Expand your wine knowledge – and maybe your waistline – at SoDel Fest

September 22, 2017

I can't help but smile every time I hear the venerable quote from W. C. Fields: "I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food." It's hard to believe how quickly our Cape Region has progressed when it comes to professionally prepared cuisine, wines, spirits and craft beers. It wasn't that long ago that it was all about pizza, a few wines that had been on a store shelf way too long (perhaps a jug of Lambrusco - refrigerated, of course) and maybe the occasional corn dog.

The James Beard Foundation, Zagat, Wine Spectator and other national and international organizations have given our beach towns the nod, so much so that Master Sommelier Larry O'Brien - one of the most revered wine experts in the country – will be part of the Private Reserve Wine Dinner presented as part of this year's SoDel Fest. O'Brien claims the title of Best Sommelier in America, and is one of only 236 Master Sommeliers in the world. The wine dinner will take place from 6 to 9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 6, at The Clubhouse at Baywood Greens. It will be quite an event for those who love wine – or those who want to love it.

At the risk of stepping on Cape Gazette wine columnist John McDonald's feet (John has more wine knowledge in his toes than I have everywhere else), I will share Larry O'Brien's four suggestions for those who want to expand their wine knowledge. First: Character counts. In other words, the more accurately a wine enthusiast can describe the character they desire in their wines, the greater the probability they will purchase a wine they like. Terms that describe taste, like fruit, non-fruit, earth and wood characters, tartness and tanginess provide invaluable guidance to a server, sommelier or wine shop staff when you are selecting the perfect bottle.

Second, don't be afraid to explore! Put aside preconceived notions of grapes, regions and producers, i.e., "I don't like ... whatever." Maybe you just haven't discovered one that you do like. Third, listen to and learn from the experts. Form a relationship with a local wine shop and maybe even find a reliable guide at your favorite restaurant. Once your wine store consultant or your server knows what you like and dislike, he or she can guide you. My go-to people are Mike Zygmonski, SoDel Concepts' corporate sommelier, and Kevin and Catherine Hester at Teller Wines in Lewes. Last and certainly not least, be adventurous. Trying new things is a requisite for maximum enjoyment of new and unusual grapes, regions and producers.

The Private Reserve Wine Dinner isn't just about wine, either. The grape is at its best when paired with good food, and four-time James Beard House Chef and SoDel Concepts Vice President Doug Ruley is putting together a six-course dinner perfectly paired with seven award-winning wines presented by O'Brien and Craig Ellick, Ambassador of Stonestreet Estate Winery in Alexander Valley, Calif.

Ruley and his crew have come up with a long list of surprises that include whipped lardo, burrata fig & sweet onion jam, and lamb loin with cherry, pistachio and cave-aged blue cheese. I don't want to give it all away, but I guarantee that the wines they have selected will be just as amazing.

SoDel Fest continues at noon the next day at the Independence Clubhouse in Millsboro. Ticketholders will be treated to amazing food from our local restaurants along with wine, craft beers and spirits. You can buy tickets at, call 302- 245-4262 or email Get all the details and meet the organizers on the Sip & Bite Show starting at 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 23, on 105.9FM, or stream it live on your computer or phone at 

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.