Toscana: Wine Dinner

April 10, 2017 raguirre

wine dinnerwine dinner

Spend spring in the Italian countryside by hosting a wine dinner for family friends on your own or with the help of Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces

Written by Daniel Gonzales
Photography by Dennis Muncrief

wine dinnerWhether you are looking for a new way to host friends at home, or hoping to have a new experience out on the town, wine dinners can transport you and your guests to a different time and place. Seeing as how the human race has been sipping on fermented grape juice for over five millennia, there is plenty history and romance to occupy a few hours of conversation and food with a group of your favorite Las Crucens.

There are a few keys to hosting a successful wine dinner, so we went straight to one of Las Cruces’ most interesting culinary venues, Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces, and spoke to the man behind it all, Food and Beverage Director Eric Owens.

wine dinnerEric, a graduate of NMSU’s School of Business Administration Managerial Leadership, has worked a wide array of jobs in the service industry, all the while pursuing his own culinary education through research and experience. (He also heads up all the food and beverage operations at the Hilton Garden Inn.)

At Hotel “E,” he and his team are starting up the Encanto Wine Club, which will host events ranging from small group wine tastings to larger scale, paired dinners with education and entertainment. In recent months, he’s hosted upscale dinners for Virgin Galactic, NASA, and Lockheed Martin, as well as the winners of a Tough Enough to Wear Pink fundraiser auction. He also created a multi-course, chile-themed meal for the Chile Pepper Institute’s 25th Anniversary Dinner.

I recently received my Level 1 Sommelier certification, so Eric and I paired up for this “Spring in Tuscany” wine dinner exclusively for Las Cruces magazine.

Wine & Food Pairings

wine dinner

A good rule of thumb for wine and food pairings is the old saying, “It goes with what it grows with.” Different crops grow at different temperatures and elevations. Wines usually pair well with the crops and meats harvested in similar areas as reflected in local fare.

Want to try hosting one yourself at home?
We’ve put together all the tricks of the trade you’ll need to impress your guests. Or if you’d like us to do the work contact Eric Owens at 575-522-4300 or visit

Step: 1 | Pick a Theme
Choosing a theme is key to a successful wine dinner. It could be one varietal—think “Merlots From Around the Globe”—or one particular color, like “Rosé from Napa to Provence.”

One of my favorites is picking a country and displaying both foods and wines from different areas within that country. A good rule of thumb for wine and food pairings is the old saying, “It goes with what it grows with.” Different crops grow at different temperatures and elevations. Wines usually pair well with the crops and meats harvested in similar areas as reflected in local fare.

If you’re new to the game, I suggest an Italian wine dinner. You really can’t go wrong because the range is extremely wide. With over 900,000 registered wineries and over 1,300 registered grape varietals in a country that is approximate in square mileage to the state of New Mexico, there is a lot to choose from.

wine dinnerStep:2 | Try Something New
Experiment with wines and varietals that you have never tried before. If you are a California Cab drinker, venture off from your normal inclination and try some French or New Zealand Cabs. If you are brand new to drinking wine, grab a globe, spin it, and try wines from the country it stops on underneath your finger. When leaving a wine dinner, I look for two things: Did I find a new varietal or brand that I like? Did I discover a varietal or brand that I did not like? Either way, you’ve added to your own personal wine knowledge.

Step:3 | Create a Menu That is Fun and Easy for You
Every host has a different level of skill and inspiration when they create a menu. Hosting a wine dinner is your choice, so have fun with it. If you want to make five courses of different mac and cheese or a dinner of seven fishes, I promise there are wines to pair them with. It all comes down to balance. If you have a light delicate dish, don’t overpower it with a strong wine and drown out the flavors of your food. And vice versa.

wine dinnerStep:4 | Throw in Good Company & Conversation
The final step—and most important of all!—is to enjoy your wine and dinner surrounded by company you truly appreciate. Whether you are gathering a group of good friends that haven’t seen each other for a while, or meeting new people at one of Hotel Encanto’s wine dinners, enjoy yourself and enjoy the conversation. That’s what all of this is really about.

Primavera in Toscana

Mediterranean Charcuterie Platter
Santa Cristina Umbria IGT

wine dinnerwine dinnerwine dinnerThis light, floral, and fruity wine primarily made with Grechetto and Procanico grapes, highlights the robust flavors of the various cheeses, cured and uncured meats, fresh tomato-mint salsa, pickles, and olives.

Fried Calamari with Roasted
Red Pepper Aioli
Rustic Caprese Salad
Santa Cristina Chianti Superiore DOCG

This very traditional Italian wine varietal has great table presence that won’t overpower most foods. We paired this 100 percent Sangiovese wine with an heirloom Caprese salad garnished with sweet basil and drizzled with a fig balsamic reduction, and calamari steaks with a just-spicy-enough red pepper dipping sauce.

Shrimp and Ricotta Gnudi with Crispy Prosciutto in Creamy Spinach Sauce
Santa Cristina Campogrande Orvieto

A soft, easy-drinking white grape blend, the Campogrande Orvieto includes Procanico and Grechetto grapes. The notes of citrus cut nicely through the creamy sauce.

Ossobucco with Citrus Gremolata, Luscious Leek Polenta, and Grilled Asparagus
Santa Cristina Toscana Rosso IGT

A beautiful blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Sangiovese, this red offers up a bold flavor with a soft finish that matches symphonically with the slow-braised lamb ossobuco.

Deconstructed Peach Amaretti drizzled with Sherry Reduction
Santa Cristina Pinot Grigio

This crisp, light wine with notes of yellow apples and citrus peel balances out the caramelized roasted peaches and the classic Italian almond-flavored amaretti cookie.

Rustic Caprese Salad Ossobucco with Citrus Gremolata, Luscious Leek Polenta, and Grilled Asparagus
Gnudi are similar to Gnocchi, but are stuffed with ricotta cheese instead of potatoes. Derived from the Tuscan word for “naked” these pillowy dumplings are sometimes referred to as “nude ravioli.”
Shrimp and Ricotta Gnudi with Crispy Prosciutto in Creamy Spinach Sauce

About the Writer
Daniel Gonzales is a mixologist, writer, certified Level 1 sommelier, and a native Las Crucen. He has won numerous national mixology competitions and has been featured in GQ magazine. m

Guest List

wine dinner

Bruce McDougal
Bruce was born and raised in Pendleton, Oregon. He is an associate broker at
RE/MAX Classic Realty and he is the owner of a construction company, Mhg Homes. In his free time he enjoys fitness and personal training, as well as traveling to exotic locals like the Caribbean and Central America. He is planning to visit Belize this year.

Nina Michael
is an associate broker at RE/MAX Classic Realty. She has been in real estate for almost 25 years. She is of Lebanese and Spanish heritage and has two daughters. Hailing from a ranching background in Grants, New Mexico, Nina is an equestrian who participates in United States Team Roping Championship and World Series of Team Roping events.

Robin Courreges Blalock
is originally from Scottsdale, Arizona. She’s been an associate broker at Steinborn & Associates Real Estate for over four years. She has three children and enjoys traveling in her free time. Her favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Cancun, and Cabo San Lucas.

Reggie Blalock
grew up in Spain as an Air Force brat. He and Robin met in Albuquerque and have been married for seven years. He enjoys golfing and says Sonoma Ranch is his favorite local course. He works in sales at Ashley HomeStore.

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