The wine is flowing this fall at the Nittany Lion Inn, with two wine dinners you won’t want to miss.
The first kicks off Sept. 28 with Gary Eberle, former Nittany Lion and now highly acclaimed winemaker, returning just in time for the Indiana football game. After playing under late longtime head football coach Joe Paterno in the ’60s, Eberle headed to Louisiana State University to gain his advanced degrees before switching his career path toward enology (the science of wine and wine making).
Frequently referred to as a pioneer of California’s Paso Robles region, Eberle and his namesake winery soon saw a wealth of success. However, that doesn’t meant he’s forgotten his roots.
“Gary is really good at what he does,” said Sean Caviston, Nittany Lion Inn restaurant operations manager and wine director. “He has a passion for wine, and he loves Penn State.”
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Eberle loves Penn State so much that the dinner is an annual affair that’s held in the inn’s ballroom, which can hold up to 200 guests. Eberle presides over all, regaling with his stories of his time as a Nittany Lion.
In November, the inn falls back on a more intimate wine dinner, one in its popular Tastes of the World series that pairs regional wines and cuisine. Guests making a reservation for Nov. 15 or 16 can expect all the flavors of Burgundy, France.
“This is the motherland and the benchmark for two great varietals worldwide — Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” Caviston said. “Burgundy is one of the premier wine regions and has been for hundreds of years, so we’re pretty excited to be featuring it.”
Unlike the Eberle dinner, the Tastes of the World event is held in the inn’s dining room, and reservations for both small and large parties can be made for any time between 5:30 and 8 p.m.
“I stop by at each table at a different time, and give the guests a little bit of wine 101. If you don’t know anything about wine, that’s great — you learn something before you walk out, or hopefully you’ll discover a particular producer you hadn’t experienced before,” Caviston said.
Can’t wait until further in the fall to enjoy the inn’s coveted wine menu? Every Wednesday at the inn is now “Winesday,” with small plates and wine pairings from 5 to 9 p.m.
“Whiskers will have maybe four or five specialty plates made for sharing, and then I put together a small wine list of maybe anywhere between 10 or 12 bottles,” Caviston said. “That’s just a nice avenue to expose people to our wine list, which has — probably at this moment — 575 different wine selections. Not everyone will want to pick up that big list.”
Those who do, though, will find the inn has once again claimed the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator, making it one out of only 18 venues in Pennsylvania to be recognized thusly. Caviston said the requirements for such an award are steep; menus must display a high variety of wines from regions around the world, significant vertical depth of top producers and at least 350 selections overall.
The weekly Winesday is just one of two new events tailored to local diners who desire a sophisticated dining experience for their everyday evenings. The other is the recently added Steakhouse Saturdays, serving up premier steaks alongside shareable classic sides, such as asparagus and creamed spinach. Of course, an appropriate wine list is provided. For the non-steak-eaters, other steakhouse-type entrees are available, such as crab cakes, salmon and chicken. According to Caviston, the menu for Steakhouse Saturdays is receiving high praise, and the inn hopes to evolve it even further as it continues to receive such positive feedback.
On the off chance you visit the inn and aren’t in the mood for a glass of one of their finest wines, a new specialty cocktail menu is on the horizon, featuring Pennsylvania distilleries.
“There’s a real drive for connecting it all. We have Pennsylvania wines, Pennsylvania beers on tap and in the bottle and now Pennsylvania distilleries,” Caviston said. “There’s a lot of great things happening in Pennsylvania in the beverage industry, and we’re jumping on that.”
Those interested in one of the September or November wine winners can make their reservations by calling 865-8590 or emailing Caviston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.