Food and Wine Pairing Panel

I am one of the lucky people who got to listen to Tom Douglas, Stephanie Izard, Leslie Sbrocco, Dawn Smith, and Michael Teer discuss the challenges of food and wine pairing at one of the Taste Washington seminars in Seattle on March 27th.

Who are these experts? We all know Tom Douglas from his restaurant empire here in Seattle including Etta’s, Dahlia Lounge, Serious Pie, Palace Kitchen, and Lola. Stephanie Izard is a Bravo Top Chef winner. Leslie Sbrocco, as moderator Michael Teer commented, “has a bio so long it makes me tired just to look at it!” Most recently, you might have seen her on the PBS show, The Winemaker. Dawn Smith is the Purple Café and Wine Bar sommelier. Michael Teer, the moderator, is the owner of Pike and Western Wine Shop.

How was this program set up? Some of Tom’s classic dishes from his restaurants were served to the audience. Next, it came down to “Tom vs. Somm” where Tom Douglas and Dawn Smith each selected a different Washington wine to pair with the food. The panel commented on how they felt the pairings did or did not work, offering us some interesting insights. Then, the audience was asked which pairing they preferred. Interestingly, the audience favored each pairing almost equally.

So, what makes a great pairing according to these experts? Tom Douglas says it’s about a sense of smell, sense of taste, and sense of place. He adds that if you get lucky afterward, you know you got it right! I’ve never heard it said quite like that, but at this point I am all ears.

Dawn Smith  says simply let your own palate be your guide. Great advice, don’t you think?

Mike Teer says don’t be afraid to fail, it’s part of learning. I couldn’t agree more. After all, when we get together with Bean and our friends for a tasting dinner, experimentation is what it’s all about. Just think about all the great pairings you might miss out on if you don’t give them a try.

Eagerly Awaiting the Pairings

The Pairings

First up, Lamb Monty from Lola, described as a lamb ravioli with yogurt and mint, paired with Lullaby Winery 2007 Viognier and Waters Winery 2009 Rosé of Syrah. Leslie Sbrocco said the Rosé was the one she went to first because of the acidity. According to Leslie,

Acid is like the bra of the wine world. It lifts, and separates, and makes everything look perky.”

The second pairing was Salmon from Etta’s paired with Kyra Wines 2008 Chenin Blanc and Three Rivers Winery 2007 Merlot. Leslie said the Chenin paired nicely, providing a contrast due to its slight sweetness. The Merlot matched due to the earthiness of the mushrooms and smokiness in the salmon. Dawn noted that all Merlots wouldn’t work because some are too big. Overall, the participants favored the Merlot, but a lot of people did enjoy the Chenin Blanc. I wonder if the result would have been different if the wines had been tasted blind?

Next in the lineup is Yukon Gold Potato Pie paired with Chinook Wines 2007 Cabernet Franc and Buty 2008 “Connor Lee Vineyard” Chardonnay. Tom likes earthy, hearty pizzas such as this one. The brown on the crust adds weight to the food and helps it pair with wine. Michael noted that the acidity of the Cab Franc keeps refreshing. However, Leslie felt the Cab Franc was too overpowering for the pizza. The Chardonnay was the crowd favorite, although it was a close call.

The last pairing featured Peking Duck marinated in Tom’s Spice Rub with Pear Jelly paired with Rôtie Cellars 2007 “Northern Blend” Syrah-Viognier and Sleight of Hand Cellars 2008 “The Magician” Gewurztraminer. Dawn said there were two perfect pairings here. The Rôtie balances the tannin, and goes with the baking spice in the duck. Include the pear, and it adds a sweet component that matches with the Gewurztraminer because it brings out all the fruit in the wine. When the audience was polled, the Rôtie beat the Sleight of Hand, but not by much.

What a great way to experiment with food and wine pairings.   I have some more suggestions from the panel on my post about this Taste Washington food pairing on my personal blog, deVine Table. Next time you’re putting together one of your favorite pairings, why not throw another wine into the mix? Maybe you’ll discover something great!