Sipping in Seattle

top pairing
by Heather Sperling with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 9
November 2008   
Seattle is close to Washington and Oregon wine country–but not so close that the local wines rule the scene. Only one of the pairings below comes from Oregon, and it’s a soft, Burgundian-style Pinot Noir (not at all “bombastic,” which was an adjective we heard thrown around in more than one conversation about Northwest Pinots). Perhaps during our next trip we’ll taste more of the region’s wines…but this time around we were happy to let the local terroir shine on the plate.
Restaurant
Who
  • Sommelier Cyril Frechier
  • The breakdown of Frechier’s 450-label list at Campagne is a reflection of Chef Daisley Gordon’s food: 80% French and 20% of the region. Frechier was at Rover's for 16 years, and during that time he worked with wines from all over the planet. But Campagne is very French, so Frechier has returned to his roots, taking the opportunity to pair French wines – often lesser-known ones. Frechier says Washington State is a fantastic wine region, but the wines are more opulent and bombastic. He chose dishes for our tasting that worked best with French wines – and took the opportunity to show off France’s diversity while he was at it.
Wine
Domaine des Terrisses, Gaillac, France, 2005
Dish
Foie Gras Steak with Sautéed Washington Grape Ragout
Pairing Note
Gascony in Southwest France is the foie gras area – and though the buttery liver so often tempts a sweet pairing, why not go local? And while you’re at it, why not try a red? Domaine des Terrisses is a classic red wine from the region – a simple blend of the local varietal that’s fruity and earthy in the glass. Frechier says Gaillac (and Gascony as a whole) is one of France’s least-known wine areas, yet is rich with indigenous varietals that aren't found outside France (or even outside the region). The wines work very well with everything in the region, he says, and are classic French – perfect with food. It’s on the nose where things get a bit funky: one can detect citronella, plastic, grass, and a tiny bit of fruit. But it’s friendlier on the palate, cutting through the richness of the foie gras and the sweet-tangy grape ragout, and leaving you ready (and waiting) for more. For comparison’s sake, Frechier served a lovely Schoenheitz Gewürztraminer (Alsace, 2004) as well – and the red was the winner, hands-down.
Wine
La Badiane Deux Soeurs, Cassis, France, 2006
Dish
Harissa Marinated Baby Octopus with Fennel, Lemon and Chives
Pairing Note
The oil and acidity in the dish could be cut by bubbles, or easily complemented by lighter wine with plenty of citrus and brine (a Godello, perhaps), but Frechier went for a more robust pairing (and stuck to France). It’s the round, medium-bordering-on-full body of this white from Cassis – a costal town just west of Marseille – that makes the match stand out. The wine is a lively and bright blend of vermentino and white granache, with a marked limestone flavor on the palate and a fruity element brought out by the pairing. The minerality and weight stand up to and complement the spice of the harissa and with the creamy textured cephalopod. The wine is smooth and full but not obtrusive, with just a touch of brininess to remind you of the sea.
Wine
Domaine Saint Nicolas Cuvee Jacques, Fiefs Vendeens, Loire Valley, France, 2004
Dish
Ris de Veau: Pan-Roasted Veal Sweetbreads served on Curry-Carrots and Butter Lettuce Cream
Pairing Note
Some pairings are complementary and some are contrasting; a select few are transporting. This was one of them: a bite of sweetbread dragged through lettuce cream, a sip of the thin, acidic Pinot Noir, and we were whisked away to a fireside table in the Loire Valley. Had we eaten and drunk this in France, we would have come back raving about it; “It so perfectly fit the place,” we’d say. Frechier says the dish can go either way: “The meat definitely lends itself to a Pinot Noir or a lighter red; the sauce lends itself to a white.” Pinot Noir is a no-fail pairing for sweetbreads, and the rough-hewn, thin, rustic character of this one – from the Western Loire, south of Muscadet – makes it exciting. “Low yield gives [it] good concentration, so it's not a wimpy Pinot Noir,” says Frechier. The flavor wasn’t wimpy, but the body was light, and the wine was acidic – which lent it the rustic, slightly imbalanced character that made the pairing so fantastic. It’s not a wine to sip, but definitely a wine for food.
Restaurant
  • Tilth
  • 1411 N 45th St.
  • Seattle, WA 98103
  • (206) 633-0801
Who
  • Sommelier Adam Chumas
  • Chumas had a fake ID as a kid, but instead of going out to bars, he snuck out to expensive restaurants and bought bottles of wine. He followed his penchant for dining, and fell into the role of wine director at an inn in New Hampshire without any formal training, just a love for wine. At Tilth he’s built a hearty glass pour program (18 wines by the glass!), and though his list isn’t as fervently organic as the restaurant’s food, he does focus on organic, biodynamic, sustainable, and affordable wines.
Wine
Montinore Estate Parson's Ridge Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2006
Dish
Sous Vide Alaskan Halibut, Cranberry Bean, Lacinato Kale, Preserved Lemon
Pairing Note
Chumas told us he was going out on a limb with this pairing, but it was a logical limb: “You think white fish, white wine. But the accompaniments are earthy: rich cranberry beans and rugged, earthy Lacinato kale.” The pinot he chose was a delicate Burgundian-style from Oregon, and the lighter body and subtle richness pairs well with the hearty beans and kale. The acidity stood up to the preserved lemon, and the overall effect was a melding of flavors, rather than a contrast. The wine, which at first taste was quite acidic, mellowed with the food to a lovely effect. And it’s sustainable and biodynamic to boot.
Wine
Albert Mann Pinot Blanc, Alsace, France, 2007
Dish
Mini Duck Burgers, Fingerling Chips, House Made Ketchup, Spicy Mustard, Onion Jam, Brioche Buns
Pairing Note
Maria Hines’ duck burgers are something to write home about. Nestled on soft brioche buns made by a nearby bakery, topped with sweet-savory onion jam, spicy homemade mustard, and spiced homemade ketchup, they make for a near-perfect haute slider experience. ‘Near-perfect,’ because it’s really when they’re paired with a white wine with a bit of residual sugar that they reach their apotheosis. Chumas has a penchant for plush, soft, rich white wines, and the Albert Mann Pinot Blanc is just that. It has a beautiful spectrum: high acid, lovely earth notes, and viscosity that gives weight without any buttery or oakiness. This match is Chumas’ gateway pairing, if you will: “If people seem open [to trying to things], I’ll bring a glass of this or of Washington Riesling out with the duck burgers…And they’ll love it, and it will turn them onto Rieslings.” It’s not a hard sell, really. The wine cuts through the richness of the burgers but allows the savory and spice flavors to continue bouncing around in the mouth, and the sweetness is a lovely complement to the spicy and spiced components of the mustard and ketchup.
Wine
Rare Wine Co. Charleston Sercial Madeira, Portugal, NV
Dish
Almond Brown Butter Cake, Italian Plum Compote, Chantilly, Port Reduction
Pairing Note
Port (tawny or even ruby) would have been the obvious pairing here (to match the port reduction on the plate). But Chumas looked to Portugal’s other wine, Madeira, and we’re so glad he did. Of the four types of Madeira (from driest to sweetest: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey), he chose Sercial, which has a high level of acidity and is not too sweet or cloying. We found that it cut through the sweetness of the dessert, cleansing the palate and readying it for another bite, while complementing the nutty, plummy, caramel-y flavors of the dish. Chumas calls Madeira his “secret little love,” saying: “It’s a fantastic dessert wine, and can manifest itself in so many different ways. It’s one of the most age-worthy wines in the world… Malmsey tends to be a little richer, and the Sercial is a little hotter; I like to pair that with the butter.”
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