Today, Nicholas Padua is the rock star sommelier and beverage director at The Americano. Why? Turns out, it is thanks in great part to one epic wine pairing.
Many moons ago, Padua was working as a server at a fine dining restaurant in his native Hawaii when the venue’s acclaimed sommelier called him over after his shift. Said sommelier was enjoying a meal and a glass of wine at the bar – fois gras with pineapple chutney – and offered Padua a sample. As Padua enjoyed it, the sommelier told him to sip a bit of Sauternes wine with his final bite. The combination of food and wine together blew his mind, so much he decided to change the entire course of his career and threw himself into the study of food and wine, focused on giving others those same palate-defining moments from there on out.
And he is not alone. Several venues across the Valley, including The Americano itself with pairings courtesy of Padua on the menu seven days a week, are bringing together their sommeliers, mixologists and chefs to develop specialty dining experiences – be them wine/beer/cocktail dinners or pre-set pairings on the regular menu – to give Valley diners epicurean experiences like the one above. Here are some of our favorites (in addition to what Padua is dreaming up, of course):
One night each month, Hyatt Regency Scottsdale hosts a winemaker dinner. Each lively event begins with a wine reception and hors d’oeuvres before the featured wines are paired with a four-course dinner under the stars on the Hyatt’s grand patio. Over the next several months, family-owned vineyards have been selected as partners. Among them are schedule dinners with Miner Family Wines in November and Truchard Vineyards in December. Miner Family Winery is a dynamic family-owned winery tucked into the eastern hills of the Oakville appellation, squarely within the heart of Napa Valley. Each wine at Miner is crafted in a style to encapsulate the distinctive elements and the indelible fingerprints of their respective vineyards. The Truchard family wine tradition began in the United States over a century ago. In 1887, Jean Marie Truchard emigrated from a small town outside of Lyon, with his brother, Father Anthony Marie Truchard, a Catholic priest. Together they established a vineyard and winery on a 500-acre plot of land in Southeast Texas. Since 1973, the Truchard estate has grown to 400 acres, of which 280 acres are planted. The Truchard family has been farming vineyards for over 45 years and plans to carry on their legacy for many generations to come. $149 plus tax and service charge per person.
Offered nightly to tantalize every taste bud, J&G’s seasonal five-course tasting menu showcases executive chef Jacques Qualin’s modern versions of classic steakhouse fare as well as fresh seafood flown in from across the globe. Though the menu changes often, expect a combination of playful vegetables, expertly prepared seafood and decadent proteins and sauces. For example, the current menu boasts black truffle cheese fritters, tuna tartare, risotto with wild mushrooms, filet mignon, lobster and chocolate cake. For each course, the in-house sommelier hand-select wine pairings for each course from his Wine Spectator award-winning wine list. $154 plus tax and service charge per person.
Each month, Tarbell’s hosts luxe sake, bourbon, winemaker and wine pairing dinners featuring world-renowned sommeliers from around the globe. Each white tablecloth experience takes place in the contemporary dining room at Tarbell’s and features plates of art highlighting the season’s freshest bounty and top-quality ingredients such as Maine shrimp, black truffles and bay scallops in a five-course meal setting, plus carefully-selected wine paired with each dish. Special guests of the wine dinners have included Certified Master Sake Sommelier Toshio Ueno. Born in Japan where his family has grown Japanese wine grape, Koshu, for generations, Toshio grew up helping the business from a young age. Toshio joined Mutual Trading Company in 2002, where he is Director of Sake Specialist Division in marketing Japanese foods, Jizake and Shochu to the mainstream American trade. Since 2010, he has been vice president & executive instructor at Sake School of America. Featured winemakers include Doubleback from Walla Walla Valley in Washington, Wayfarer Vineyard in Napa Valley and Denner Vineyards in Paso Robles. Prices vary but start at $150 plus tax and service charge per person.
In 2018, James Beard award-winning chef Christopher Gross joined Wrigley Mansion to re-imagine his beloved Christopher’s – formerly at Biltmore Fashion Park – for a whole new generation. Now open, Christopher’s at Wrigley Mansion offers several dining adventures from which guests may choose, all with 180-degree views via floor-to-ceiling windows and a retractable roof. The most luxe option is Gross’ eight-course (plus surprises) tasting menu with wine, which changes seasonally and may include farm-fresh eggs with caviar, foie gras candy, Wagyu with Béarnaise, fresh pasta, lobster, truffles and copious sweets. Each course is paired with wine specially selected by renowned wine director Paola Embry, whose wine menu has earned the “Best of Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator for multiple years. $480 plus tax per person. Service charge is included.
But wait, there is more! In addition to the wine pairing dinners offered at Christopher’s, Geordie’s at Wrigley Mansion – led by chef Ashley Goddard and focused on offering contemporary American cuisine with classic French techniques – offers full-on winemaker dinner events. Though they aren’t on the same night each month, as they are at the Hyatt, the dinners occur every four to eight weeks, and are always with a who’s who vineyard. Prices vary.
In 2017, Café Monarch in South Scottsdale moved from its former home to new digs to a new, larger space across the street, one that included an outdoor patio with both a dreamy fireplace as well as a water fountain as its centerpiece. And to say the way it upped the wow factor would be an understatement. So much so, in fact, the restaurant was named the second most romantic in the United States by Trip Advisor in 2018. And while its Court of Master Sommeliers-trained servers will direct your through a delectable four-course tasting menu with possible wine pairings, there are also winemaker dinners to take the experience to another level. Just how over-the-top are we talking? By way of example, its Nov. 4 wine dinner features an eight-course menu with pairings from Flint Knoll, which sources fruit from some of the most highly coveted vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, as well as one-on-one time with owner Aaron Michaelis. $325 plus tax and service charge per person.
Prefer your wine (or beer or cocktails) with a side of whimsy? Look no further than ZuZu at Hotel Valley Ho, where acclaimed chef Russell LaCasce is all about having fun with flavors without ever taking itself too seriously. The restaurant features regular, monthly tasting menus in one of the cleverest of ways thanks to a series called Versus. During Versus, LaCasce invites two breweries, wineries and/or distilleries – meaning it may be wine versus beer, wine versus wine, beer versus spirit, et al – to take each other on in a challenge of epic epicurean proportions. More or less, each brand chooses its top varietals to showcase head-to-head against each other. LaCasce then taste tests them leading up to the dinner and creates a tasting menu that will showcase both in the best light. At the end of the night, one pairing reigns supreme and is crowned the champion, but diners are the real winners. Prices vary but start at $129 plus tax and service charge per person.