I have been invited to all sorts of wine gatherings. Some big, some small, which are often referred to as “gastro” clubs. These have existed for centuries, more likely millenniums. One of the oldest international gastronomic societies is the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, founded in Paris in 1248. The group often selects a restaurant to host their events. Due to the diversity of the membership, the wine and dish pairings can be very interesting and often experimental.
Beyond the formal clubs such as Chaîne, the Food and Wine Society of New York and Local Slow Food Chapters are small private gastro clubs. They are usually informal in structure, though some become more formal over time. Anyone can start such a club or use the Internet or a social network like Facebook to find one nearby. One of the keys to being in such a group is to be open to new experiences. One group refers to themselves as the Red Meat Club (or RMC). The group initially had their gatherings at steakhouses in Manhattan, hence the name. Some of these little clubs have some interesting traditions. The RMC votes on the best wines of the evening and the person who brought the winning wine has his/her dining bill absorbed by the rest of the group. Unfortunately, many of these private clubs lack commitment and fall apart or have long hiatuses. The RMC does not fall in that category.
One of the more unique and fun wine groups is a loose group of East End LI winemakers. It is always interesting when the group includes a mix of winemakers with their own wines at stake, which are being tasted blind.
The best gatherings have themes, such as Long Island Sauvignon Blancs versus Sauvignon Blancs from around the world. This type of tasting group offers wonderful surprises, such as a ten-year-old top Bordeaux being upstaged by a ten-year-old Long Island Cabernet Sauvignon (that wine being a 1995 Paumanok). It also offers great opportunities to try wines that most people wouldn’t buy for themselves, either due to cost or the style. Examples include tasting a fine bottle of wine from Hungary that is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Blaufrankisch or a forty-year-old Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Inglenook. Another key to a successful gastro club is the mix of people and their tastes. All the members should be in a similar stage of wine and food knowledge. You wouldn’t want to be in a group that makes you feel guilty bringing a wine that is either too pedestrian or too sophisticated for the core group of members.