On July 16, shielded from dwindling drizzle under a covered patio, 25 guests gathered at Atria for the Far Niente Dinner, An Evening of Food and Wine, the latest event in the Edgartown restaurant’s longstanding wine dinner series.
At a flat price of $125, guests enjoyed wines from California’s Far Niente winery, as well as sister wineries Nickel & Nickel and EnRoute. Seated at orchid-decorated tables, they were served six of chef and co-owner Christian Thornton’s and chef Noah Kincaid’s specially wine-matched courses (dishes matched to the wines as opposed to wines matched to the dishes) while Willy Mason, Stuart Gardner, Marciana Jones, and Geordie Gude played music.
Periodic commentary from Tom Gilhooly, Eastern U.S. manager for the wineries, informed those present about the origins and crafting processes of the wines they were drinking. An introduction to the evening came from a recent addition to Atria’s staff, Sam Decker, a restaurateur in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, who studied viticulture and enology at the University of California, Davis. A born-and-reared Islander, Mr. Decker’s vocation may be exceedingly rare, if not unprecedented, on Martha’s Vineyard; he is a sommelier. In that capacity, the courtesy he afforded those attending the dinner made good impressions right off.
“I especially liked Sam the sommelier,” said dinner guest Darlene Oberg. “He greeted us at the door and welcomed us and offered a drink [dry cava] while we waited for everyone else to arrive.”
The menu and wine complements were as follows:
2012 Nickel & Nickel Truchard Vineyard chardonnay from Carneros paired to goat cheese stuffed squash blossoms with lobster knuckles and baby zucchini in dill purée.
2012 Far Niente estate bottled chardonnay from the Napa Valley paired to oysters rockefeller with crispy ham.
2012 EnRoute “Les Pommiers” pinot noir from the Russian River Valley paired to roasted lamb loin with scarlet runner beans, sugar snap peas, and olive-goat cheese feuille de brick.
2007 Far Niente estate bottled cabernet sauvignon from the Napa Valley paired to braised veal cheek and mascarpone gnocchi with shaved carrots.
2010 Nickel & Nickel Darian Vineyard syrah from the Russian River Valley paired to beef and marrow with foie gras and summer chanterelles.
Summer berries and sabayon with cherry crisps.
According to Mr. Decker, time, atmosphere, detail, and contemplation are unprinted yet equally essential menu listings. “Wine dinners allow you to sit back and engage in a more deeply imaged culinary experience — they are like the long form of dining, the novel — and like all novels they begin with a simple idea: what’s in the bottle,” he said. “During the high season, I’m thinking about wine from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed. The wine dinners provide an elegant setting for guests to share in my obsession. Atria is unique in that it employs someone who’s tasked solely with creating the best beverage program possible, from specialty cocktails to an in-depth wine list. Our Summer Wine Dinner Series is a celebration of that energy and focus.”
Wine aside, Mr. Decker’s passions and duties do indeed intersect at cocktail design as well. Drinks such as Sputnik Sweetheart (Tito’s vodka, fresh watermelon, elderflower, agave, lime, and cava) and Savage Detectives (Don Julio Blanco tequila, San Juan mezcal, fresh ginger jam, passion fruit, lime, and soda with a chili-salted rim) help flesh out a curious and exciting new cocktail menu.
Mr. Decker now oversees a relatively long tradition at Atria of introducing the patrons not only to different wines but to the people who bring them to market. Mr. Gilhooly has been part of that wine tradition for some time.
“Our relationship with Atria goes back 10 years,” Mr. Gilhooly said. “Far Niente and our sister wineries’ image and quality are a natural fit. Atria’s customer is our customer and it is important for us to break bread with them and share our story. They, in turn, get to put a face to the name of the winery. It’s a little like bringing Napa Valley to Martha’s Vineyard.”
By introducing wine drinkers to folks in the wine community, Mr. Decker is working to secure appearances not just by merchants but by winemakers themselves. Slated for August is someone fitting that bill.
“I’m really pumped about the dinner with André Mack from Mouton Noir on August 20,” Mr. Decker said. “It’s our only dinner this summer in which the producer will be present. He rocked the sommelier world, working at French Laundry in Napa, then running the wine program at Per Se in New York, before deciding to start producing his own wine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He has his own style, and instead of tempering it to fit in, he used it. He’s part of a new generation of young winemakers who are thinking about wine more in the Old-World context: not as an exalted luxury product that’s shrouded in mystery, but rather a staple, a grocery, a thing of beauty and simplicity that no dinner should be enjoyed without. We’re doing his O.P.P Pinot Noir [Other People’s Pinot] by the glass this summer, which has been hugely successful. For me, good wine is the confluence of flavor and story — and Mouton Noir has both.”
The next wine dinner at Atria is on Wednesday, August 6, at 6:30 pm, and features Caymus Vineyards from Napa Valley, Calif. For more information and to make a reservation, call 508-627-5850.