The Hard Rock Hotel hosts Wine Riffs, a food, wine and music pairing that's taking wine dinners to an entirely new level.

As wine paired dinners increase in popularity, chefs and sommeliers are constantly trying to raise the bar to entice guests with something new. The food, the plating, the presence of wine experts who can transport you to regions near and far… these all create an atmosphere where food and wine are explored and celebrated.

But at the end of the day, you can expect that a typical wine dinner will be comprised of five or six courses paired with five or six wines. And while these events are fun, they’re ‘typical’… and I like to do things that are a little out of the ordinary.

Thankfully, so does the Hard Rock Hotel!

This marvelous, music-themed resort has flipped the wine dinner on its head with Wine Riffs. Presented a few times a year in a stunning ballroom inside the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando, this exciting event series has ushered in a new era for wine dinners.

For starters, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill affair. Imagine a dozen or so tables then add choreographed lighting, spectacular table settings, candles and a disco ball and it feels much more like New Year’s Eve than your standard Friday night.

At the December 2014 Wine Riffs dinner we attended, we munched passed hors d'oeuvres and sipped Champagne while we waited for the ballroom doors to open at 7pm. And when they did, the gasps were audible. You’re not just stepping into another room for this wine dinner; you’re stepping into another world carefully crafted to delight all of your senses for the next two hours.

Each event showcases a different winery or region and the night’s wines are hand-selected weeks in advance and then paired with a multi-course meal designed solely for this event.

But there is one more element that’s painstakingly planned, and that’s the playlist that is coupled with each course.

As each course arrives with its accompanied wine pairing, lights change and the music shifts. Eric Jenkins, Hard Rock Hotel’s assistant director of food and beverage, acts as host for the night, and with the help of his culinary team and guest winery, he enthusiastically guides guests through the nuances of each pairing.

Guests follow along with their own menu and printed playlist, which acts as wonderful and unexpected memento for the evening. As each new song begins, a screen showing the song’s album cover updates.

And so it goes… wine, food, music… repeat.

The cuisine and wine were both outstanding. But the music, decor and little added delights (including trivia and wine giveaways) took it over the top. We couldn’t wait to do it again!

We’ll be at the next Wine Riffs dinner, which takes place on Friday, March 6 with a reception beginning at 6:30pm. The event will feature Bodega Catena Zapata from Mendoza, Argentina. Cost is $125 per person. For more details and to make reservations, call 407-503-2405.

A second Wine Riffs dinner is planned for July 17 and will welcome Justin Baldwin of JUSTIN Winery in Paso Robles, CA. You can email Molly Ford at [email protected] to be added to the email list to receive details about this and future dinners.

In the meantime, here are some pics to whet your appetite.

course wine riffs
Seared Pistachio Crusted Boat Scallop, Black Italian Truffle, Kabocha Squash and Ricotta Ravioli

wine riffs candles
Candle lighting adds to the romance and mystique of the evening.

wine riffs song screen
Album covers for each song are displayed on a huge screen on one side of the room.

playlist wine riffs
The night's playlist is given to each guest so they can follow along and then take it home with them.

wine riffs table setting
Tables are artfully designed and set for each event.

wine riffs hotel fountain
Be sure to arrive a little early so you have time to wander around the hotel and appreciate the amazing rock ‘n' roll aesthetic.

reception food wine riffs
Passed hors d'oeuvres and an opening glass of Champagne or wine kick off the night at the event's reception.

wine riffs dessert
This dessert was tough to photograph due to the red lighting but it was a delicious white chocolate cylinder filled with fruit.