I will admit it now. I know nothing about wine and food pairing. Thankfully I have a friend who does, and has a lovely business selling wine to local Seattle people.
I first met Catherine over a year ago when I hosted and cooked a Seattle Food Bloggers Meat Party. The food had some high’s and low’s (totally overcooked some lentils..) but one thing that stayed consistent was the quality of the wine being served, and just how well the wine was paired with the food.
That was nothing to do with me. That was all to do with Catherine. She had recently started a wine business called Queso Y Vino here in Seattle. Each week she sends out newsletters highlighting new and old wines she is selling direct to the customer. You place your order with her, then she delivers. You avoid the middleman, get some fantastic wine, along with a great education in wine.
A few weeks before that Meat Party dinner I sent the proposed menu off to her. I left it all up to her, just gave her a budget and let her work her magic. Magic it was indeed. Catherine and her husband Ken were of course invited to the party, to eat some meat, and drink some of their handpicked wines. Catherine also talked about the wine – why she paired that wine with the certain course, along with giving lots of advice to us all on pairing wines.
Now, I certainly don’t want to go cooking a bloody great party every time I want to get some great wine pairing from Catherine. Thankfully I don’t have to. Catherine hosts wine pairing dinners each month at varying Seattle restaurants. Each month is a different restaurant, with obviously different food, and thus different pairings. What is great is that you get a sheet of all the wines you are drinking, some history about them (along with some pretty comedic interludes about how Catherine found the wine), and why she paired what she did.
Danika and I were fortunate enough to go along to her most recent dinner – at La Cote Creperie in Madison Valley, Seattle. We have had lunch many times at La Cote, given a rather large passion for crepes, but never for dinner and certainly never with Catherine pairing the wines. The evening was fantastic, the food was great and the wine pairings were excellent. Much to my amazement my favorite wine of the evening was a dessert wine that she had picked. Normally I absolutely detest sweet wines, but this one was truly brilliant. More on that later.
Whilst chatting to Catherine at the dinner, I wanted to find out more about how she pairs wines with food, since really I am rather rubbish at it. She gave lots of good advice, which I promptly forgot, thanks to the rather generous (and ample quantity) of the pours that evening. Wine will do that to ya. So, anyhow I asked her rather kindly to email me her wine pairing tips, so that I could share her advice and knowledge here! I figured it would make a rather nice break from seafood and charcuterie recipes!
Take it away Catherine:
1. Go with your gut.
2. Be a poet, not a professor. Envision the Proustian Madeleine. Think about the flavors, aromas, even the view out your window or the country table where your dish hails from. A Provencal dish might like a red with a flourish of lavendar or rosemary, a paella craves smoke from the fire it was created on or a sea breeze-laden crustacean-loving Galician white.
3. Riesling loves EVERYTHING! I happen to be a big fan of Cuvee St. Catherine, which my husband collected even before we met, & it is the one wine I can think of that defies all the rules. We brought a bottle with us to Cafe Juanita & Rover’s on special occasions & the wine simply went with just about every course.
4. Think like a European & don’t pigeon-hole sparkling wine as an aperitif only. I remember a remarkable wine dinner at Harvest Vine where a renowned cava producer paired sparkling wine with every course, including roast lamb–yes, roast WA lamb. The cava was aged, full-bodied & allowed the dish to shine while it quietly accented the flavors that surrounded the meat. The minerailty was a great pairing for the sanguinal notes. See below.
5. Don’t think meat always = red! And rose’s are awesome food wines.
6. Break out the map! Have fun learning about wine by cracking open Oz Clarke’s Wine Atlas or Hugh Johnson/Jancis Robinson’s World Atlas of Wine after you crack open your bottle. Study the hills & valleys of origin, & transport yourself. Often times wines pair well with traditional dishes from a region because they are derived from the same earth.
7. Cheese & wine is tricky, fickle business. One of the best pairings I’ve stumbled upon, not even thinking geographically ahead of time, was a slice of nutty Beaufort with a doughy Brut de Savoie with reflections of dried apple slices. Heaven!
8. IF YOU LIKE IT, IT’S A GOOD PAIRING!
9. People are always SO apologetic, “I don’t know anything about wine!” they whined at me surrounded by shelves of bottles. BUT everyone is an expert in what they like! You know more about that than anyone even if you don’t have the vocabulary to describe it. I started out drinking oaky buttery Chardonnay’s because those was the few & far between wine jargon I knew, & when I said those magic words, I knew what the sommelier was going to bring me & felt less embarrassed.
10. Find your own lexicon. It drove me crazy trying to help people as a sommelier when they would talk varietals rather than characteristics. I literally had two people come in within 15 minutes of each other saying, “I like Cab’s!” Well working in a Spanish store, where you don’t really have Cab’s & Merlot, I tried to steer them into describing characteristics rather than straight varietals. One person said, I like Cab’s because they are spicy & in your face!” while the next person said, “I like Cab’s because they’re smooth & fruity.” If you think like that, you may open the door to entirely new grapes & parts of the world!
11. The world of wine is waiting for you– don’t be intimidated by it! It’s there to be enjoyed.
If you are interested in any of Catherine’s wine dinners, or want to know more about her awesome email list and wine delivery service – here is how to get a hold of her: quesoyvino(at)gmail.com (I don’t want her to get spam, so replace the (at) with @ in your email editor of choice).
The wines of the evening:
Schroedel Brut Rose, Cremant d’Alsace, France
Chateau du Lancyre Rose 2009, Pic St-Loup, France
Colombelle Blanc 2008, Cote de Gascogne, France
Pierre Boniface Apremont 2008, Vin de Savoie, France
Chateau Pesquie 2007, Cotes du Ventoux, France
Plume Beue 2006, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France
Mario Giribaldi Moscato d’Asti 2008, Piemonte, Italy (this was the dessert wine I was batty about).
(Yes, after all that wine I was totally sloshed.)