Food and Wine Pairings from Los Angeles

top pairing
by Emily Bell with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 11
November 2009   

Through our fall tastings in Los Angeles, a group of star sommeliers with a true passion for wine surprised and impressed us with their offbeat pairings. Although all the sommeliers expressed interest in local California wines, they veered from the obvious choices in favor of out-of-the-box international selections; they paired wines from Italy, France, Spain, and the US. The pairings were unusual and insightful, and whether complimentary or contrasting they elevated the food and added to the overall experience.

Restaurant
Who
Sommelier Drew Langley Drew Langley heads up the wine program at Michelin two-starred Providence, where 2004 Rising Star Chef Michael Cimarusti serves innovative, contemporary cuisine. With a list of over 400 bottles and 30 wines by the glass, Langley has an impressive variety of some of the world’s great wines at his disposal. He is known for introducing diners to exciting new wines by way of unexpected pairings, and as a sommelier he is engaged with the pairing process from the diner’s point of view as much as the chef’s. Langley excels at finding the right wine from the restaurant’s vast supply, including first growth wines and boutique varietals.
Wine
2008 Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli, Basque, Spain
Dish
Japanese Kampachi Two Ways: With Coriander, Crispy Rice, and Soy Salt Crème Fraiche; and With Sudachi and Crispy Buckwheat
Pairing Note
Langley paired Chef Cimarusti’s Kampachi Two Ways with a wine that could compliment both preparations. This particular Spanish white (pronounced scho-koli and sometimes spelled chocoli) has characteristics that make it a flexible accompaniment, especially with seafood dishes. Its acidity and light carbonation work with the nutty toast flavors of the crispy rice, and cut through the salt and richness of the crème fraiche. An aroma slightly redolent of green apple echoes the fruitiness of French olive oil drizzled over the second kampachi preparation. And the wine’s natural minerality compliments both the citrus tang of the sudachi and the nuttiness of the buckwheat. In both preparations the soft, subtle body of the Txakoli proved a gentle, elegant enhancement to the dish.
Restaurant
Who
Sommelier Mark Mendoza Mark Mendoza always had an interest in wine. He originally thought about working on the production side, maybe even having his own vineyard, but the pervasive chemistry convinced him he might do better on the restaurant side of things. Mendoza went from California restaurants Vertigo to Farallon, eventually landing the position of head sommelier at 2003 Rising Star Chef David MyersSona. Mendoza enjoys wine from Burgundy and various regions in Austria, as well a certain expressions of California Pinot Noir. But his approach to pairing is creative and opening minded—he’ll even pair a dish with a cocktail if it suits the flavor profile. Mendoza’s wine list at Sona displays a good balance of Old and New World wines, and his pairings intermittently play with complimentary and contrasting flavors.
Wine
2005 Marsanne Saint-Joseph, Rhone, France
Dish
Sake and Harissa-Marinated Cod with Sunchoke Puree, Dehydrated Black Olive, Cippolini Onion, Shishito, and Crystalline
Pairing Note
Mendoza cleverly served a thick, slightly waxy Marsanne to absorb and mellow the slow-burning heat of Chef de Cuisine Kuniko Yagi’s harissa-marinated cod. The pervading buttery earthiness of the wine is what really marries it to the dish. A delicate accompaniment of sunchoke puree lends a sweet creaminess and compliments the delicate orchard notes of the wine, while dehydrated black olives reiterate the earthiness of the Marsanne. The textural interplay of the dish, which centers around a soft, flaky cod, is framed by the full-bodied structure of the Marsanne, while its low acidity, nuttiness, and orchard fruit flavors pair especially well with the tender onions.
Restaurant
  • GRACE (Now Closed)
  • 7360 Beverly Boulevard
  • Los Angeles, CA 90036
Who
Sommelier Eduardo Porto Carreiro Eduardo Porto Carreiro is a sommelier’s sommelier, looking for what he calls the “truth” in every bottle. With a childhood split between Brazil and Vienna, Porto Carreiro brings an especially worldly perspective to his current role at Grace. Porto Carreiro reached such prominent sommelier status by way of vino-revelation at a Cornell University wine course. From there, he was hooked, working his way up the ranks from shop clerk to food runner and eventually to assistant sommelier and sommelier at Chef Neal Fraser’s Grace. Porto Carreiro’s pairing philosophy is informed in part by his sense of a wine’s integrity and in part by its specific balance with food. A self-professed “Francophile,” Porto Carreiro is as excited by New World wine producers as he is faithful to the classical structure and complexity of the Old World.
Wine
2007 Lacrima Di Morro D'Alba, Le Marche, Italy
Dish
Grilled Tenderloin of Wild Boar with Brussels Sprouts, Herbed Yukon Gold Potato Spaetzle, and Violet-Mustard Sauce
Pairing Note
Wild game requires nuance in pairing because of its characteristic gaminess. Chef Neal Fraser’s boar tenderloin has the weight of rich game, which only a wine with the deep, bold notes of Lacrima Di Morro D’Alba can match. The wine pairing provides sufficient body to match that of the boar, substituting where a stock or wine sauce might have served. The violet notes of the wine reinforced the floral delicacy of the mustard sauce, while lush notes of an unmistakable blueberry pie flavor complimented the rounded meatiness of the boar and the tang of the mustard.
Restaurant
Who
Sommelier Dana Farner When compiling the wine list for Wolfgang Puck’s up-market steakhouse CUT, Sommelier Dana Farner looks for wines that are unusual and represent different varietals. “I want people to taste something and understand that's what that wine is supposed to taste like,” she says. Farner knows the power of one good experience with wine. She got to the wine world by way of an acting and singing career that found her waitressing her way from Minneapolis to LA to New York, where she worked her way up the ranks at the Blue Water Grill, and finally back to Los Angeles for the opening of CUT. Farner quickly realized that the more contact she had with the beverage program, the more inspired she was. Years later, she’s compiling her own wine list with an emphasis on creativity and freedom. The most exciting thing about wine to Farner is its endless variety, and that’s something she wants to share with her diners.
Wine
2007 Cold Heaven Viognier, Santa Barbara, CA
Dish
Butter Lettuce, Avocado, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, and Champagne-Herb Vinaigrette
Pairing Note
Farner served a California Voignier with an upscale rendition of the classic steakhouse iceberg salad. The pairing proved to be a successful and transformative marriage of two distinctly American products. In one of the miracles of pairing, the Voignier changes completely when tasted with the salad, losing its harsh minerality and becoming much rounder. With tender butter lettuce replacing crunchy, watery iceberg, and a bright Champagne-herb vinaigrette to compliment the richly piquant blue cheese, the salad worked well with a gentler white that could both mellow its flavor and delicately reinforce its acid. The Voignier had soft peach and melon notes that pair well with the fruit of the tomato in the salad.
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