Archive for February, 2012



Today’s increasingly complex menu preparations require a committed partnership between chef and sommelier. The best interests of customers are served when the master of the kitchen and the keeper of the wine cellar work in harmony to determine the best match between food and wine. But often, food and wine professionals jealously guard their domains. The best interests of consumers are served when territorial turf wars and oversized egos are set aside. The partnership requires the sommelier to have a comprehensive understanding of the chef’s culinary creations, theoretically playing a supporting role to the chef with intimate involvement with the philosophy and ingredients that will pass through the kitchen door.

Restaurant patrons look to a wine steward for help deciphering a wine list loaded with unfamiliar labels and varietals from wine regions around the world. (Ah, for the simpler days of red- sauced Italian food and Chianti poured from straw-covered bottles.)

The exemplary partnership between thirty-year old Chef Chris Kostow and Sommelier Rom Toulon, a young transplanted Frenchman, at the Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley is the best example of this working relationship. Chef Kostow’s contemporary French cuisine blends Napa Valley’s farm-to-table tradition into elegant culinary creations well received by patrons.  He has been awarded two Michelin stars, as well as numerous notices by many publications.  Toulon brings his European insights and expertise to Californian and New World wines. He stays in constant touch with Kostow’s inventive a la carte, four, or nine course presentations. Each time the chef develops a new dish Toulon tastes a matching number of wines. He consults with his knowledgeable and well-trained wait staff before handing down a final verdict on a desirable pairing. Yet Toulon leaves room for savvy diners to express their personal tastes and to choose from the restaurant’ extensive wine list. The remarkable undertaking between this chef and sommelier needs to be emulated in dining establishments across the country. A partnership like this is rare, but when it happens, a dining experience becomes immensely more enjoyable.




Darn wine lists can be mind-boggling, especially when they are heavy as a telephone book. It is easier to win the Powerball Lottery than to choose a bottle. The experience can be daunting, a bit like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. But be of good cheer. Almost every wine list, or carte des vins, contains well-advertised, recognizable standbys. Some wineries churn out thousands of cases of generally safe, if undistinguished choices. When the chef or restaurant owner is conscientious about the food, the wine list will undoubtedly ensure adequate pairings.

In many restaurants there is a friend willing to help. A sommelier, a.k.a. wine steward is there to assist with a positive match and/or the best buys on the list. Asking for advice only requires the elimination of any feelings of embarrassment. Unfortunately, if a sommelier or a knowledgeable waiter is nowhere in sight, you can be back into deep water again. Look for clues about how to choose by price. Avoid choices at the high and low price points on the list. Head for wines in the middle of the price range.

Basic rules about wine and food pairings are not Ten Commandments set in stone. Instead think of them as  flexible suggestions. If you’re old enough to drink wine, you’ve already learned rules are made to be broken, The old saw “White wine with fish and red wines with meat” is passé. White wine is certainly appropriate as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to some kinds of fish, shellfish, certain cheeses, and chicken, but sauces complicates the decision and may call for red wine. Red meats and stews can bury the often fragile, fruity and subtle flavors and aromas of white wines so they are perfect matches with beef, lamb, some poultry and dark-fleshed fishes: Tuna, salmon, swordfish, mackerel, and bluefish.

Turn on your bravery button. Remember this mantra: buying a bottle of wine is more like a blind date than a permanent commitment. After all, it’s just a bottle of wine, and chances are, it will convert an ordinary experience into a convivial moment.

February 2012
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