Top Pairs, Wine Country
by Elyse Viner with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Through our winter/spring tastings in the heart of Napa Sonoma Wine Country, a group of star sommeliers with a true passion for the local wine scene surprised and impressed us with their offbeat pairings. On the face of it, it appears that the sommeliers’ played it safe, pairing American Pinot Noirs with traditional hearty cold weather fodder like poussin, duck, and foie gras. But it was the atypical characteristics of these wines which made these pairings so unusual and unexpectedly delightful.
- The Restaurant at Meadowood
- 900 Meadowood Lane
- St. Helena, CA 94574-9620
- (800) 458-8080
Sommelier Rom Toulon Growing up in the Loire Valley and drinking wines from around the world with his parents, wine is in Toulon’s blood. Early in his career he won the high distinction of Young Sommelier of the Loire Valley and was a semi-finalist for Young Sommelier of France. Internationally he has furthered his reputation working at Four Seasons hotels worldwide and as part of the wine team for the reopening of Paris’s George V. At Meadowood, Toulon oversees the estate’s entire wine operation, which counts over 700 labels.
Marcassin, Pinot Noir, Windsor, USA, 2004
Poached Poussin Roulade with Parsnip Puree in a Caramelized Apple Jus
Evocative of the familiar rich flavors of Coq au Vin, the pairing between poussin and Pinot highlights the comforting flavors of the fall/winter season. The wine carries a stunning pungent aroma of fresh leather that unexpectedly harmonizes with the earthy black trumpet mushrooms and chestnut puree. The Pinot’s tangy, peppery notes pick up the clove and vinegar from the poussin broth while striking a remarkable balance with the sweetness of the parsnips and caramelized apple.
Sommelier Yoon Ha The wine pairing dinners at La Toque are of legendary reputation thanks to sommelier Yoon Ha who consistently knocks it out of the park with his wine selections that accompany Chef Ken Frank’s intricate menu. For the complexity of the dishes and the impressive scale of La Toque’s wine list, Ha’s philosophy is rather simple: “With subtle courses I prefer old wine, with bolder flavors I prefer New World.” The Korea-native (and 2009 StarChefs.com Rising Star) describes his perfect pairing as a Korean pancake with scallions, sautéed kimchi, and soy-vinegar dipping sauce paired with a Grüner Veltliner from Austria.
Belle Glos Pinot Noir, Taylor Lane Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, USA, 2007
Seared Artisan Foie Gras with Broiled Freshwater Eel, Sweet Soy, and Forbidden Rice
La Toque is famous for wine pairings, so it was no surprise that Ha’s risky choice to pair a Pinot Noir with a dish of foie gras and eel was met with both surprise and intrigue. “The dish is rich and rich” says Ha. “The soy glaze provides a saltiness and sweetness and is really the driver. Given that, in selecting the wine I wanted to follow the same flow.” Foie gras is usually paired with a fruit component on the plate, but in this dish, the Pinot Noir stands in to provide the necessary fruit.
Chef Geoff Kruth Kruth discovered a passion for wine while taking advantage of free tastings as a student at Sonoma State. Now, he holds the prestigious title of Master Sommelier and Director of the Guild of Sommeliers (as well as a 2009 StarChefs.com Rising Star award), in addition to overseeing a 500-bottle wine list. The Farmhouse’s wine list maintains a stock of classic wines as well as unusual wines from around the world. When it comes to food pairings, the self-proclaimed Italian wine lover believes that the most important point in selection is “people pairing.” “In the dining room I try to gauge their taste and what fits within my wine program that matches their taste,” he says.
Zilliken, Saarburger Rausch, Auslese LG Kapsel, Saar, Germany, 1983
Alaskan Black Cod, Gingered Gulf Prawns, Sherry-Soy Emulsion, Olive Oil Confit Fingerling Potato, Bok Choy, and Pioppini Mushroom
Geoff Kruth demonstrates how a sweet wine can work beautifully with a savory dish through his ingenious pairing of a well-aged, high residual sugar Riesling with an Asian-inspired composition of black cod, gingered gulf prawns, and sherry-soy emulsion. The sweetness of the Riesling is not at all cloying, but rather acts to offset the soy and piment d'espelette with its flavors of dried fruit and apricot.
Wine Director Joseph Bain Bain has made a name for himself in Wine Country, with an encyclopedic knowledge of wine and cheese and his recent experiences at some of Napa and Sonoma’s most reputable restaurants. Having worked at Cyrus and The Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant, Bain now presides over Madrona Manor as Maitre’d and Wine Director. With the grace of a classical French waiter, Bain performs an awe-inspiring tableside preparation of ice cream using liquid nitrogen—a modern departure from the traditional tableside crèpe-making if there ever was one—and tactfully guides diners in selecting fine cheeses from his carefully composed cheese cart.
Rochioli Estate, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, USA, 2006
Liberty Farms Roasted Duck Breast and Crisped Confit with Caraway, Spring Onion and Beet
Chef Jesse Mallgren’s dish is all about experiencing expertly executed duck (leg, breast, and tongue), which Bain’s Pinot Noir complements with a generous nose of cherry and wild strawberries and a smooth, unctuous finish on the palate. Chef Mallgren’s beets, blood orange, and onion flavors marry well in the first place, but they receive a tremendous uplift from the wine. The Rochioli Estate itself is hard to procure, and Bain works hard to get whatever quantities he can.