Wine Riffs ain’t your grandma’s wine dinner.
Or maybe it is. The Rolling Stones are in their 70s, after all.
So, let’s just say this Orlando event – with its moody, immersive lighting; music trivia; LED hula hoops; carefully curated playlist; and occasionally off-color humor – isn’t your average wine dinner. That much is definitely true.
Elegant tables; immersive lighting; and music, music, music are the order of the evening — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Held periodically throughout the year at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando, Wine Riffs was born when the property’s desire to create wine dinners met the corporate office’s desire to create an exciting branded experience.
“The solution seemed obvious,” says Eric Jenkins, the property’s assistant director of food and beverage. “We made it our own by using our brand identifier: music.”
Wine Riffs guests congregate in the Hard Rock's lush lobby for the event's reception — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Indeed, following a reception in the hotel’s recently reimagined lobby space – with sleek, comfortable seating set amid much of its signature, authentic memorabilia – guests will find more than an enticing five-course menu at their ballroom place setting.
Along with the meal comes a pored-over playlist, one created with both wine and food in mind.
“Once the wine is selected and the menu is written,” says Jenkins, “the fun begins.”
Menus change for every event. Among the hors d'oevres at this one were ceviche and avocado salad atop a plantain chip. — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Just as the chefs ask questions of the winemaker as they craft the dishes to be presented, so, too, do Jenkins and the property’s VIBE Manager.
“We find out musical preferences, genres of interest, even music choices during the winemaking process. We research grapes, wines, culinary techniques, vineyard stories,” says Jenkins.
And they taste the wines. Repeatedly.
“How do they make us feel?" he wonders. "Mellow? Vibrant? Sexy? What songs are also these things?”
There’s no right or wrong answer, he points out.
“But we always put together a playlist hoping to introduce guests to a new favorite, and we aren’t afraid to push the envelope."
Their most recent dinner featured selections that ran the gamut: pop metal, bossa nova, French lounge and EDM.
Partner wineries, he notes, must have a compelling or entertaining story to tell.
“And we also need at least seven wines – five for each course, two for the reception – to round out the experience.”
Guests may purchase bottles of those they enjoy, of course. But they may not even have to. Trivia games; social media promotions; and other fun, interactive activities throughout the dinner offer chances to win wine, as well.
“Our chefs research local and seasonal ingredients and culinary trends to create a menu that is not only fresh, local and true to the winery’s region, but also introduces our guests to something new or exotic that may broaden their palate and experience.”
Jenkins, who hosts Wine Riffs events, is part emcee, part educator, part ringmaster, moving things along with energy and injecting a bit of cheeky wit, as well.
It’s part of the whole irreverent plan.
Star of the amuse course, the geoduck clam is trotted out for a bit of culinary education. Hilarity ensues. — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
“Everything we do is unique, fun and edgy, and we find that people can identify with it,” he says. “And we’ve been able to take a tired and, at times, stuffy mainstay of the industry and make it an entertainment experience.”
Wine Riffs has a couple more upcoming events in 2015, with plans to feature Spanish winery Torres in October and an end-of-year bubbly party with Veuve Clicquot in December.
Dates are still to be announced, but those interested in securing a seat can email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the mailing list for details, or call 407-503-2405 for more information.
Cost is $125 per person, plus tax and gratuity.