Welcome to Imbibe Magazine's between-issues look at liquid culture with drink recipes, news and more. From coffee to cocktails, Imbibe celebrates your world in a glass.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dueling Sommeliers

For the third year in a row, four Portland sommeliers are duking it out with their weapons of choice, varietals and terroir. At stake are honor, respect and bragging rights as having the city’s best palate. Started by Heathman Hotel sommelier Jeff Groh as a way to educate dinner-goers about paring wine with food, the Dueling Sommelier Dinner Series invites four of the city’s top oenophiles to suggest wines that they think best complement each course of a four-course dinner. The catch: Not only do they get a meager budget of $70 (wholesale) per meal, but the dinner guests also taste the wines blindly, and with each course, vote on which sommelier’s pick paired best. The series runs over four dinners throughout the summer, with the same four sommeliers competing for a spot in the final round, where the two with the top cumulative scores battle it out, vino a vino. For the first dinner, the sommeliers had to pair wines with everything from quail to monkfish to wild boar. Here are the guests’ top picks:

Strawberry-lacquered Quail Stuffed with Seared Foie Gras
Pairing Pick: 2006 Montevertine Pian del Ciampolo Toscana IGT
A slightly chilled Italian blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo might seem like a surprising choice, but the soft strawberry flavors in the wine perfectly complemented the gamy poultry, while a hefty boost from the tannins easily sliced through the richness of foie gras.

Roasted Monkfish with Fava Beans and Morels
Pairing Pick: 2006 Amalie Robert Chardonnay
Monkfish met its match with this Dijon-clone, Oregon Chardonnay, which picked up the subtle earthiness of the morels, but didn’t overpower the mild fish.

Wild Boar Pot au Feu
Pairing Pick: 2006 Scott Paul La Paulée Pinot Noir
Again, an unexpected choice to some, but the brightness of the ripe raspberry fruit accented the delicate flavors of the boar, while the sharp acidity was a nice contrast to the leanness of the meat.

Roasted Apricot Rice Pudding with Ginger Lychee Sauce
Pairing Pick: 2008 Paolo Saracco Moscato d'Asti
Sweet, effervescent bubbles are a great way to end any meal, and the stone-fruit flavors and creamy finish of this moscato perfectly highlighted the roasted apricots and rice pudding.

The sommeliers are set to duel again at the Heathman on June 20 with the challenge of pairing wines with ricotta gnocchi, red wine-braised squid, lamb confit and a strawberry-and-pistachio tart.

Photo courtesy John Valls and The Heathman. Sommeliers pictured left to right: Jack Holt of Castagna, Andy Zalman of Higgins, Jeff Groh of The Heathman and Jeff Moore of Wildwood.