Portlands’ veritable pantheon of viniculture mastery … your very own Iron Sommeliers
By Marshall and Carolyn Manning
And on April 13th, 2007, these masters of wine sat back and watched a private dining room brimming with anticipation. These brilliant matchmakers had already done their part days before. This was the first in a series of “Dueling Sommelier Dinners” planned in conjunction with some of the top culinary explorers in the Portland food scene.
Erica Landon, Sommelier at ten 01
Jamie Garrett, Sommelier at Bluehour
Ken Collura, Sommelier at Andina
Jeff Groh, Sommelier at the Heathman Restaurant
This first dinner consisted of four courses, fiendishly concocted by the Heathman’s Executive Chef, Philippe Boulot. Fiendish, I say, because each one was in its own way nearly impossible to match with wine. The task of doing so was not for the faint of heart.
Sampling each of the dishes a few weeks before the actual dinner, the participating sommeliers were charged with finding wines to complement each dish. To complicate things for them, they were neither allowed to try any wines with the courses, nor to take tastes of the dishes with them … except in their memories. Yes, they matched these impossible dishes solely from memory.
Once their selections were submitted, their work was done. There was nothing left to do but wait and watch on Friday night, as a sold-out crowd filed into the private dining room at the Heathman, selected their seats, and marveled at the arrival of four stems of glassware, each 1/4 filled with wines chosen by the four masters for the first course: a cauliflower vichysoisse with uni …sweet, cold, and rich rich rich. From their seats at the head table, the conversations at the other tables were nothing more than a buzz to the sommeliers. But at the tables, polite debates ping-ponged between the people at each eight-top. He likes #1 best. She believes the acid in #4 cuts the richness better. Someone else finds the still wine to match more cleanly than the others, which are all bubbly.
We vote. The plates and all four glasses disappear, only to be replaced with four new stems, with four new wines and the next course. We sip. We eat. We debate. We vote. And so it goes through a total of four courses.
The food? Top-notch ingredients, perfectly prepared … but quite odd in their combination. Take course #3: kobe ala ficelle with sorrel mousseline and pot au feu vegetables. The gorgeous beef was lightly seasoned and cooked to a medium rare perfection. The root vegetables were a delicate delight. And while the sorrel sauce was a shockingly beautiful green with an amazing grassy, sour taste, there was so much of it and the flavors were so strong, you could taste nothing but sorrel after the second or third bite. And as the sour, grassy flavors built up in your mouth, the beef and veggies weren’t the only things being overpowered. No wine could have stood up to that and come out alive, let alone shone as the brilliant food/wine match each sommelier had hoped for.
All in all, it was a fun event to attend. The creative variety of wines chosen for each course displayed the instinct, education, skill and playfulness of our Iron Sommeliers. If they could come even close to matching these wine-hostile dishes, I would certainly trust them to match my wine-friendly food choices at any of their fabulous restaurants.
Though I have not yet received the full list of future dates for the continuing series of battles, I have heard a rumor that such gustatory notables as Pascal Sauton of Carafe and/or Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place may be involved with the future menus.
Regardless of who conjures up the next set of courses, it might be interesting to see which wines this amazingly talented pool of Sommeliers would match up with seriously wine-friendly dishes. The difficulty of the matches this first time around hampered the genius of these professionals, I feel. As a diner, we were forced to choose the wine that came closest to complimenting the food … as opposed to choosing the wine that perfectly complimented the food.
That may seem like a subtle difference, but it’s truly a huge one.
These sommeliers did the best they could with the dishes presented, so it is not their fault that the wine & food pairings left something to be desired. It was sort of like a presidential election: We voted for the choice that was the least offensive. It was a valiant effort on their part to come as close as they did, displaying great skill and imagination, but it was an impossible task.
Personally, I would like to see their wine choices for wine-friendly food, and see which one comes up with THE wine to have with that dish. Not just a good wine with the dish (even I can do that), but the perfect, ethereal match that makes one gasp at the beauty of it … where each sip of wine begs another bite of food, and each bite of food screams for another sip of wine, and each makes the other better than it would be on its own. THAT is true genius if you can do it every time and not just luck into it now and then.
I’m looking forward to seeing what our Iron Sommeliers come up with next time. Stay tuned!
From the press-release, here are the dinner courses:
SOMMELIER DINNER MENU
April 13, 2007
Cauliflower Vichysoisse with Sea Urchin Roe
Sweetbreads Retour du Japan
Kobe a la Ficelle with Sorrel Mousseline and Pot au Feu Vegetables
Szechuan Chocolate Pots au Creme
Here are the results of the first competition:
1st Albert Mann-K. Collura
2nd Taille Aux Loups-J.Garrett
3rd Elio Perrone – J.Groh
4th Pierre Peters-E.Landon
Costal Chablis – J.Groh
Bourgeuil – K.Collura
Paul Pernot – E.Landon
Muller Catoir – J.Groh
J.Albin – J. Garrett
Yulumba Muscat – E.Landon
Banfi Rosa Regale – J.Groh
Cossart Gordon – K.Collura
E.Perrone – Bigaro – J.Garrett
Current Sommelier Standings
1. Ken Collura 3pts
T2. Jamie Garrett 7pts
T2. Jeff Groh 7pts
4. Erica Landon 8pts