Spring always poses an interesting problem; how do you make room in a full cellar for new wines? After stocking up on refreshing whites to sip in the backyard, and receiving spring allotments from your favorite wine mailing lists, this presents quite the conundrum.

Well, to paraphrase Otter from Animal House “Wine Dinner!”

Sharing wine, food and good companionship is one of life’s most basic pleasures, and having all these bottles that need to be drunk to make room in your cellar is the perfect excuse to do it.

Even though I keep my wine cellar records in a computerized database, I take this opportunity to rummage through the shelves of bottles to become reacquainted with some old friends. Certain bottles have stories to tell, others remind me of the good friends who gave them to me, and they all inspire ideas for great menus that can bring them to life.

My cellar explorations remind me of all the reasons I started to cook in the first place, sharing the exhilaration of a perfect food and wine match. This passion started in France during my honeymoon, and continued in earnest after my wife bought me Julia Child’s masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cuisine. It is why I went to culinary school to train my palette, and why I continue to cook and collect wines to this day.

So how do I decide what to drink and what to cook for one of these dinners? After reacquainting myself with the bottles in my cellar, I decide on a theme for the dinner. This could be Great Varietals from lesser-known appellations, or vertical tastings from a particular vineyard, to explorations of a particular type of wine and food match.

Our first dinners, held in our classically tiny Manhattan apartment, usually featured finds from our various travels to wine regions around the country. These included unique bottlings from Northern California as well as local finds from Long Island’s North Fork and New York’s Hudson River Valley. What I most remember about these dinners was clearing everything out of our microscopic kitchen so I’d have enough room to cook. I think my wife most remembers cleaning all the dishes without a dishwasher.

As our taste in wine improved and our living space increased, I further developed my culinary skills and our menus became more sophisticated. I started matching game with pinot noirs from great houses, and roasted and marinated pork with some of California’s great zinfandel houses.

I cooked cassoulet and matched it with Stag’s Leap Cask 21 and Mushroom Ragu, showing off pinot noir’s from Australia’s Yarra Valley. My wife gets into the act by shopping at all her favorite cheese shops to assemble a world class cheese course featured with a great Napa cab.

So what are we doing in honor of this year’s spring cleaning?

Our theme is great vineyards and great winemakers. For the first course, I will be matching two great chardonnays, both made by Helen Turley from different vineyards, with a smoked salmon and goat cheese quesadilla. Since these wines were declared by both Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator as dead ringers for a great Corton Charlemagne, I figured we’d have one next, matched with a carrot risotto finished with lobster and goat cheese.

Two pinots from the legendary pinot house Williams Selyem are next, matched with Prosciutto crusted loin of venison. Our cheese course will be matched with a Beringer Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet. The dessert will feature a wine a lot of people have heard about, but few have tried; Inniskillin Vidal Ice wine with Bananas Foster.

The thing I enjoy most about these evenings is the company. Cooking for friends is a very different animal than cooking professionally for restaurant guests. At home it is the foods I love, and here they’re matched with those long lost bottles that I discovered during the spring cleaning of my wine cellar. And after all is finished, we are left with glow of great companionship and the shared experience of enjoying some truly great wines.