Dinner à la Downton

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

Remember how I planned to throw a fabulous dinner party? Because Lady Carnarvon is hosting a special contest during the month of February that involves throwing fabulous dinner parties inspired by Downton Abbey and winning a trip to dine at Highclere Castle[1]. Well, it turns out that throwing fabulous dinner parties are a lot harder when you have to Lawyer all day AND have a little baby laying around[2].

So, Husband and I gathered a small group of friends, teamed up with a local chef and asked HIM to throw us a fabulous dinner party. All the fun without the work[3]. We picked several recipes from Lady Carnarvon’s book, At Home At Highclere, and had Chef Steve use them as inspiration: Venison, John Dory Fish, Cauliflower and Caviar, Gooseberry Fool for dessert, and of course, some good English Stilton.

When we reached out to Chef Steve at Cavey’s[4] and threw this idea at him, we gave him ample notice. A full 36 hours. So the John Dory fish course had to be scrapped, since apparently John Dory fish tend to be found on the coasts of Africa, South East Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and Europe. But not America. Turns out that flying in John Dory fish on less than 24 hours’ notice is not realistic[5].

Dine at Downton
Chilled English Bubbles

To start the festivities, we broke out a bottle of English Bubbly that I’d smuggled back from our last trip.[6] This particular bottle of Brut was produced for Marks & Spencer[7] by Chapel Down winery, which I just read likely supplied the wine at Kate and Wills’ nuptials[8], and are rumored to be doing the same for little bro Harry and his lady love, Ms. Markle. This one was lovely; hints of green apple surrounded the bready, crisp bubbles. A perfect apéritif to begin the evening.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

The Dinner

Thick, rich and creamy cauliflower purée, surrounded by tiny cauliflower florets, is the only way I want to start dinner parties going forward. This first course was truly divine. And did I mention it was topped with a dollop of caviar for good measure[9]? Just divine.

Dine at Downton

To complement the cauliflower and caviar, George[10], our server for the evening, expertly chose for us a bottle of 2008 Chablis Gran Cru Les Preuses by Vignoble Dampt, a Burgundian winery with about 96 acres of vineyard in Tonnerre and Chablis[11]. This Chardonnay was exquisite, a slight hint of lemongrass with a lovely, subdued minerality. Smooth and sleek, it made the cauliflower and caviar pop.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

George selected another bottle of Burgundy for the main course, a 2009 Savigny-lès-Beaune 1ER Cru Rouge Les Vergelesses by Domaine Françoise André. One hundred percent pinot noir grapes hand-harvested from 40-year-old vines, this was an excellent vintage. Some blackberry jam on the nose, followed by an almost vanilla finish. Soft and juicy, this was truly gorgeous. And what we paired it with was just as stunning. Chef Steve’s Venison à la Forestière[12] was a culinary masterpiece; so juicy and tender you could almost cut it with a fork. The venison medallions were expertly seared with a blend of sea salt and spices; the perfectly red centers were a mouth-watering feat.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

Next came the cheese. And not just any cheese, but good old fashioned English Stilton, accompanied by an orange marmalade and delicate toast points. With a 1997 bottle of Warre’s Vintage Port. Holy taste bud overload. A big, complex bouquet of figs, plums and even a hint of vanilla.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

And last, but certainly not least, was the Gooseberry Fool. Fruit fools are traditional English desserts made with stewed fruits and sweet custards. Gooseberries are in the same family as blackcurrants and are a touch on the tart side. Chef Steve used English cream and Greek yogurt in this Fool, and with the sweet vanilla biscuits that accompanied it, our sweet cravings were more than satisfied. A few of our party rounded out the evening with a snifter of Remy Martin XO Cognac. I stuck to a foamy cappuccino.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

I must say, I felt very much like Lady Mary drinking such fine wines and dining in such style in our own private dining room. Even without the John Dory fish, our Downton Dinner Party was incredible. Chef Steve nailed the Downton-inspired dishes LIKE A BOSS. And the foot of snow that fell while we were eating didn’t stop us from retiring to the Library for a few Highclere Castle Cigars. Naturally.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

Until the next glass, or fabulous dinner party, Cheers!

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

Lawyer Footnotes

[1] The REAL Downton Abbey.

[2] There’s a whole lot of laying going on over here. In between eating, pooping, crying, diaper changing, playing, tummy time, and sitting. And then we start it all over again. #busybaby

[3] #winning

[4] Cavey’s Restaurant has been a local staple since 1933 when they opened as a sandwich and ice cream shop. They’ve since transformed into one of the area’s classic fine-dining options and Chef Steve Cavagnaro is the third generation to continue the tradition.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle
Our Private Dining Room at Cavey’s

[5] Can’t imagine why. #FedEx

[6] If you haven’t had English bubbly yet, you’ve got to try and get a bottle. Because they’re producing so little, it’s difficult to find as they’re drinking most of what they make in England. Just another reason why I should be living Across the Pond.

[7] A fine purveyor of spirits, clothes, groceries and home furnishings. I don’t think we have anything like it in the US.


[9] Because, YOLO.

[10] Pronounced Jôrj, with an accent, because George is from Champagne.

[11] Chablis is actually a location and NOT a varietal, as I may or may not have known before writing this blog post.

[12] Meaning “of the forest,” it often refers to poultry or game served with potatoes and wild mushrooms.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle
Not too shabby

Come and Dine at Downton

wine and Highclere Castle

As you may know from previous posts, Husband has partnered on a number of projects with Lord and Lady Carnarvon[1], owners of Highclere Castle, aka the Real Downton Abbey. This means that we periodically get to visit our friends across the Pond and enjoy time in their wonderful home. The stunning Castle is like a step back in time. Walking in for the first time, I was astounded to realize how well I knew the interior of their home – it’s because virtually all Downton did was remove their personal photos. All the furniture is theirs!

Lady Carnarvon is now opening her home to the public and wants YOU to come and dine at Downton too! She’s running a contest for the month of February in order to raise money for PBS. All you have to do is throw a FABULOUS dinner party, inspired by Highclere and Downton Abbey, raise some funds to donate and enter to win. The winners will be flown to the UK, courtesy of Viking River Cruises, stay the night at Highclere[2], and enjoy a FABULOUS dinner party with Lord and Lady Carnarvon[3].

Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle lit up for a dinner party!

Husband and I are planning our soirée now[4] using recipes from Lady Carnarvon’s latest book, At Home At Highclere. We made her famous chocolate pots for Thanksgiving and they were a huge hit! There’s recipe ideas on her blog as well. Let me know if you’re going to enter and we can chat about party planning!

Chocolate Pots
Lady Carnarvon’s Chocolate Pots

Now on to arranging a menu and wine pairing! Until the next glass!

wine and Highclere Castle
I needed some vino inspiration!

Lawyer Footnotes

[1] Highclere Castle Cigars, which are now available throughout the US, Highclere Castle Gin, which is getting ready for production, and a Highclere Castle Distillery, which is in the works!

[2] Perhaps in Lady Mary’s room where poor Mr. Pamuk died from utter bliss?!

[3] Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m pretty sure that Wine Esquire should be on the guest list for this event. #ToDoList

[4] Fascinators will be required. Obviously.

Highclere Castle
Dressed up for dinner at Highclere Castle

Wine Tasting Dinner Party


A wise man once said, “The only club I want to be part of is a wine club.” I’m not sure which wise man said this, or when he said it, but I’m sure a wise man said it. Or maybe it was a woman.

Special Delivery For Wine Esquire

These wine clubs are popping up all over the place and it seems like a pretty fun concept. Bright Cellars was created by two MIT grads who developed an algorithm[1] to determine which wines you should try based on your flavor preferences.[2] I took my quiz and let them know which kind of chocolate I preferred[3], how I take my afternoon tea, my go-to drink (when the wine has run out),[4] my ideal wine pairing and how adventurous I am when it comes to food and wine. They then paired me up with a few samples, so I decided to have a little tasting party to check them out.

Husband and I planned out a menu and chose three of the bottles to sample. We started with a cheese spread of Cranberry White Cheddar[5] and a stinky Raclette[6].

Wine and Cheese? Yes, please!

The hors-d’œuvres were paired with the 2016 Cameron Corner Verdelho from South Eastern Australia. Melon and citrus on the nose led to a mouthful of herbal green grass. Well balanced, medium bodied, an excellent wine for sipping with cheese. It turned the cranberry cheddar into a mouthwatering explosion. Verdelho is traditionally a Portuguese grape varietal, but it migrated to Australia in the 1820s. Australia is producing some great wines with this grape at attractive price points.wine

During a brief eating interlude, where husband and I had to finish making the next course[7], the 2014 Zinsane Zin was opened to allow it to breathe a bit. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, we[8] took the roasted butternut squash and apples out of the oven, scooped the insides into the blender, poured in some chicken stock, added a dash of cinnamon and pressed purée. After it had attained the desired consistency, it was transferred to a soup pot to let it simmer on medium for a few minutes before serving. Garnished with a smattering of freshly chopped parsley and Voila, we had a soup course!

wine zinfandel
Oh, you fancy, huh?

The Lodi Zin was unexpectedly on the heavier side, but it was a great pairing with the light and healthy soup[9]. A touch of nutty coffee, definitely full bodied, it countered the sweetness of the soup to make it a well-balanced pairing. This was a great example of Lodi doing really interesting stuff with Zinfandel.

For the finale, Husband had been cooking My Mother’s Sauce[10] on low all day. The cast-iron seared meatballs and sausage were added just two hours before dinner to finish cooking. Doing my fair share, I went out in search of homemade pasta to serve it with. I’ve discovered a lovely little place near our new digs[11] called Pasta Vita. I opened the doors and angels started singing.[12] I was greeted by row after row of homemade gourmet takeout and fresh made pasta and ravioli. Hello dinner! I went with ricotta and spinach,[13] which turned out to be a hit.

wine shiraz
Love me some homemade ravioli, especially when I’m not the one home making it!

We’d opened the next wine during the soup to get that ready for the main course. The 2015 Talbingo Hill Shiraz, also from Australia, was a great pairing. Leather on the nose with a touch of cherry sweetness on the finish. Almost like a cherry tobacco. Dry with some chewy tannins. It met its match with the heavy red sauce, fresh ravioli and pork/veal/beef meatballs.

All in all, three good bottles, served with three great courses, if I do say so myself.

Receiving a case of wine in the mail is like having Christmas on a Tuesday. Opening presents is always fun, no matter the season, and when there’s wine inside it’s even better. If you’d like to get in on the fun, my friends at Bright Cellars are offering friends of Wine Esquire 50% off your first shipment. Go through this link to take your quiz and select your personally paired wines and a $30 credit will be added to your order. When you try it out, let me know what you think!


Cheers wine friends, until the next glass!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Pretty sure this has something to do with math. #smart
[2] Overachievers.
[3] Dark please, preferably with some almonds. #healthnut
[4] Mimosa, obvi.
[5] Which I served with cranberry almond crackers. God I’m good. #snackmaster
[6] Turns out Raclette is typically used for melting. We just spread it on apple slices. As long as you can get past the smell long enough to get it in your mouth, you’ll be a happy camper.
[7] Because making soup is no big deal, right?
[8] By “we” I do mean Husband, but I was supervising and providing general kitchen direction.
[9] Although our dinner guest did suggest that next time we may want to add some heavy cream to the soup to thicken it up a bit. Not sure he’s part of #fitfam.
[10] The recipe comes Straight Outta the Bronx. Super authentic Italian American. It’s the best. I’ve been clandestinely dipping illicitly broken off bread chunks into this sauce while it cooks since I was old enough to clandestinely break bread. I’d give you the recipe, but … #whathappensintheBronx ….
[11] Oh yea, we moved. Packing and unpacking in less than 30 days is now on my resume under “Skills.” Now that we’re settled, we’re loving the new place.
[12] Sort of like what happened on my visit to Château d’Yquem.
[13] And a basket full of other goodies, like stuffed peppers, parmesan risotto, and a healthy sampling of fresh baked cookies that I really did mean to share with everyone. #oops

Of Wine and Food

File Jan 26, 10 09 38 AMAs we round out the last day of the first month of the new year[1], I think to myself, wow, I drank some pretty good wine so far. If that’s any indication of how 2016 is going to go, I’m a happy camper.

Last night we entertained a few friends, cooked some food and, of course, drank some wine[2]. While Husband does do the cooking in our house, someone has to get him the ingredients,[3] and that’s where I come in. Usually, my trips to the grocery store are calm if not enjoyable. My favorite store[4] is down the road, the employees know my name, and they always have what I need. Well apparently there was a run on rosemary and olives yesterday because I came up empty handed. I wouldn’t have been concerned, except that we had already planned the dinner menu, which consisted of lemon, rosemary and olive chicken. Drat. I figured I’d go to the next grocery store just a hop, skip and a jump down the road and pick up what I needed. Well, lemme just tell you, this was a whole different experience from what I’m used to. From the second I pulled into the parking lot[5], I couldn’t wait to leave. The store was full of people[6], the lines were long and there was STILL no rosemary! Thankfully an employee checked in the back and found some random rosemary kebab sticks, so after filling up on olives at the olive bar, I was able to continue on my journey[7].

File Jan 31, 9 59 35 AMUpon my reentry into the world of calm, I immediately declared that it was wine time. Our first bottle was the lovely 2013 Pomp + Power Syrah by Earthshaker Wines, a branch of 90+ Cellars. This was made from 100% California Syrah grapes grown in Knights Valley, the warmest of the AVAs within Sonoma County. Fairly light, a bit of deep fruit, with a good silky mouth feel. Perfect for de-stressing pre-appetizers. It drank well on its own without food, and at $15.99 a bottle, you can’t go wrong. I’m a sucker for pretty purple labels too.

File Jan 31, 9 58 48 AMAs we waited for our last dinner guest to arrive[8], we broke open the next bottle and tore into the loaf of bread[9]. There’s nothing better than Greek olive oil[10], fresh bread and cheddar cheese. The 2013 Cutruzzola Vineyards Pinot Noir we opened was a knockout. There was serious Wow Factor here[11]. Not what I was expecting at all. Surprisingly there was nothing on the nose. Literally nothing, but when I took the first sip I was taken aback. This was not a light and forgettable Pinot. It was smooth, luscious and full of raspberries, with a hint of sweetness on the edge. And when I say smooth, I mean it was super smooth. Like, velvety smooth. This hails from a small vineyard in Cambria[12], California, a seaside town mid-way between San Francisco and LA on the Central Coast. The winery produces just two varietals on seven acres of vines, Pinot Noir and Riesling. I just read on their website that they expect this bottle will improve with age[13], but it was stellar right now, so go ahead and place your order before it sells out!

File Jan 31, 10 03 36 AMAt long last, our final dinner guest arrived, so we moved to the dining room and settled in for the main course. We chose a recipe out of the At Blanchard’s Table, A Trip to the Beach cookbook in honor of our upcoming trip to Anguilla[14]. Pan Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Olives and Rosemary. Per usual, Husband outdid himself. This was to die for. No knives needed because the chicken, which had been simmering for hours, cut with a fork. The extra trip for the rosemary and olives was well worth it; the flavors melded together into a culinary masterpiece, which gently rested on a bed of simple yet rich mashed potatoes[15].

File Jan 31, 9 59 21 AMWe had decanted the 2013 Francesco Cirelli Montepulciano D’Abruzzo during our bread gorging, appetizer course, so it had a chance to open up. These grapes are grown by Francesco Cirelli on his organic farm in Abruzzo where he grows garlic and barley, makes olive oil, wine and pasta, and tops it off with free range geese. You can even stay at his bed and breakfast and enjoy the inner workings first hand[16]. Does life get better? The wine itself was full bodied and on the drier side, the tannins were definitely at work. A bit heartier than the Pinot, it paired perfectly with the Anguillan feast.

I had a Riesling chilling to pair with our dessert[17], but once I got the hiccups, I transitioned to Sleepy Time Tea, and our guests went home. Cheers to the end of a great dinner on a great day in a great month!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Say that three times fast.
File Jan 31, 10 05 14 AM[2] Obviously.
[3] And chop the garlic and wash the dishes. #souschef
[4] Three cheers for Price Chopper! Someone make me an ambassador!
[5] Where I was immediately cut off from a parking spot by a pair of geriatrics. Was that mean? I feel bad, but it’s true.
[6] Granted, it was Saturday afternoon, and apparently everyone needs to go to the grocery store on Saturday afternoon.
[7] Where, against my better judgment got into one of those self-check lines, behind a woman with way too many items for the self-check, and ended up having to go find a human line because the blinking light went on not even halfway through all of her items. I almost put my stuff down and left. #patienceisavirtue
[8] She runs on Wright Time, which is about 20-40 minutes after everyone else is already there.
[9] Sometimes I wonder if we waste our time cooking when there’s so much bread and cheese in the world. #keepitsimple
[10] Imported by our dear friend who claims he works for some global company, but in reality is really a CIA operative. #statesecrets
[11] No literally, I took my first sip and said, “Wow!
[12] Cambria is the Latin name for Wales, so basically this wine came from Wales, which means the Price of Wales has had it, so clearly Will and Kate love it. #SixDegreesofKevinBacon
File Jan 31, 10 02 08 AM[13] Oops.
[14] Countdown is on. 40 days until paradise.
[15] It looked much prettier while it was simmering then it did once it was on our plate, so I’ll spare you ugly food photos.
[16] Added to the bucket list.
[17] Which was homemade store-bought chocolate cheesecake.


EarthShaker Pomp and Power Syrah
Cutruzzola Vineyards Pinot Noir
Francesco Cirelli Montepulciano D’Abruzzo