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Inside a Naples Winter Wine Festival dinner

BY January 31, 2012

Forty five guests at the 2012 Naples Winter Wine Festival  experienced a magical  evening in a dream-like setting  at one of 17 elegant vintner’s dinners. This dinner featured renowned Chef Dean Fearing of Fearing’s in Dallas, fine wines from Gargiulo Vineyards of Oakville, California, acclaimed pianist Robert Wells and singer Maria Wells, a magician, and a surprise duet. The next day, 580 guests gathered under the Auction tent at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort to raise $12.2 million dollars.  All funds directly help the children of Collier County.

The evening’s dinner, hosted by NWWF trustees Laura and Jim Dixon and  NWWF trustees/vintners Valerie Boyd and Jeff Gargiulo, was held at Michael DeGroote Sr.’s  lovely Port Royal beachfront home. Guests were greeted with champagne and a duo of passed hors d’oeuvres, and relaxed, overlooking a stunning  sunset and  palm trees.


 “Sunsets just don’t more glorious than this” one guest said. The whimsically named two-bite lobster taco appetizer is a serious taste treat with chunks of lobster in a creamy guacamole base, topped with goat cheese and sliced lettuce. The smoked chicken nachos with charred tomato salsa are so tender, one guest asked “Are you sure this is chicken?”


Guests were then seated in a cozy dining room and dined on the first course of butternut squash bisque with smoky poblano cream, delicate  Jonah crab hush puppies and picked red onions. Vintners Jeff Gargiulo and Valerie Boyd’s  2010 Wood Ranch Chardonnay was a great match for the rich bisque and the crisp red onions.


Next, large, sweet, perfectly seared Nantucket Lightship scallops were served over Oregon truffle pasta  topped with a rich oxtail demi and Grana Padano Parmesan. Chicken-fried Lockhart Bobwhite quail was one of the most delicious treats savored –the panko-like crunchy exterior gives way to a tender texture and sensual flavor that some compared  to a Kobe steak. Paired with fois gras-corn bread stuffing, cranberry brown butter and the evening’s hit wine, the 2008 G Major 7 Study Cab, the quail dish struck a chord with all diners as a truly exquisite pairing. 

How do you top that? With maple black pepper-crusted buffalo tenderloin on jalapeno grits, with a roasted sweet potato-filled taquito and chili aioli, of course. I’ve not generally been a fan of most buffalo, however this grass-fed Oklahoma herd yields a superbly flavorful and tender steak that’s indistinguishable from fine beef to many steak eaters. Chef Fearing said that buffalo has been his best-selling dish for five years.


Warm chocolate cajeta cake followed, topped with marshmallow cream, crunchy cookies and peanut brittle. Yes, comfort food, sweet Texas style, with goat milk caramel.

Afterwards, guests went to the patio to check out the talented guitarists Jeff Gargiulo and Chef Fearing, who tuned up guitars and then sang a surprise duet of  “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”


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