Wine Dinner at Durham’s Washington Duke Hotel

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Washington Duke Inn’s Tuscan wine dinner with fellow blogger Amy Whited of the fantastic home blog Yellow Hammer Design Shop (formerly Triangle Honeymoon)!

WaDuke Wine

The event is held in the Fairview dining room in the Washington Duke Inn, a beautiful hotel and golf club on Duke’s campus. According to the manager these wine dinners occur just a few time a year — check their events page for upcoming dinners. As reservations are necessary, seats are assigned, and we found ourselves sharing a small table with a lovely couple who regularly attends both the WaDuke’s wine dinners as well as their Sneak Peak dinners which highlight the restaurant’s seasonal menu changes.

photo 2[1]

Tonight’s featured winery was Italy’s Terra Moretti, and co-hosted by the lovely Sara Pedrali, whose family owns the winery. She circulated around the tables all evening, chatting about her childhood in Italy and interesting facts about the wines. While at our table Sara gushed about her love for North Carolina since moving to the US, and how she always feels so welcome here in the Piedmont.

I must confess my knowledge of liquids (tea, coffee, beer, wine) is sadly lacking. That caveat in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed every pairing from wines — each glass was delicious, flavorful, and surprisingly refreshing – a good kickoff to the summer. Here’s the dinner’s rundown, with just a few of my own comments:

First course “Trattare” (treat)
House coppa ham with black truffle, crescenza ciabatta crostini, tomato gelée
NV Rosé contadi castaldi, Franciacorta

Simple and delicious. The rosé was refreshing and dry, and an excellent start to the evening. Amy asked if I made sandwiches like this every day — “Of course!” I replied, “It’s standard PhD fare…” 🙂

First Course

Second course “Scottare” (sear)
Volcanic salt crusted pike, roasted green pepper and capers, tomato confit, rosemary
2008 Viognier aquadora, Maremma

I think this might’ve been my favorite wine of the night – the Viognier was fresh and floral, but drier and not very sweet. Perfect for summer drinking. The pike was tender and flavorful, and paired nicely with the tomato.

Second course

Third Course “Arrosto” (roast)
Herb roasted rabbit loin, farro risotto, pecorino toscano, grilled baby squash, fig gastrique
2008 Rosso Aquagiusta, Maremma

This rabbit was unfortunately the biggest disappointment of the evening, and during the post-meal chat with the chef this sentiment seemed to be generally echoed by the other diners — although everyone was too polite to directly mention it, instead there were requests as to why the rabbit was chosen as well as suggestions for other game meat substitutions. This is in direct contrast to the effusive gushing for the other courses (and even the other components of this course, such as the risotto and sauce). The rabbit itself was so tough it was difficult to even cut. Although somewhat flavorful, the texture ruined the experience for me, and I unfortunately left most on the plate.

Third Course

Fourth Course “Brasare” (braise)
Braised veal and english pea strata, sautéed arugula, black garlic veal reduction
2009 Petra Ebo, Toscano

After the first three courses, it was nice to get a substantial, heavier dish, and the veal really delivered. A nice mix of textures and strong flavor, paired well with the slightly spicy yet not overly rich Ebo red.

Fourth Course

Fifth course “Dolci” (sweets)
Panforte, biscotti, pistachio florentine, chestnut honey ice cream
Pressed coffee service

The small portion of panforte was perfect as it was quite rich, and I loved the delicate florentine. But the star of the show was the delicious chestnut ice cream – I wanted a pint to take home with me…


Something which I thought was pretty lovely is the WaDuke partnered with local favorite Hope Valley Bottle Shop, who will have the featured wines in stock. The menu had a handy order form on the back, where you could order the wines features that night, on a discount, for pickup at the Bottle Shop.

Wine dinner friends

Tickets for the dinner are $59 per person, and make for an enjoyable and leisurely three hours of dining. These dinners are great if you enjoy food and also want all the decisions made for you — trusting the chef and sommelier to do their own work. Given the venue and the other clientele of the evening I imagine that the dinners are unlikely to be very  experimental, but I’m sure the meal will always be solid. It was a good mix of enjoying the food, listening to interesting points about what we were eating, and time to chat amongst ourselves. Thanks, Amy, and the Washington Duke Hotel for a wonderful evening!

The Washington Duke Inn is a beautiful hotel overlooking a well-manicured golf course. The views are beautiful and worth a stroll around the grounds. In addition to the main dining room, there’s a bar (with a delicious burger, so I hear), as well as an excellent weekend brunch.

If you’re interested, Sara is hosting another wine dinner at Chapel Hill’s Il Palio this Friday, April 19th 2013.

Washington Duke Inn
3001 Cameron Boulevard
Durham, North Carolina 27705

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