loyal following and decided to check it out.

Dinners take place on the third Thursday of each month and offer a five-course meal, each thoughtfully paired with Maize Valley’s own wines. Reservations and advance payment are required. On this particular evening, we arrived (slightly late) to a nearly full communal table, set with dishes, silverware and plenty of wine glasses, and surrounded by a lively group, already enjoying the first wine course and laughing as if they knew one another. (As it turned out, many of them did.) Seating is assigned, with placeholders marking each diner’s spot at the long table. We were seated (across from each other) toward the center of the table, which held more than 30 guests.

Menus were set at each place setting, but also available online in advance, so attendees can select their desired meal. On this particular night, Maize Valley was celebrating its 61st Vintner’s Dinner. The hosts for the evening welcomed the group and explained the event’s humble beginnings, in which it was decided to give it a shot to see if people would like it. As its loyal diners will attest, these Vintner’s Dinners turned out to be a big success.

To commemorate the 61st dinner, our hosts decided on a “throwback Thursday” menu, the exact same menu served at the very first Vintner’s Dinner, five years prior. They also encouraged the group members to submit their own favorite recipes, promising that if one was selected for inclusion at a dinner, the “reward” would be two complimentary seats at a future dinner. Another perk to the evening: They provide take-home recipes for each course.

Vintner’s Dinners allow for guests to meet new people or have a fun evening with old friends. Couples are seated across from each other to allow for conversation.
Vintner’s Dinners allow for guests to meet new people or have a fun evening with old friends. Couples are seated across from each other to allow for conversation.
Before moving on to the meal itself, I must tell you about our neighbors. Because of the seating arrangement, you are highly likely to make conversation with those around you. To my left, some fellow newbies: a young couple newly out of college, out on their very first date, which we all decided would make for an interesting story to tell later on—they basically shared the experience with a handful of chatty strangers. To my right, a couple that was part of the “veteran” crew—they made friendships at the dinner long ago that extended beyond Maize Valley’s doors. In fact, they all had convened at one of the couples’ homes for their own rendition of a Vintner’s Dinner a few weeks prior.

The meal began with a Cream of Forest Mushroom Soup, featuring a variety of mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, enoki and button). The rich, creamy soup was paired with Maize Valley’s Sinfully White Wine. A note about the wines, in general: As someone who prefers dry red wines, be warned: Maize Valley’s are sweet like many Ohio wines. That said, I think the staff did an excellent job with pairings for each course. You just have to go into it knowing that the wine is on the sweeter side.

Second course was a spinach pear salad, made with broiled pears, which brought out a nice caramelization, along with feta cheese and toasted walnuts. The dressing was a homemade vinaigrette of port wine, shallots, garlic, Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar. Light and refreshing, it made for a lovely prelude to the main course.

The entree course of the evening was red wine roasted pork tenderloin. The pork loin was browned in bacon drippings, then roasted with carrots, mushrooms, fresh herbs and red wine. The glaze was sweeter (due to the wine) but well-suited for the pork. A side of roasted red potatoes rounded out the plate nicely. This course, as well as the next, was paired with Maize Valley Merlot, perhaps the driest of the selected wines.

The warm and gooey Molten Chocolate Cake is served with Maize Valley’s Raspberry Wine. The mix of sweet chocolate and fruity and refreshing wine ends the meal perfectly.
The warm and gooey Molten Chocolate Cake is served with Maize Valley’s Raspberry Wine. The mix of sweet chocolate and fruity and refreshing wine ends the meal perfectly.
Next, we ate as the French do and indulged in a cheese course. Which, by the way, why don’t Americans do this more? After a filling first few courses, it was so nice to relax and slow down with a selection of cheeses and fruit—simplicity at its finest. Cheeses served included Aged Asiago, Buttermilk Blue and New York White, all of which are available in
the winery’s store. I was quite torn between the New York White and Asiago, both of which were salty, bold and incredibly flavorful. Grapes and apples provided a sweeter note for contrast.

And finally, it was time for the dessert course, not surprisingly one of my favorites. Molten Chocolate Cake arrived at the table warm and gooey. A rich, nearly flourless, indulgent chocolate dessert seemed destined to be paired with Maize Valley’s Raspberry Wine, a fruity and refreshing dessert wine.

All said and done, I highly recommend a Vintner’s Dinner, not only for the food and wine, but the new friends that may come with it. At $40 per person, which includes wine, gratuity and a handful of recipes to take home, it’s a fine value. I’m guessing the best meals are in the summer months, when more of Maize Valley’s home-grown produce can be highlighted.

Vintner’s Dinners are the third Thursday of every month at Maize Valley Winery, 6193 Edison Street NE in Marlboro Township. 330-877-8344, maizevalley.com

Next Vintner’s Dinner

March 19
Menu:
• Crab cake with lime ginger sauce
• Carrot bisque with lobster
• Dressed-up wedge salad and Maize Valley’s house blue cheese dressing
• Beef Kari Kari with seasoned bok choy and eggplant
• Beer Bacon Chocolate Stout Cheesecake

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass