A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life

The Ahwahnee Hotel’s Bracebridge Dinner and Yosemite Valley

John Tilson • 3/15/10        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

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If I were to choose my favorite place in the world, I would have to say Yosemite.

yosemite-stacked-photos-1The Valley is unique in its grandeur, scope and sheer beauty. Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point simply have to be experienced to be believed.

And within the valley is the grand Ahwahnee Hotel that is perfect in its design which blends rustic beauty with the natural surroundings. The focal point of the hotel is the Great Lounge which flows into the magnificent Dining Room. The scope of the dining room with its wood beam structure and 50-foot ceiling height is truly awe-inspiring. Again, it is a perfect match for the grandeur of the natural surroundings.

As part of our honeymoon trip in 1967, my wife, Laurie, and I visited Yosemite and the Ahwahnee Hotel for the first time. It was indeed very special, although at that time, the hotel was in need of some repair. Since then the hotel has been impeccably renovated and restored.

And since that first visit over 40 years ago, we have been back dozens of times. I have spent many birthdays there including my 65th last year. Always we have dinner in the hotel and I bring older bottles of wine, mostly older California wines because they just seem to fit so perfectly with the surroundings. Last year I brought several wines for my birthday dinner, including a 1959 Inglenook Cabernet and, from my birth year, a 1944 Inglenook Cabernet. The 1959 vintage was great virtually everywhere in the world but the 1944 vintage was poor nearly everywhere. I have had 1944 Romanee-Conti on several occasions and it has always been gorgeous. Also, the 1944 Chateau d’Yquem is still lovely and has been very consistent over the years. Other than that, I’ve not had any 1944s that have been remarkable.

Some 30 years ago I was offered two bottles of 1944 Inglenook from Draper and Esquin Wine Merchants in San Francisco. The bottles were in beautiful condition with high shoulder fills. They had come from a cool San Francisco Bay cellar where they had rested since the original release. I kept them in my cellar for all this time. When I purchased the bottles I thought that I would have an opportunity to purchase more over time. Alas, that was not to be.

For even though I have collected and consumed many bottles of old Inglenook Cabernet dating back to 1933 over the years, I never came across any more bottles of the 1944. Not only that, I also don’t ever recall reading a note on any bottles that were tasted, so the wine was a real experience for me. And, wow! Talk about exceeding expectations! It was one of the best bottles of wine I have ever experienced. The 1959 too was outstanding and consistent with many bottles I have consumed but no match for the stunning 1944.

The 1959 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, top shoulder level, deep color with an amber hue and edge, has a lovely perfume of cedary plum and spice that carries over in the flavor. It is round and balanced, with a long finish – lovely wine.

The 1944 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon Classic Claret is absolute perfection, with a gorgeous deep color, only faintly amber at the rim and a great intense perfume of cedar, some spice, cassis and berry. Lush, even opulent on the palate, perfectly balanced. Great, complex cedar-tinged flavor. Sweet and rounded, with a long lasting finish. And amazingly, the wine held in the glass for over an hour, with no sign of decline.

And, over the years, with my wife, family and friends, we have consumed many old California bottles at the Ahwahnee. The food at the dining room has varied.

And our experience with the food has been from very good to mediocre, but mostly very good in recent years. On our visits last year, it was as good as we have experienced. For a large dining room (it seats 350 people at a time for breakfast, lunch and dinner), this is really quite remarkable.

We have visited the Ahwahnee Hotel and Yosemite Valley in virtually every month of the year. However, without question, the best times are Winter, Spring and Fall. In the Summer, it can get very warm and the valley is very crowded most years. Summer vacation brings visitors from all over the world who occupy all the overnight facilities — tents, lodges, cabins, campgrounds, RVs, etc., in addition to a large number of day visitors. It can get very crowded. The Fall is less crowded and the change of the season brings gorgeous, bright colors. Winter brings yet another change and often snow as we had this year. The Spring is probably our favorite time of year. After the snow melts, the falls are at their peak. Glacier Point opens and from there you are offered one of the greatest views anywhere in the world. And, usually, at this time, the valley is still relatively uncrowded.

yosemite-stacked-photos-2The Bracebridge Dinner

Read an Introduction to the Event (PDF)
Read the History of the Event (PDF)

In 1999 we were first offered an opportunity to attend the Bracebridge Dinner in Yosemite. We had heard about it for years, but in those days a lottery was held to determine who would be able to purchase tickets. But, in 1999, we received an invitation for the Bracebridge Dinner and purchased four tickets. It was a memorable experience. We didn’t know if we would ever be fortunate enough to attend again. But, a few years later, the policy was changed and tickets were offered on a first come, first served basis. We called the first moment the reservations were made available for sale and were able to purchase four tickets for the 2003 Bracebridge Dinner. Again it was memorable. Last year we received a notice from the Hotel offering a two-night package for accommodations and two tickets to the Bracebridge Dinner for $1,766 and we returned again for the third time. It was the best ever. The setting, performance, music, food, wine and celebration were all superb. The story itself is always fascinating and the performance this year had lots of singing, humor, gaiety and audience interaction. It is simply one of the greatest Christmastime events in the world.

This year for wine I brought Mount Eden Vineyard Estate Chardonnays, the 1997 and the 1993, and the 1960 Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet. The 1997 Chardonnay we enjoyed with the relish, soup and fish courses. The fish dish of Dungeness Crab and avo0cado was especially good. The salad was perfect with the rich 1993 Chardonnay. The Cabernet matched the Peacock Pie (pan-roasted moulard duck breast) and the Boar’s Head and Baron of Beef (pan-roasted angus beef tenderloin). Both dishes were exceptional and well-prepared.

The 1993 Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, golden color, gorgeous perfume. Honied, apricot, touch of caramel. Lush and round, with a touch of apricot, citrus, crème brulee and coconut flavors. Long, crisp finish. Gorgeous, mature Chardonnay, still with good acidity and should keep. Delicious.

The 1997 Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, light yellow gold color, lovely perfume with a touch of vanilla, spice, pineapple and citrus. Lovely, balanced, flavorful yet crisp, vanilla tinged citrus flavor. Very youthful, better in 5-10 years, but delicious now.

Bracebridge Dinner MenuThe 1960 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon Classic Claret, this bottle was absolutely perfect in appearance, with a high neck fill, perfect capsule and label, and a perfect cork that was extracted with no crumbling. But, despite the appearance of the bottle and the wine in the glass, it was not as good other 1960 Inglenooks I’ve had in the past. Deep in color, with a faint amber edge, the deep cedary perfume was faintly dusty. Round, with a cedary flavor, and a long, slightly dry finish.

For the Bracebridge Dinner, corkage was $35 per bottle and the wine service, as always, was impeccable. The wines are presented to the sommelier the afternoon of the dinner and presented uncorked at the table at the time of the dinner.

2010 Bracebridge Dinner Dates

The Bracebridge Dinner tradition continues with new dates for 2010. This year, a musical concert will be added the evening prior to the Bracebridge Dinner performances on Dec. 16, 18, 20, 22 and 24. Guests purchasing the 2-night package will receive reserved seating at the concert at no additional charge.

Dec. 13 (Mon.) Bracebridge Dinner
Dec. 14 (Tues.) Bracebridge Dinner
Dec. 15 (Wed.) Concert
Dec. 16 (Thurs.) Bracebridge Dinner
Dec. 17 (Fri.) Concert
Dec. 18 (Sat.) Bracebridge Dinner
Dec. 19 (Sun.) Concert
Dec. 20 (Mon.) Bracebridge Dinner
Dec. 21 (Tues.) Concert
Dec. 22 (Wed.) Bracebridge Dinner
Dec. 23 (Thurs.) Concert
Dec. 24 (Fri.) Bracebridge Dinner
Dec. 25 (Sat.) Bracebridge Dinner

2010 Bracebridge Lodging Packages

Lodging Two-Night Package One-Night Package*

The Ahwahnee $1,766 $1,314
Yosemite Lodge At the Falls $1,216 $962
Wawona Hotel $1,120 $997

Prices above include gratuity, but exclude tax.
* One-night package rates for double occupancy starting as low as those listed above.

Bracebridge Lodging Packages include:

  • Dinner for two at the Bracebridge Celebration (Bracebridge Dinner is on the second night of a 2-night Bracebridge Package.)
  • Professional group portrait sitting to commemorate the event.
  • Shuttle services for Bracebridge Dinner is provided for guests at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and Wawona Hotel. Complimentary after hours shuttle service is also available. If scheduled shuttle service has ended for the day, please inquire at the hotel’s front desk to request service back to your hotel.
  • Dinner-only tickets are available for $425.00 (tax and gratuity included). Please call the reservations desk to make a dinner-only reservation – (801) 559-4884. These tickets are not available online.

Interested parties may visit www.YosemitePark.com or call (801) 559-4884 to obtain 2010 reservations, which are on sale now and available on a first come, first served basis. The sooner a reservation call is made, the better chance of obtaining advance tickets and lodging packages for the desired performance date.

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  • Phillipe says:

    would like to go in 2010, how about the roads in case of snow ?

  • Stunning venue; thoroughly engaging and exhilarating them and presentation. Not to be missed.

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