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Pairings with Foie from Chicago

by Francoise Villeneuve with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 15
February 2011   

Syrupy Sauternes with foie gras is so passé. On a recent trip to Chicago, four sommeliers wowed us with pairings as creative as their foie accompaniments, from a rare Valais region Swiss varietal and a gloriously unpretentious rosé sparkler to Chenin Blanc and an Alsatian Sylvaner from old vines. Maybe it’s the (now overturned) prohibition of foie that finally threw the strict foie gras pairing “rules” deservedly out the window. Wine pairings with foie gras now include offbeat picks that stand up to creamy, rich foie in new ways without sacrificing the luxury of the pairing. Whatever the reason, we’re enjoying the benefits!

Restaurant
Who
  • Sommelier Eduard Seitan
  • After emigrating from Romania, Eduard Seitan quickly mastered English and built a strong résumé as a waiter at some of Chicago’s most well-known and beloved restaurants. Fast forward to today, and he acts as floor manager and head server at Blackbird and as manager at avec, in addition to manning the restaurant group’s beverage programs. Once avec opened, Seitan fleshed out his wine knowledge, earning a Sommelier Certificate to effectively manage the beverage program. He now selects the wines, beer, and distilled spirits for Blackbird and avec. As the restaurant group expands, Seitan continues to oversee the beverage program. He developed the beer-centric beverage program for The Publican to complement Chef Kahan’s visions for the more casual, beer-concept restaurant, combining Belgian-style beers, English ales and lagers, American microbrews, and other fermented beverages.
Wine
Patrick Bottex "La Cueille" Bugey-Cerdon Rosé, Méthode Ancéstrale, Savoie, France, N.V.
Dish
Roasted Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Charred Green Garlic, Black Garlic, Preserved Plum, and Shrimp Salt
Pairing Note
Taking a luxe staple like foie gras and serving it with black garlic and pickled plums is anything but typical. But Chef David Posey pulls it off. The black garlic adds a deep base note to the foie gras, but no obvious pairing comes to mind with garlic in play (garlic can be tricky when it comes to pairings). Patrick Bottex "La Cueille" Bugey-Cerdon Rosé has a little bit of sweetness, and a healthy dose of acidity. But more importantly, this low alcohol red wine is slightly sparkling. “I think that Sauternes with foie gras can be a little much. The acidity and bubbles [of the Bugey-Cerdon Rosé] cut through the foie gras, but Sauternes can wipe it out,” says Seitan. Seitan’s choice has a good minerality and a little brininess that winks at the shrimp salt topping, and it balances the sweetness of the foie gras. From Eastern France, the blend of Gamay with Poulsard makes for a fruity, strawberry nose and a burst of berries on the palate to balance the tangy acidity. The wine reminds Seitan of his childhood in Romania, when he used to pick sweet, fragrant, and delicate wild strawberries. But in reality, it only has just enough residual sugar to make it the perfect pairing for the acid-sweet balance of Posey’s foie gras dish.
Restaurant
Who
  • Sommelier Shebnem Ince
  • Chicago Sommelier Shebnem Ince was born and raised in the Windy City. Her introduction to wine began while working as a stock girl and gift wrapper in her father’s wine shop. He encouraged her interest in wine with textbooks as well as lectures on the various wine regions of France. In 2001, Ince worked in the wine programs at Blackbird and mk, and the following year, undertook the operation of Que Syrah, a boutique wine shop in Lakeview that she ran for the next four years. It was during this time that she passed the introductory exam for the Court of Master Sommeliers and completed the certified exam. Ince will sit for the advanced exam in 2011. She has been with Henri’s sister restaurant The Gage since its opening, curating a small, focused wine list that has garnered consecutive Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence.
Wine
Domaine Ostertag Sylvaner, Vieilles Vignes, Alsace, France, 2008
Dish
Eel and Foie Gras Terrine, Shiso Gelée, Gastrique Powder, Sweet and Sour Lettuce, and Chicken Skin Cracker
Pairing Note
Chef Dirk Flanigan blends the flavors of eel and foie gras and uses a touch of saline soy in the eel sauce, as well as a sprinkling of Murray River salt, to bring together the two sweeter elements on the plate. Chicken skin “crackers” give us a break from the standard cracker, and sweet and sour lettuce battle the fat of the terrine. Sommelier Shebnem Ince always loves the slight amount of residual sugar in foie gras and picks a wine with a little residual sugar, too. This Sylvaner has a nice acidity but isn’t overwhelmingly tart. Her pairing was partly poetic though: “Sylvaner always reminds me of the cleanest, most beautiful, perfect, clear river you could ever swim in, and I imagined the eels swimming in the river.” Apt, given the contents of the terrine. The wine’s honeyed, floral nose has some exotic spices that work well with the eel sauce, and the dryness and yeasty finish helps to balance some of the fatty mouthfeel of foie gras.
Restaurant
Who
  • Wine Director Dan Pilkey
  • While studying for an associate degree in communications, Dan L. Pilkey discovered his passion for food and wine. During his studies, he assisted in transforming an avocado farm into a small labor-of-love wine project called Milagro. Over several years, Pilkey helped plant Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Primitivo, Malbec, Merlot, and Sangiovese grapes at the farm. While attending seminars on the art of wine making, he helped build a production compound and tasting room. Using his skills and knowledge of production from Wente Vineyards, where he worked for seven years, Pilkey helped produce two vintages with Milagro.

    After the devastating fires took the farm in 2006, Pilkey became a Wine and Sales Consultant for the Lafayette Wine Company, where he cultivated relationships with cellar masters, restaurateurs, and beverage directors. His next role was restaurant manager and wine director at 910 in the Grand Colonial Hotel in La Jolla, California. Soon after, he received a Business of Wine Certificate at San Diego State University and joined The Addison at The Grand Del Mar Resort in San Diego, California. Pilkey completed the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced level and is currently studying for the Master Sommelier exam. He joined the Elysian Hotel team in June 2009 as sommelier and RIA manager. Among his bevy of awards, Pilkey was winner of 2010 Washington State Wine Competition and the 2008 Far West Regional Best Young Sommelier competition.
Wine
Fabienne Cottagnoud, "Amigne de Vétroz Grand Cru, Réserve" Valais, Switzerland 2007
Dish
Foie Gras with Poppy Seed and Quince
Pairing Note
Wine Director Dan Pilkey has a knack for searching out rare regional varietals. And this semi-sweet Swiss Amigne is no exception; it’s unique to the Valais region and was probably first brought there by the Romans. Its apricot and citrus nose and vanilla palate bring to mind peaches and cream. When it comes to a successful foie gras dish, Pilkey knows a sweet-savory balance helps. But texture goes that extra mile, and Foie Gras with Poppy Seed and Quince from former RIA chef, Jason McLeod, has it in spades. Gorgeous ribbons of light, pink foie gras play against the slight grit of poppy seeds on poppy seed phyllo pastry, the crunch and lively green of the salad, and fresh wedges of quince. The wine and dish work in sensual concert, as the wine melts the thin layers of foie gras over the tongue, and the wine’s tannic finish helps cut some of the residual fat. We loved the poppy seeds with this one.
Restaurant
Who
  • Wine Director Chad Ellegood
  • Chad Ellegood grew up in Illinois and first discovered his love of wine while working at Printers Row. He continued educating himself as captain at the four-star Spiaggia with Henry Bishop. Bishop is lauded as one of the best sommeliers in the business, with an especially strong knowledge of eclectic Italian wines as well as obscure American wines. Under Bishop, Ellegood started to love teaching his guests about lesser-known wines and wine regions, and continued to learn as much as he could over the next year. In 2005, Ellegood left Spiaggia to work with Scott Tyree at Tru, and just 10 months later, was named assistant sommelier, overseeing the 17,000 bottle list. Under Tyree, Ellegood learned how to construct and maintain an award-winning wine list and honed his knowledge of Burgundies, which are a focus on the wine list at Tru. In 2007, Ellegood passed the Advanced Sommelier exam given by the Court of Master Sommeliers and looks forward to the next and final exam for the Master Sommelier.
Wine
Domaine des Baumard, Clos de Ste. Catherine, Coteaux du Layon, Loire Valley, France, 2006
Dish
Linear Foie Gras, Caramelized Popcorn Tuile, and Popcorn Shoots
Pairing Note
For a fine dining temple like Tru, a Pinot that retails for under $20 is a bold move. Foie gras was just about legal when Chef Anthony Martin started playing with this dish for his first interview tasting at Tru. A crunchy caramelized popcorn tuile and tart figs marinated in ice wine vinegar pop against the smooth, light texture of the foie gras. Sommelier Chad Ellegood picks the Domaine des Baumard to pair with the dish, as its strawberry and sweet-tart cherry flavors complement the natural sweetness of the foie gras and corn. At the same time, it has an “amazing minerality and strength,” marvels Ellegood. It’s a medium-bodied pick with a heavier nose, a far cry from the fruit-forward Pinots of the United States. Make no mistake, it has its fair share of stone fruit, vanilla, and tropical fruit on the nose (a nice counterpoint to the mildly astringent aroma of the figs), but its minerality and boldness as it coats the palate ensure it’s not a fruit jam explosion. A brilliant find at a fraction of the price of Sauternes.
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