Less than an hour from Memphis lies a small town bursting with big ideas. Located in the Arkansas Delta on Highway 61, better known as the Blues Highway, the city of Wilson, Arkansas hosts year-round events centered on regional culture, food and fun, sure to tempt food and wine lovers from across the South.

My husband and I recently enjoyed the city’s delightful hospitality at the first of the Wilson Wine Dinners, part of the Wilson Wine Experience. The weather was perfect for the outdoor Farm Dinner at The Grange at Wilson Gardens — an amazing setting with plenty of room for social distancing. Arriving a little early, we were welcomed warmly and encouraged to look around. The Grange is a lovely venue for special events as well as farmers’ markets and agricultural and cooking classes, complemented by beautiful gardens.

Our evening began with appetizers in the orchard, paired with a bright, refreshing 2018 Mumm Sparkling Wine from Napa, CA. My favorite was the Delicata Squash Tart with feta and chives. The pastry was light and flaky, and the flavors blended perfectly. The Pear Trio with Prosciutto was delicious and served in small mason jars. And we never had anything like the delectable Apple Rosemary Lollipops, a sweet and savory treat served on a stick.

Sparkling wine and canapés at Wilson Wine Dinners

The evening began with sparkling wine and canapés in the orchard of The Grange at Wilson Gardens.

Apple Rosemary Lollipops

The Apple Rosemary Lollipops were a unique treat!

The soft sounds of acoustic guitar and the melodious voices of Josh Cosby and Jeremy Stanfill floated through the night air as they strolled about the orchard. As the sun began to set, the duo led us up a short gravel walkway to the main building, where dinner awaited in the courtyard.

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The outdoor dining area was twinkling with lights and decorated with fall florals. Although cozy, the space was still plentiful enough for safe social distancing. My husband and I loved our table for two, but I think a group of four would be a fun night out as well. A chilled glass of 2018 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc from Sonoma, CA, sat ready for sipping as we took our seats. We were quite close to musicians Josh and Jeremy, and I have to say they were the perfect accompanists to the meal. Music can get overpowering in some venues, but they provided entertainment that was lively but never too loud for conversation.

Courtyard with twinkling lights at Wilson Wine Dinners

The courtyard looked very inviting as the sun began to set. Twinkle lights added a festive touch when darkness fell.

Josh Cosby and Jeremy Stanfill of Star & Micey

Josh Cosby and Jeremy Stanfill are part of Star & Micey, one of Memphis’ most popular and talented indie bands.

Served with the elegant, slightly smoky Fumé Blanc was a Wilson Gardens Beet Salad with Honey and Radish. The sweet touch of honey balanced the beets’ earthiness, and the radishes added a savory crunch. Next up was a Butternut Squash Risotto with Farm Egg, paired with a 2018 Heitz Cellar Grignolino Rosé, another choice from Napa. I think this was my favorite course, though it is hard to choose since every dish was absolutely mouthwatering. Risotto is always a treat for me, and this one was full of flavor, filling but not too rich. And the rosé was wonderful — crisp with a fresh acidity and fruity without too much sweetness.

My husband’s favorite was next: Pork Cheek with Pickled Apple. Pork cheek is divine, especially when prepared properly. This one was fork-tender and melted in your mouth. Served with fall vegetables and dressing, it reminded me of a great fall festival meal. The wine was a 2017 La Crema Pinot Noir from Sonoma, a warm but not too heavy red with lots of layered berry flavor.

The evening ended with Chocolate Bombay with Marigolds, paired with Warres Otima 10 Year Tawny Port from Portugal. The dessert was decadent, with the marigolds adding a bright touch, and the port was rich and delicious.

Beet salad at Wilson Wine Dinners

The Wilson Gardens Beet Salad, paired with a chilled glass of 2018 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc, was a delicious second course.

Heitz Cellar Grigolino Rosé 2018

The Heitz Cellar Grignolino Rosé had an enticing floral aroma and a crisp, fresh palate that complemented the Butternut Squash Risotto. Image: Gaye Swan

Between every course, City of Wilson Vice President of Operations Norbert Mede spoke about the choice of wine for each course. Informative and entertaining, he circled among the tables to answer questions and even gave us a few wine recommendations to try. Hosted by the city of Wilson, every Wilson Wine Dinner is a multi-course creation from Chef Roberto Barth using locally sourced ingredients.

“I am truly blessed to work with amazing farmers that grow some of the best quality ingredients I’ve ever worked with,” says Chef Roberto, who works in Wilson with Jill Forrester of Whitton Farms and The Grange at Wilson Gardens to source fresh, in-season ingredients for The Wilson Café as well as the Wilson Wine Dinners.

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“It is important to find local inspiration so that you can make a connection with the history of a region and cuisine,” he continues. “Making this connection allows you to respect what was and to be inspired to push the boundaries of what the future will look like. For me, inspiration comes from many different avenues — old cookbooks, local recipes passed down through generations through word of mouth, or simply the local ingredients being produced. I also find inspiration in local architecture, the landscape of a region, and the sounds and smells that are unique to an area.”

City of Wilson Vice President of Operations Norbert Mede

Norbert Mede was both informative and entertaining as he discussed the wines.

The Wilson Wine Dinners are inspired by the desire to bring a world-class dining experience to Wilson that showcase the town as well as the culinary expertise of Chef Roberto. “We want our local and regional guests to consider Wilson as the spot for amazing food and wine,” Norbert says. “We also consider ourselves a food destination for those seeking an authentic, unique and quality culinary experience like no other. Education is also a goal — to bring foods and beverages that our guests may not otherwise be exposed to.”

Upcoming are the Be Thankful dinner on November 14 and the Christmas in Europe Progressive Dinner on December 5. The seven-course November dinner centers around a sensory experience and focuses on remembrance and appreciation. In December, guests can take a “trip” through Europe as they progress through Wilson and enjoy a six-course meal, wine and entertainment. In between, you can enjoy mixology classes, the Wilson Harvest Fest, a Turkey Trot Fun Run and the Wilson Wine Experience weekly wine tastings.

To learn more about the Wilson Wine Dinners, visit the city of Wilson’s website event page.

All images courtesy of Loaded for Bear unless otherwise noted.

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