Private clubs are a tricky matter for food journalists. The rule is, you can't write anything about them because they're not available to your readers out there. And who wants to read about a place you can't go?

Like so many of journalism's creaky philosophies which are based on antique thinking and followed precisely to the letter and not the spirit, this one is junk.

The truth is, most Americans are DYING to read about places they can't go: celebrity homes, star parties, exclusive restaurants and expensive rehab centers, the Oprah show.

But never mind.

The foodservice world has an equally hoary rule of thumb: Private clubs serve bad food.

Well, enough of my defensive rationalization about this post. The point is, I want to tell you about a terrific wine dinner I attended at the Alta Club this week...

Of course, I'm not a member. But the Club's F&B director/sommelier Lori Walls and I met working in the wine fields of California and she kindly invited me to join the elite when Dan Goldfield of Dutton-Goldfield winery was in town for a wine dinner.

Here I'd like to contradict another falsehood: Wine dinners are a thing of the past. The truth is, BAD wine dinners are a thing of the past. A good one is still the best way to discover a winery - better even than visiting it.

Why?

Because wine is best with food.

Goldfield is a short, energetic, athletic man- he, his wife and kids spent the day skiing at Alta, and he is an avid cyclist.

In real Sonoma style, he wore Birkenstocks to the wine dinner and, though trained as a chemist and possessing a deep knowledge of exactly what happens to fruit as it becomes wine, skipped the technical talk and instead spoke enthusiastically about wine and terroir, a sense of place. People have their own terroir, and Goldfield's place is Sonoma; he showed us slides of the vineyards each wine came from, explaining why they tasted the way they did. And I loved these wines - they had the elegant subtlety of French wines but the enthusiastic fruit of California. Great with food.

Alta Club Executive Chef Brian Edwards' place is obviously in the kitchen - the menu he served to go with the wines was original, inventive and entirely beyond the stuffy bounds of what we think of as "club food."

Fingers of firm white escolar wrapped into spring rolls with a touch of tangerine, and profiteroles stuffed with pheasant and caramelized ginger were passed with the '08 "Dutton Ranch" chardonnay.

Sweetbread morsels, fried to a gentle crust and set off with a sour cherry demi-glace were paired with the "Dutton Ranch" pinot noir.

Then, surprisingly, we went back to chardonnay, the "Rued Vineyard" '09 which had been in the bottle only two weeks, with citrus-crusted scallops in a satiny guava butter sauce. The wine had more than enough backbone to follow the pinot.

For the entree, Chef Edwards had dry-aged Utah lamb; the rosy medallions came with a sweet potato pave, stacked layers of potato as thin as pasta - the sweetness of the lamb and earthiness of the tuber segued perfectly into the '08 "Devils Gulch" pinot noir.

A final surprise, the '07 "Cherry Ridge" syrah was served with the warm apple and fig strudel, which Chef had drizzled with a syrup made from syrah. As you can see, by this point in the evening, the food and wine had lulled me into a real sense of belonging to the club - I forgot I was there to report and had eaten half my strudel before I remembered to snap it...