Sommelier Yoon Ha
La Toque | Napa
Although you may not expect a South Korea native to choose the career of sommelier (traditional Korean cuisine is not typically accompanied by wine), Ha is a clear exception. Currently the sommelier at La Toque restaurant in Napa Valley, Ha found his calling while traveling through Europe and experiencing the magic created by proper wine pairings. His elegant and gracious tableside manner won us over immediately, although it was his out-of-the-box pairing style that made our tasting memorable. His choice of Belle Glos Pinot Noir, “Taylor Lane Vineyard,” Sonoma Coast, for a totally hedonistic Seared Foie Gras and Broiled Freshwater Eel dish knocked our socks off. The wine’s low acidity and voluptuous texture stood in for the lack of fruit in the dish. Now that we’ve experienced his extremely well-honed palate, we’re wondering whether his Asian background may be one of the benefactors of his gift.
On Table Approach:
Guests can often feel intimidated when ordering wines for the table, especially if the wine list is extensive. I find that approaching [the table] with a smile and thanking the host and guests for their patronage not only puts guests at ease, but also builds good faith.
On Matching Depth of Flavor:
Many sommeliers approach food and wine pairing with the goal of matching a very specific component between the food and wine—acid level, fruit tones, sugar levels, etc. My most successful food and wine pairings have resulted from gauging the depth of flavor in a dish. How deeply flavored is the dish and how is it achieved? What role does each ingredient contribute and what is the impact of the cooking method? Once I have made this assessment, I can narrow down the varietal(s). Then I can think about what part of the world and/or what style of winemaking would best complement the dish.
On Connecting the Kitchen to the Wine:
La Toque offers 16 savory and six dessert selections with a paired wine, in addition to a seven-course Chef’s Table Menu that includes wine pairings. As 70 percent of our guests opt for the wine pairing, it is critical that we maintain close relations with the kitchen. When a new dish is presented, I invite the kitchen to taste their creations with the wine. It is very rewarding when success is achieved as a team.
On Contrast/Counterpoint as the Foundation for Food and Wine Pairings:
Be cautious: To have the acidity of a wine “cut” through richness is to shorten and truncate the flavor length and texture of the preparation and replace it with the structure of the wine. I prefer to complement the flavors the chef has built by harmonizing with existing flavors, textures, and balance to elongate the experience.
On Choosing the Right Wine for Each Guest:
Ask the guest specific questions to accomplish this goal. What varietal is he/she considering? What style does he/she favor? Which producers has he/she enjoyed in the past? With this information, your selection will stay within their taste preferences and be water-tight.
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