Doc Lawrence

The evening was spectacular. Combine a great array of wines with food prepared by an acclaimed chef and serve generous portions to an impressive gathering of gourmets in one of the country’s most beautiful restaurants, and the ingredients are in place for a long remembered evening.

The culinary affair was at City Grill, Karen Bremer’s magnificent and palatial restaurant. Wines served were from Wente Vineyards, the venerable and acclaimed California winemaker. A special appearance be Karl Wente, a descendant of C.H. Wente, a German immigrant who founded Wente Vineyards in 1833, supplied more magic to the event.

Here we were in dear Atlanta enjoying exquisite cuisine from a legendary kitchen along with the glory of the grape from one of our top winemakers. We gathered early in the cozy room on the second floor private room in City Grill, located in the Hurt Building a stone’s throw away from City Hall, the State Capitol and adjacent to Georgia State University. It was still early evening with the sun ablaze and the moment called for a glass of 2001 Wente Sauvignon Blanc. After a few sips, hors d’oeuvres were served that blended perfectly with the citrus flavors and grassy fragrance from the exceptional aperitif. This proved to be a harbinger of things to come.

After a grand entrance by esteemed owner Karen Bremer, we sat down to a memorable feast that was notable for the precision in pairing great Wente wines with noble cuisine. Food and wine compatibility is not as simple as it sounds, and to accomplish what we enjoyed during each of the four courses requires an experienced and concerned wait staff, with outstanding leadership in the kitchen.

We began with a roasted beet salad sprinkled with light citrus vinaigrette and goat cheese, expertly paired with a 2000 Riva Ranch Chardonnay, one of the most richly flavored varietals I’ve enjoyed. Julia Jones, an Atlanta attorney who joined me in the wine and food adventure, said she was delighted by this Chardonnay, “particularly how it brought out the flavors of the salad.” There was no doubt that this delightful white wine was destined to become an evening favorite.

The Wente Reliz Creek Pinot Noir was the selection for the second course of Halibut with Brie and wild mushroom risotto. Karl Wente, a fifth-generation vintner who truly grew up with wine both at the dinner table and as part of his everyday life at Wente Vineyards, introduced the wines for each course and advised diners to lose misconceptions about wine pairing. “Red wine with red meat or white wine with fish is basically irrelevant now, and really doesn’t do much for enjoyment,” he explained. The Pinot Noir accompanied the delicate Halibut splendidly and served to exemplify Wente’s guidance.

One of the evening’s big surprises was the City Grill cheese plate, assortments of homegrown delights from Thomasville, Georgia’s award winning Sweet Grass Dairy. While we devoured the morsels which were washed down with an ample glass of Wente Cabernet Sauvignon, Karen Bremer, who brings genuine passion into every aspect of the City Grill experience, told the assemblage of gourmets about Sweet Grass and the special relationship her restaurant has with the acclaimed cheese maker.

The finale illustrated the flexibility of great, full-bodied red wine that, when chosen with care, allows exceptional pairing with certain desserts. The Wente Craneridge Reserve Merlot went down like it was to be consumed only with the seductive flourless chocolate cake with cherry coulis sauce. At my table, everyone was comfortably full and there was no request for after dinner drinks or coffee. It was understood that everyone had just enough of a great thing. Somehow, the finish seemed to be part of a wonderful plan that worked to perfection.

There are wine tastings and wine dinners galore, conducted somewhere almost daily. This is a healthy trend and serves to advance the interests of wine and food enthusiasts. These serve as effective vehicles by providing opportunities to explore a large variety of wines from different parts of the planet. When a restaurant decides to really do this right, the benefit inherent with intelligent pairing opens up new worlds of flavor enjoyment. City Grill’s Wente Vineyards wine dinner was a glowing example of an upper-scale affair that went far beyond reasonable expectations. Ms. Bremer’s peerless staff knows what they are doing and spare nothing in showcasing their majestic creations.

There are generally accepted fundamentals that make a wine dinner worth the effort and expense. First, the restaurant must be serious about its sponsorship with a ferocious determination for excellence. To assure that a wine dinner is truly worthy, I contact the restaurant manager beforehand and make some polite inquiry. Who will be speaking and leading the diners through each course. Will the chef be available afterwards for dialogue? Who will be the spokesperson for the wine? What are his or her credentials? How is the wine being served? Is it to be poured into stemware or plastic? Answers are cheerfully provided by any reputable restaurant and advance knowledge will help you make an informed choice.

Karl Wente revealed that as a winemaker, his primary responsibility is to oversee the production of Wente’s reserve and single vineyard wines. This focus on winemaking has led to the addition of small-lot facilities, enabling him to focus on higher quality with some room for experimentation. That’s welcome news for those who long for the new pleasures that are almost sure to come from a little daring in the evolving world of wine. An evening of wine excellence surrounded by City Grill’s culinary wonders would be very difficult to duplicate. It’s the stuff of priceless memories.


Follow the arrow to read Doc's article about Karen Bremer and the two fine restaurants which she owns in Atlanta: The City Grill and Dailey's.

This arrow will take you to Doc's story about Sweet Grass Dairies and their magnificent cheeses

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