Lone Eagle Grille’s Winemaker Dinners Provide Innovative Wine-and-Dine Experiences

Written by Jessica Santina
Photos by Dave Santina

Do the words winemaker dinner sound more to you like a formal presentation than a dining experience?

I’ll admit, they did for me before I attended the most recent winemaker dinner at Lone Eagle Grille in Incline Village. Though we’re lovers of wine and frequently enjoy wine tasting, my husband and I had never before attended an actual winemaker dinner and had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, Lone Eagle’s Winemaker Dinner Series offers an elevated food-and-wine-pairing experience that, while certainly luxurious, also is welcoming, inclusive, insightful, and deliciously unexpected.

In the cozy, rustic dining room of Lone Eagle Grille, at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, beside an enormous stone fireplace and an expansive lakefront view, guests are seated with only their own parties at individual tables, where they enjoy five courses paired with wines, which they may enjoy at their own pace. It results in a more casual, intimate experience as guests engage throughout the evening in lively, one-one-one conversations with passionate makers of food and wine who love sharing their crafts.

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Our dinner featured wines by Blackbird Vineyards out of Napa Valley. Once seated, we felt like welcome friends as, by turns and never intrusively, we were personally greeted and presented with food and drink by a server, a sommelier pouring wine, General Manager Matthew Mitchell, chef de cuisine Shane Hammett, and Blackbird Vineyards’ president Paul Leary. Each shared valuable information about the vintages we tasted and how the ingredients in each dish were strategically chosen to complement each other and the wines.

I will admit here that the menu somewhat intimidated me. Though I like to think of myself as an adventurous and non-picky eater, the lineup mentioned oysters, truffles, and lamb — none of which I’ve ever particularly enjoyed — as well as foie gras mousse, which I confess to never having courage enough to try. I was right to make this the evening to do so.

The first course, a dish of crispy Kumamoto oysters topped with crumbles of crackling pancetta and served over an apple emulsion and Granny Smith apple relish, completely tore down any misconceptions I had about oysters or, for that matter, what they should be eaten with. Hammett paid his first visit here, explaining the concept behind the dish. Every tiny component — the bursts of pork saltiness against the chunks of apple, whose tart-sweetness rounded out the briny oyster — was intended to complement the 2017 Dissonance, a refreshingly crisp and bright sauvignon blanc. The combination was completely surprising in its perfection.

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La Belle Farm foie gras mousse served with strawberries, basil brioche crumble, and watercress, drizzled with golden balsamic, served with Arena Rosé

Each course proceeded in this way. My preconception about foie gras mousse being overly rich and fatty were completely shattered. Instead, the salty, rich, savory flavor was as light as air, spread on the plate and topped with a combination of flavors and textures that made for a perfect balance: crusty basil brioche croutons, sliced strawberries, and fresh watercress. The results were magical and, again, utterly surprising. It was complemented by the Arena Rosé, a clean, elevated rosé that, like its paired dish, combined dry with sweet.

Wagyu beef
The third course was a 28-day dry-aged American wagyu striploin served with grilled king trumpet mushrooms, in a chicory black truffle vinaigrette with avocado chimichurri, served with Blackbird Vineyards’ 2014 Arise merlot blend

As the wines and dishes made their way to the table — a dry-aged American wagyu striploin, a succulent Niman Ranch lamb belly, a decadently rich chocolate raspberry bombe — Leary, Hammett, and the Lone Eagle staff dropped by to ensure our every need was cared for, every question answered.

The fourth course, a smoked Niman Ranch lamb belly on a bed of sunchoke puree, served with a poached Cipollini onion in paprika oil, served with the velvety, earthy Paramour cabernet franc blend from Blackbird Vineyards

My husband and I eagerly lap up wine knowledge whenever we’re given an opportunity to speak with a winemaker, and no question we asked was too silly for Leary, who genuinely seemed to enjoy sharing his experiences and hearing what we thought. Hammett also clearly took pleasure in watching his guests be delighted and surprised by the menu.

Chocolate bombe
For dessert, Hammett prepared a chocolate raspberry bombe filled with Chambord crème Anglaise served with candied raspberries and almonds and topped with espresso chocolate sauce

By the end of the meal, as we headed into the cold night for the drive home, we were warmed by wine and full stomachs, as well as the feeling of having just spent an evening at the home of friends.

Ready to attend the next Lone Eagle Grille Winemaker Series Dinner?

Lone Eagle Grille’s Niman Ranch Scholarship Dinner
Fri., April 5
6 – 8:30 p.m.

Partnering with Niman Ranch, Lone Eagle Grille offers a delicious dinner by chef Shane Hammett paired with wines from Coupe de Foudre in Napa Valley. Hammett and the winemaker will be on hand to give details about the meal and wines throughout the dinner. Proceeds support Niman Ranch’s Next Generation Foundation, which provides scholarships to the children of farmers and ranchers who are committed to furthering their education to continue rural enhancement.

The dinner pairing will be accompanied by a silent auction, and attendees include Niman Ranch's 2018 scholarship recipient, Elle Gadient, and members of the Niman Ranch staff, who can personally speak to the benefits of the scholarship.

For details about the menu and reserving a table, visit Loneeaglegrille.com/hyattnimanranch. Information about additional winemaker dinner events can be found at Loneaglegrille.com.

Jessica Santina is the managing editor of edible Reno-Tahoe.