Starry Winter's Night, WINE CLUB

Starry Winter’s Night (Wine Club)

Cabernet Franc versus Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s time for a new year of wine club parties, with new themes, new wines and delicious food to experience and share. With seven years of themed parties behind me, I’m having to seek out new forms of inspiration for themes that inject a fun experience for everyone. While a wine party doesn’t necessarily require a theme, it’s my way of continually creating an element of surprise for my guests, giving them something new and unexpected to look forward to in addition to leaving with a little more knowledge about wine.

This party’s theme was inspired by a visit a while back with my daughter and grandchildren in the Houston area. I treated them all to see the Vincent Van Gogh immersion exhibit that offered a modern way of introducing my grandchildren to one of the many wonderful artists of his time. What may arguably be one of the artist’s more memorable and popular paintings, “Starry Starry Night” was the finale of the immersion experience. At the time I made a mental note that this could serve as inspiration for a winter evening wine party, I just had to figure out how to transform it from the canvas to my table.

The invitation was emailed to my group with the theme and assignments for three couples to bring a Cabernet Franc and three others to bring Cabernet Sauvignon wines along with a small bite that pairs with these wines.

The Invitation

The plan for this meeting was to compare Cabernet Franc with Cabernet Sauvignons, with an emphasis on “mountain wines”. (Mountain wines are those grown at elevation on a mountain or hillside.) Cabernet Francs are limited compared to the Sauvigons (at least in our area) and some found were outside (over) our usual price range of $20 to $30, which is why I chose to compare the two varieties limiting the Francs to only three for the tasting. As for finding a mountain wine, that became optional due to the limited number available. The bottles we have may not be the best representation of Francs, but at least we have a few to try.

Where is the best Cabernet Franc from?

France. Though mostly a blending grape in Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc plays a starring role in the Loire Valley. Its single-variety red wines are highly regarded, and some of the best examples come from Anjou-Villages, Bourgueil, Chinon and Saumur-Champigny.

What Is the Difference Between Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon? Cabernet franc is, with sauvignon blanc, one of the parent grapes of cabernet sauvignon. The cabernet franc grape has a thinner skin than cabernet sauvignon, so the wines made from cabernet franc tend to be lighter in color and lower in tannin.

FOOD PAIRINGS:  Hearty red meats (no seafood), root vegetables, mushrooms, squash, eggplant, potato, sweet potato, cabbage, polenta.

With the help of an inexpensive projector (normally used for a child’s bedroom to play soft music and project stars around the room), I was able to set a “starry night” ambience on the ceiling and small portion of the walls of my dining room. The projector provides color variations and the option to project stars with or without a moon and clouds. It’s kind of fun to have an audio visual for the first time. Music can be played using Bluetooth if desired.

For the table, I purchased a dark navy blue (inexpensive) tablecloth at Party City, and a few yards of dark navy tulle with stars and moons on Etsy. I had set aside my battery operated twinkle lights from the holidays, knowing I would use them for the table setting.

The beginning stages.

I added my large cobalt blue candle lanterns (filling each with the twinkle lights) and the small votives with candles. On the actual evening of the party, I will weave fresh flowers in the center through the lights ( I chose baby’s breath for something simple see pictures later in the post).

We use the salad plate for the parties due to the small bite everyone brings and the limited space at the table. The grid above shows some examples of options for the actual place settings that I had and considered.

For the charger, I used dark blue plastic dinner plates from the party section at The Dollar Tree. While the setting looks perfectly fine without any additional adornments, I added white iridescent glitter (already in my supplies from prior creations) along the edges with school glue to represent the “the winter” in my starry night. It gives the impression of glittery, frosty snow that really sparkles in the twinkle lights. (The charger plate would have also looked pretty with the splash of metallic gold paint along the edges like the glass plate above.)

While in Homegoods I found this plate
that would also be perfect for this theme.

My favorite is the first option with its splash of bold gold around a frosted glass edge. Unfortunately, I only have of one of these plates. I have a total of 10 including myself attending. The second option, also a frosty (bubbly) glass with a gold edge would also be pretty, but I only have 6 of this plate. So my only remaining option is my china with a thin gold rim on the inside and outside of the plate that will work just as nicely and adds some contrast to the table setting.

It would seem after all of these years of entertaining, that I would have every color possible in cloth napkins, but I do not. I found dark blue paper napkins with a little white pattern that adds some additional visual interest to the table, works just as well as cloth napkins and there is a stack of extras on the side if more are needed by my guests.

I saw a cupcake set at Homegoods that had gold and silver glitter stars on toothpicks. After passing them up for about four weeks, I finally decided to buy the box that was very inexpensive and used the gold stars to tuck into the folded napkins and used the silver stars to attach to the place cards. The time it would have taken to hand make these wasn’t worth the $2.99 price for having them already made.

Baby’s breath lasts for quite some time and dries nicely. So early in the week I purchased two bunches and made four small bouquets in gold ribbed glasses. I then wove the twinkle lights through the little flowers. It created a soft starlight glow across the entire table.

Baby’s Breath in gold rimmed glasses.

The glow from the twinkle lights reflect on the wine glasses.

Table from end to end.

We ended up with 8 bottles of wine for this blind tasting, which is highly unusual (usually we have 6), but I found some bottles in my wine cooler that I decided to throw into the mix.

One of my members won our Hauntingly Elegant wine party in 2018 (everyone brought a red with a spooky label). We usually have a “wine off” of the winning bottles for each year, but eventually the pandemic paused our parties and we didn’t have enough competitors to do a wine off. So I’ve added her 2015 La Catrina Cabernet Sauvignon AND

A friend gave me a 2013 Francis Coppola Claret several years ago that was hidden away, also a Cabernet Sauvignon, I thought it would be fun to include it as well. Both being aged wines.

I always provide a sheet we call a Scorecard with a pen or pencil so guests can make notes as they try each wine to determine their favorite. Due to the number of wines this time, I did disclose which glasses were Francs and the rest Sauvignons, just to provide a point of separation – but it was still a blind tasting.

The Aperitif

We start the evening with a light aperitif, something with similar flavor profiles to the wines so that it doesn’t interfere with the palate. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day just a few days away, I created this chocolate raspberry spritz. Starting with a thin layer of Chambord in the bottom of each glass, two drops of chocolate bitters, then topped with a sparkling champagne, Cava or Prosecco and fresh raspberries.

The Amuse Bouche

This small amuse bouche with a tasty punch was made with a roll of pre-made polenta – sliced, cut with a biscuit cutter and then sauteed in a little olive oil until golden. Place the warmed polenta on a wire rack in the oven at 200 degrees until about an hour before the party is scheduled to start. This allows the slices to dry of its oiliness from the warm up and creates a crispy exterior. Finally, I topped the polenta with a semisoft cheese rosette from Trader Joe’s, bacon onion jam (made earlier in the week) and a parsley leaf garnish.

The Cheese / Salad Course

Charcuterie boards can be expensive and bit predictable at a wine tasting party, so after so many years of planning different themed events, I sought out alternative methods to the cheese course. As mentioned in a previous post, I found a back issue of Wine Spectator magazine at a local wine store that was in a stack marked “take for free”. I shuffled through the issues. The Cheese Issue – September 2016 caught my attention. As I fanned quickly through the pages, I found recipes from well known chefs made with cheese. It turned out to be the perfect source to update my cheese course. Over the years I’ve made a few of the unique creations. For this meeting I’m making the “Apple and Fennel Salad With Manchego Cheese, Walnuts and Sherry Dressing” created by Chef Jose Andres.

Serves 4, 20 minutes prep time.


  • In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt to taste.
  • Cut the Manchego into thin batons. Halve and core the fennel and slice it thinly lengthwise. Place the cheese and fennel in the bowl with the vinaigrette.
  • Core and halve the apples. Dice the first one into small cubes and slice the second one thinly lengthwise. Add to bowl, along with the walnuts.
  • Add chives, toss salad, and garnish with fennel fronds. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve.



The Small Bites & Sides

Everyone contributes to the meal by bringing “a small bite”. I provide the cheese and dessert courses. Occasionally I may also add to the main menu small bites as well if I feel I need to balance out what’s coming or to provide a little more variety.

The small bite sides brought by my guests from top left to right: Beef crostini with horseradish sauce and cornichon, Confit tomatoes with goat cheese, stuffed mushrooms, smashed roasted small potatoes with chimichurri sauce, roasted carrots with yogurt sauce and toasted sliced almonds, and roasted leg of lamb pitas with tzatziki sauce and lima bean hummus.

The Dessert Course

As with the aperitif (we started with a Valentine cocktail), we then ended with a Valentine dessert. These bittersweet chocolate soufflés with raspberry coulis were feather light, not overly sweet and the perfect way to end the evening.

This recipe was easy to follow and can be made ahead, ramekins filled and refrigerated up to two days prior to the party. I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate, I always have Chinese Five Spice mixed with my powdered sugar to add an unexpected warmth and made a raspberry coulis to add a pop of red. *** click below for the soufflé recipe.

And the winner is….

While the voting was not unanimous, the 2013 Francis Coppola Claret (an older wine from my cooler) received the most votes. I asked everyone to pick a second wine so that I could have a winner from the bottles purchased by my guests. The 2020 Mascota Vineyards Cabernet Franc received the next higher number of votes and a close third was the 2017 Chateau Cabonnieux with a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and very small amount ( 3%) Cab Franc and (2/%) Petit Vendot.

Overall, we were not especially impressed with the Cabernet Francs (even though one is the winner, the vote was only 4 out of 9). The two aged bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon stood out the most of the Sauvignons and then the French version above.


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