Food Pairing Profile: Emily & Jody Towe (Volume IX)

Developing the food pairings for our new release, Volume IX: Seduced by Syrah, was very special. Not only does this collection represent the first time I was able to (finally!) sample the wines that Emily and Jody Towe produce right here in San Diego for their j. brix label, but I was fortunate enough to sit down with them myself to also enjoy rest of the wines that I selected for this edition.

Their minuscule production for j. brix sells out in a matter of days (hours?), yet Emily and Jody are quietly gaining a national reputation for true terroir-driven winemaking in California. As we discussed the wines from Volume IX, it was a real pleasure to learn more about their personal journey as well.

Check back here next week for the food and wine pairings, and let us know if you’d like to try the wines yourself! This collection ships next week and inventory is limited as usual, so act fast.

Aaron Epstein, Curator

AE: Tell me about that pivotal moment when you decided to dedicate your life to wine. (Come on, we’ve all got one…)

ET & JT: California dreamers, we are. In 2007, we happened to taste a Pinot Noir made with fruit from the Bien Nacido Vineyard, and while we didn’t know anything about the vineyard at the time, we instantly connected with the incredible sense of place that radiated from the wine. It set us on a quest to find out where on earth it had come from. We knew we had to go there, though we didn’t know why. By 2008, we had become friends with the winemakers; volunteered for long, sticky, exhausting days as often as possible during harvest; and fallen completely in love with the work of winemaking. That year at Thanksgiving, we hosted the winery’s harvest interns at our house, and, for the first time, spoke aloud the words that have shaped our lives since: “Let’s make wine.”

AE: What food(s) did you find most comforting as a child?

JT: Pork chops and sauerkraut. My grandmother always made that meal for me when I would visit her in Michigan. My mom cooked it regularly. My best friend’s mom seemed to be serving it every time I came over for dinner. She jokes now that it must have been the only thing I thought she knew how to cook, but I was happy to eat it anytime. Our 14-year-old daughter recently gifted Emily with a handmade fermentation crock (after all, something really needs to be fermenting at all times around here), and now our first batch of homemade sauerkraut is in the works.

ET: Well, this is embarrassing, but I’ve been an acidhound since I was a wee girl sneaking spoonfuls of Tang out of the container in the kitchen cabinet. Pixy Stix, SweeTarts, lemon drops … the higher the enamel-erosion level, the more I liked it. Wait, is this a Riesling portent?

AE: And what does “comfort food” mean to you today?

ET: Simple meals, prepared with love. Most often, they’re home-cooked, but it’s so heartening when you have that experience in a restaurant. This happened for us most recently at La Ciccia in San Francisco, where we had our minds blown by course after course of beautiful Sardinian food. The flavors in each dish were incredible, but love was the unifying ingredient that lifted the entire meal from delicious to transcendent. In wine and in food, I truly believe you can taste it. On our label, we list it: Only Love.

JT: Also, it’s hard to beat a perfect everything bagel with cream cheese, capers, and cured wild salmon. 

AE: Do you have a go-to “house wine” that you always have stocked at home?

ET & JT: We try to always have bubbles about! Right now, the 2009 Laetitia Brut Rosé from San Luis Obispo is one of our favorites. Laetitia’s been making delicious méthode champenoise in the Central Coast for more than 30 years. We pick up a case of bubbles whenever we’re in the area visiting vineyards. Bright, complex and lovely, it’s the most versatile wine we know. Brunch, lunch, dinner – it just works.

AE: When you’re planning a meal, do you generally develop it around the food, or the wine?

ET & JT: It usually goes 50-50. Sometimes we’ll have a bottle that we want to plan a menu to match, and other times we have particular flavors and ingredients we’d like to incorporate into a meal, so we’ll choose the wine once the menu’s set. We spent about a year preparing and blogging semi-monthly about what we called “Double-Double-Blind” pairings, where one of us would plan and cook a secret meal and the other one would choose a secret wine to open along with it. We found many unexpectedly wonderful pairings – and a few fairly spectacular duds. They were all fun to taste and write about!

AE: Is there a dish that you’re famous for among your friends?

ET & JT: Well, we have had middle-of-the-night requests from former houseguests for the recipe for our slow-braised pork shoulder. We always get the biggest one we can, and then it finds its way into a number of different meals. One of the favorites is an Asian-spiced pulled-pork-and-coleslaw sandwich served on Emily’s homemade brioche buns. The pork cures in a salt and sugar rub overnight; then slow-cooks all day; then gets pulled and seasoned the next day. The bun-baking is an all-day affair, as well, so it takes plenty of advance plotting to pull the meal together. It’s entirely worth it, though.

AE: How do you decide where to eat when you’re traveling?

ET & JT:  Between friends’ suggestions and the places our wines have landed – which we always like to visit – we have no shortage of trusted recommendations. The trick is squeezing it all in! 

AE: What is your favorite place to shop for food?

ET & JT:  The Saturday Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market is amazing. We’ve discovered house mainstays like La Nogalera walnut oil, made from local orchards – we’re never without a bottle in the fridge; one of the best ways to enjoy it is to pour it on burrata. We wait all year for summer to come so we can scoop up flats of heirloom Seascape strawberries (they have an absolutely perfect sweetness/acid balance). We’ve learned the ins and outs of the Rocoto pepper, a squat, orange, black-seeded South American variety that cleared out the entire house with airborne spiciness when we attempted to sauté it (now we pickle it). We found fresh flageolet beans in September, and the resulting cassoulet was the best we’ve ever made.

AE: Imagine yourself as a culinary ingredient or grape variety. What would you be, and why?

ET: I asked our 10-year-old son to answer this question for me. Here, verbatim and without hesitation, is what he said:

“Riesling. Because you kind of act like a riesling grape tastes.” I leave that without editorial comment.

AE: Would you consider your approach to food & wine pairing to be more scientific or intuitive?

ET & JT: Intuition is what led us to winemaking; it continues to guide us in the sensory realm. Cooking is something you can talk about with almost anyone, and it seems most are divided into two camps: those who find great satisfaction in the results that come from following recipes, and those who enjoy off-the-grid experimenting. As usual, we occupy the grey area. We like to look at recipes as a launching pad for experimentation. What will happen? This is the question we started with when we were moved to make wine. It is the question that continues to drive us. Everyone reading this (friends, all!) are invited, always, to taste the experiments and the results.

“Pick up the receiver… I’ll make you a believer…”

Running in 4 week sessions, PROTOCOL wine studio presents an online twitter-based educational program where we engage our brains and palates! It’s part instruction and wine tasting, with discussions on wineries, varieties, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food and wine matching and what all this means to us as wine drinkers.  #WineStudio –  Tuesday evenings 6pm pacific 

Below is a compilation of the best content of the Shades of Pinot Noir Twitter discussion right here for your (long) reading pleasure.

Week 1 –  January 7: all about the grape we love to love – Pinot Noir!

Ahhh, Pinot Noir. How we love to love you and how you constantly beguile and confuse us. There is no singular profile for the grape Pinot Noir. It is truly a grape that is an expression of its surroundings.

The name Pinot Noir is derived from the French words for “pine” and “black” in reference to the grape’s tightly clustered dark purple cone-shaped bunches.  Its skin is relatively thin, making it a tricky, yet rewarding, contender for wine production.

And its origins? It seems to be an offspring of Pinot Meunier and Gewurztraminer. As author Stuart Pigot notes in Planet Wine, “Pinot Meunier gave Pinot noir its bright, berry aromas and initial charm, while Gewurztraminer its silkiness, extravagance, nobility, and fickleness.”

The overall taste of Pinot noir is very susceptible to variables in the production process, leading to a wide range of flavors, textures, and impressions that often confuse. So let’s read on and make our own conclusions through our collection.

Week 2 – 14 January: Old Grape in the New World 

Evesham Wood 2011 La Grive Bleue Pinot Noir Eola – Amity Hills, Willamette Valley

Winemaker Erin Nuccio and I spoke by phone and he revealed quite a bit:  “When I came to Evesham in 2007 the joke in the Valley was when Russ Raney starts picking it means harvest will start in two weeks.  Most people call it picking early, but I call it picking on time.  We’re looking to pick with earlier flavors, when the acid is still there and when the brix have not soared.  We certainly strive to produce a more elegant or feminine style.”

Evesham Wood is a founding member of the Deep Roots Coalition–a group of nearly two dozen wineries in the Willamette Valley that have all committed to not irrigating their estate vineyards or purchasing irrigated grapes.

The La Grieve Bleue bottling is sourced from a 2 acre block on the estate vineyard, Le Puits Sec, planted in 1996 to all dijon clones. The gently sloping, east-facing vineyard is tightly-spaced and nestled on a low terrace (300-420 ft. elevation) on the eastern side of the Eola-Amity Hills ridge. This area, known locally as “Spring Valley”, has already proven to have one of Oregon’s best micro-climates for the production of Burgundian and Alsatian varieties. It is here that the rather shallow volcanic basalt soils allow Evesham Wood to achieve the low yields, great intensity and complexity. It is the uniqueness of this “terroir” that gives Le Puits Sec wines their signature.

Erin described the 2011 as “Springtime hillsides leaping from the glass”. Indeed.

Erin mentioned he’s concerned about a cooler future along the coast. “The Pacific Northwest is a cool area already, and if that’s the scenario, we could be pushed out of growing Pinot Noir,” Nuccio says. ” We’re already a cold area at about the limit of where Pinot Noir will grow, and if it got much cooler I’m not sure what we could do.”

Zepaltas, 2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, Sonoma

Ryan Zepaltas strives to produce wines that go well with food, and have the potential to evolve throughout the aging process. We like that! His wines are also on the lists of some of the finest restaurants in the country. “I am an old-world romantic,” Zepaltas says, “so I believe that wine goes best with food on the table. I still get all tingly when I see my name on a wine list.”

His winemaking philosophy is that less is more. And maybe there’s a little bit of skateboard rebel thrown in. Yeah, did you know Ryan was a professional skateboarder prior to making wine? Ryan makes wines with passion, fervor—the kind that should always be in every bottle of wine, all over the world, regardless of its soil.

“I feel that you can easily make powerful, intense wines at lower alcohol/higher acidity in California. There is no need to hang fruit until it begins to shrivel to achieve this.

And of course, Ryan took time out of his busy day to join us online. When we mentioned that the 2012 smelled and tasted of- wet stones – like in a cool brook, wild cherry! He said I could be his PR person. That made my night, obviously.

Ryan also let slip an interesting little tidbit for us:  “Cabernet Franc is the new drug.” Pinot is the best, but I have wandered a bit :)

This wine is blended from 4 different Vineyards in the valley: Nunes, Suacci, W.E. Bottoms, Devoto and Marshall Ranch Vineyard. Wild and youthful came to mind when I tasted. You know, like hitchhiking at 3am from some inebriated dude in Clifton, NJ. Oddly enough, he was a super nice guy. Huh. Backbone! Raspberry and rose petals but grit as well—whole cluster! Throw a few bottles in the cellar and taste the development.

Week 3 – Shades of Pinot in the Old World

Weingut Friedrich Becker, 2010 Becker Estate Pfalz

Rudi Wiest Wines says of the Pinot: This is Becker’s liquid business card, once you know it, you’ll want more.

For many years now, the Becker estate located in Schweigen, very far south of the Pfalz on the border of Alsace, has been one of the top Pinot Noir producers in Germany.

In 2007, the Beckers started to work with lower must weights more in the range from 92-98 Öchsle rather than previously with 100 Öchsle or more. They learned that physiologically ripe fruit needs acid more than additional sugar. The old vines with mostly German clones and some French grow on deep marl lime soils that produce powerful but also refined, mineral driven Pinot Noirs.

The total production is 5000 cases, and Rudi Wiest imports about half of this quantity.  This is a linchpin wine and it is placed with all of its key distributors.

Some of the selection of the 2010 Becker is sourced from their GG (Grand Cru) vineyards St. Paul and Kammerberg with their perfect chalky limestone foundations.  Harvested at 96 Öchsle (23 Brix). Quite balanced on the palate, slightly smokey, plush and supple, dark cherry violet and lavender, cola and dark chocolate.  Velvety, very soft and elegant tannins.

A little side note here: Rudi Wiest carries one of the hottest portfolios of German wines, but no Twitter presence. We helped changed that! (insert mouth noise of confidence.) I think the power of forging wine relationships is well at play here. We’ve known Allie, our rep for years and she always has a smile or good word for everyone—she is truly one of the kindest people we’ve met. Thank you Allie!

Mazzolino, 2009 Noir Pinot Nero Oltrepò Pavese, Lombardy

Rock star alert!!! When I contacted Mazzolino winemaker Jean-François Coquard to join us online he did not hesitate even though he technically would still be in bed  in Italy.

Near and distant cultures intertwine at the Mazzolino Estate, whose name means “meeting point, layover” (from the Latin: Mansiolinum). Pinot Noir grows best across northern Italy where the climate is much cooler. The fruit flavors of Italian Pinot Noir are similar to that of France, but the earthy flavors lean toward smoke, tobacco, white pepper and clove. Pinot Nero, as the Italians call it, tend to have more color extraction and higher alcohol.

Jean-FrançoisCoquard says Pinot Noir is grown for the last 100 years in this area, around 300 miles from Burgundy.

I found a super interesting group called the Association Pinò Club, the first in the region, driven to identify the reference point for dell’Oltrepò Pavese. Three objectives that the Club intends – to promote, defend and enhance the ‘image and visibility of Pinot Noir vinified as red as a product of excellence in dell’Oltrepo’ Pavese; – create a common front which works for the promotion and knowledge of cultivation techniques and processing to improving overall quality in the production of Pinot Noir DOC dell’Oltrepò.

It is in the old village of Mazzolino, near Corvino San Quirico, that the Braggiotti family, owners of the Mazzolino Estate since 1980, planted the roots of the winery’s philosophy: 40 acres of land in the hills, twenty of which are vineyards, favoring the grape varieties most suited to this area.

Jean-François was kind enough to forward pictures and mini video.

The Mazzolino Estate’s Noir vineyards, in the municipality of Corvino San Quirico, are planted on a clayey-calcareous soil, on west-facing hills. They were planted in the eighties using Pinot Noir clones imported from Burgundy. The grapes are entirely hand-picked in crates when they are fully ripe and are further selected with great care on the triage table, so only perfectly healthy, whole bunches are used.

Week 4 – Where it All Began

Clément Klur, 2011 Pinot Noir d’Alsace

Aaron reminded me that we were the first (and probably still only) shop in California to carry the wine.  We were lucky to have Joanie Karapatien on with us representing A.I. Selectionsimporter for Klur.

Pinot Noir, originally from Burgundy, is the only red grape variety authorized in Alsace. Principally used in the production of light and fruity wines, Pinot Noir is vinified more and more commonly as a red grape, thus reviving an ancient tradition. Largely present in the AOC Alsace, it is also used for the production of Crémants d’Alsace blancs de noirs and Crémants Rosés.

Joanie Karapetian mentioned that growers in places like Alsace don’t make Pinot Noir unless they’re amazing…and the prices are low!

“We’re beginning to see some good Pinot Noir in Alsace,” comments Maurice Barthelmé of Albert Mann. So what has changed to persuade some Alsace growers that it’s worth trying to make Pinot, rather than rosé-style wines? “Global warming has helped us,” confirms Barthelmé. Bringing grapes to the requisite degree of ripeness is no longer an issue in this relatively northerly vineyard.

The second development is that Pinot Noir increasingly takes pride of place in top sites, including in Grand Cru vineyards, even though it’s not one of the officially permitted varieties.  The Klur family are stewards of terroir –  where biodynamics rule.

Interesting to note that “When you plant Pinot Noir in a Grand Cru vineyard, you lose something – you take a risk.” Why so? Because the only grape varieties that qualify for Grand Cru status are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat. Pinot Noir planted in these premium sites automatically forfeits the price-premium associated with Grand Cru.    So grand cru soils that are now producing very small quantities of Pinot Noir at significantly lower prices. Why are they growing Pinot Noir? Because they can.

Another big change is on the clone front. Thierry Meyer, who tastes and selects Alsace wines for the Bettane & Desseauve Grand Guide des Vins de France, one of France’s most prestigious wine guides, explains that after World War II, when the region set about rebuilding its devastated vineyards, there was “une course aux rendements” (a rush for big yields). Overcropping is one of the enemies of Pinot Noir, which only gives of its best when yields are reined in. The big yield, big bunch clones that were planted in the rebuilding phase are gradually ceding ground to less vigorous clones with smaller bunches.

2011 Regis Bouvier Rouge Les Longeroies “Vieilles Vignes” Marsannay 

A Burgundy signature is quite possibly absence of signature.

Régis Bouvier’s reds are his crowning achievement, managing to be wild and exciting while refined and elegant at the same time.  Marsannay is the only communal appellation which produces wines of all three colors. Their typicity is that of the Côtes de Nuits, and their style resembles that of their neighboring appellations Fixin and Gevrey-Chambertin.

The Marsannay reds have intense coloration and a nose that smoothly blends cherry, strawberry and blackcurrant, blueberry. On the palate the wine is powerful and generous finishing into a long and meaty finish.

How about a quick single track tour through Marsannay, see the vines!

The winemaking history of Marsannay runs centuries deep, as far back to the 14th century when the Ducs of Bourgogne preferred Marsannay above other villages. Régis Bouvier’s two parcels are adjoining—the Clos du Roy is on the slope and Les Longeroies is between the slope and the valley floor.

Marsannay Rouge Les Longeroies “Vieilles Vignes” means “alongside the king” and aged in barrel for 12-16 months, 30% new oak. Whenever you see Kermit Lynch logo on the back of a bottle, you know you’re not only purchasing a bottle of wine but being transported into Kermit’s “personal” Burgundy.

“Burgundy is a diva. It’ll take you home, and then it’ll break your fingers in the door.”

“The supreme concern of Burgundy is – or should be – making terroir manifest. In outline, this is easily accomplished: small berried clones; low yields, selective sorting of the grapes; and, trickiest of all, fermenting and cellaring the wine in such a way as to allow the terroir to come through with no distracting stylistic flourishes. This is where terroir comes smack up against ego, the modern demand for self-expression at any cost, which, too often, has come at the expense of terroir.” Matt Kramer

And as I finish this post, I’m drinking the other half of the bottle Klur, where even more pronounced stones rubbed in cold hands emerge from the glass.

Thanks to all who participated!!

Intrigued? yeah. The 6 pack collection is available!

Wings & Wine

Whether or not you’re really into football, Super Bowl Weekend provides a great excuse to drink (responsibly, of course!) on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It set me to thinking: which wines pair best with which kind of party? Here, in true Le Metro style, is a guide to party wine that is in no way shape or form endorsed by the NFL.

(If you or somebody close to you is serious about your Super Bowl Sunday, I suggest you check out my friend Tina Morey’s advice on “Surviving Super Bowl with a few ‘Calm’ Drinking Tips” over on the blog at PROTOCOL wine studio.)

Dinner Parties are of course controversial settings for wine, as there’s a chance somebody will actually be paying attention. These are great for showing off a wine that you already love, or one you’ve been wanting to try that comes highly recommended. One from Le Metro that you’ve been holding on to, perhaps? Don’t worry about what your host is cooking – if you feel like your wine isn’t right for it you can always open the bottle before the meal, or after.

Pot Lucks can be a lot of fun, despite the potential for palate overload by flavors that never should have gone together. You have a few strategies to choose from here:

  1. focus on a pairing for your own dish. Don’t worry about the rest.
  2. stick with something safe and crowd pleasing. How about a white Sancerre? (Like the ones in Volume II?)
  3. you can always fall back on the general dinner party guidelines above.

Barbecues are often open-ended, as there’s plenty of time for drinking while the food is being prepared regardless of what it is that’s going on the grill. Start with an inexpensive sparkler (we’ve got some of those!) and move on to more substantive whites with the salad. Then, if it’s red meat that comes off the grill you can get into some savory reds  - like the Syrahs in our current release, Volume IX.

Pizza Parties are still awesome – even for adults. They can run the gambit from a wood-fired Neapolitan geek-out among foodie friends to impromptu take-out for a lazy pizza night. I recommend lighter reds here (like our Pinot Noirs from Volume VI). Then again, you can never go wrong pairing pizza and Italian wine. When all else fails, look for something that ends in a vowel.

Cocktail Parties are an easy one for wine people – bubbles. Bring Champagne if the crowd calls for it, or save some money on something like the outstanding Parigot Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne from our December edition.

My own advice for the Super Bowl: bring the biggest bottle you can get your hands on. If you’re watching the game, you’ll be psyched to have one less reason to get off the couch between plays. And if you’re not glued to the TV, it will help you quickly forget those who are.

Cheers!

Aaron Epstein, Curator

 

Food Pairing Profile: Ryan Zepaltas (Volume VI)

Volume VI: “Shades of Pinot Noir” was developed in part during my annual pilgrimage to Napa and Sonoma, and therefore represented the first time I was able to solicit food pairing advice from one of the winemakers whose wines was actually included in the collection.

As Ryan Zepaltas admits on his website for Zepaltas Wines, he “grew up in Wisconsin drinking beer, and can’t recall wine ever being part of [his] family culture.” He moved to Northern California in 1998 to fuel his passion for skateboarding – and in fact succeeded at becoming sponsored – but has since made up for lost time wine-wise; he assists Adam Lee with the winemaking at Siduri as well as making his own wines for Zepaltas.

Ryan is quietly becoming known in industry circles as a “Maestro of Pinot,” and he’s a hell of a lot of fun to taste with. He’s not afraid to be honest and to keep you on your toes, and needless to say his wines are delicious!

Aaron Epstein, Curator

AE: Tell me about that pivotal moment when you decided to dedicate your life to wine. (Come on, we’ve all got one…)

RZ: Back in 2000. I was working the night shift at Villa Maria in New Zealand. It was pouring rain on the crush pad, I was pressing load after load of Sauvignon Blanc. I was wet, cold, sick and tired yet I was feeling absolute joy. I was part of a small crew and we got lots of work done each night. I loved the environment, and I loved the work. My love for wine was built on the foundation of loving the work. 

AE: 2. What food(s) did you find most comforting as a child?

RZ: Spaghetti and meatballs.

AE: And what does “comfort food” mean to you today?

RZ: My wife’s carnitas with homemade tortillas and all the fixins’. Cheap Chinese food, mashed potatoes & meatloaf, roasted chicken.

AE: Do you have a go-to “house wine” that you always have stocked at home?

RZ: Muscadet – Cheap thrills and it often over-delivers on the price. It’s the poor man’s Chablis.

AE: When you’re planning a meal, do you generally develop it around the food, or the wine?

RZ: My wife writes the menu and I pull wines around what she’s cooking. She’s the Chef 95% of the time, and I am the sommelier.

AE: Is there a dish that you’re famous for among your friends?

RZ: God darn right. I make the best Baby Back Ribs this side of the Mississippi.:) I learned the craft from my Uncle Paul and developed my own style over the years. I usually put them in the smoker about 6am and let them go all day. Dry rub, vinegar mop. Rarely do I use any BBQ sauce.

AE: How do you decide where to eat when you’re traveling?

RZ: Depends. If I am out promoting Zepaltas Wines, I like to dine at places that support Zepaltas Wines. If I am rolling incognito, I just try to find a place that locals love whether it’s a shithole diner, or the hot place in town. I don’t care. As long as its good. I hate wasting money on bad meals. I get so mad when I lay out good cash for bad dining.

AE: What is your favorite place to shop for food?

RZ: The Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market in Santa Rosa,CA. We go there for breakfast, shopping and hanging out on Saturday mornings. I love buying stuff from the back of the truck straight from the person who grew it or made it. It’s pure, basic, and a great place to learn.

AE: Imagine yourself as a culinary ingredient or grape variety. What would you be, and why?

RZ: ER……Arugula? I like-a the spicy!!

AE: Would you consider your approach to food & wine pairing to be more scientific or intuitive?

RZ: From the gut. I consider acidity, fruit, tannin, texture and all that, but mostly it is all about what feels right at the moment when you pull the bottle. Think long, think wrong.

Food Pairing Profile: Elaine Chukan Brown (Volume VII)

The responses that I got from Tina Morey to my interview questions last week were so much fun that I decided to send the same ones around to the other folks who have helped develop food pairings our wine selections. Just as with the pairings themselves, it’s a blast to see the different directions that people go in – which is of course the point of the exercise.

For Volume VII: “Underground Bubbles” I was proud to work with Elaine Chukan Brown, who’s also been providing original illustrations for the Le Metro wine zine since coming aboard with Volume V. Elaine was just named by Imbibe Magazine as one of the #Imbibe75 “People to Watch in 2014″ and  is without a doubt one of the most brilliant and creative minds writing, speaking, and drawing about wine in this country today. If her site Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews isn’t at the top of your reading list, it should be.

Thanks so much to Elaine for taking the time to speak with me!

Aaron Epstein, Curator

AE: Tell me about that pivotal moment when you decided to dedicate your life to wine. (Come on, we’ve all got one…)

ECB: At the start of 2012 I’d purposefully left my career as an academic. I wanted my daughter to finish her school year so the idea was to stay till summer, then plan a move. In the meantime, I worked in a friend’s wine shop-wine bar. Jr goes to Alaska every summer to be with our family. When it came time to buy her ticket I realized it was time for me to make a decision about work too. I’d already started my website drawing and writing about wine and it was getting well received. I could jump in and see what I could make happen, or I could find some regular job.

Terrified, I decided I’d throw all in for a life in wine. I hit the road for three months to interview people in wine, while also investigating our short-list of other places to live. By the end of the summer I’d spent over-800 hours meeting and tasting with people in wine, in NYC, and up the whole U.S. West Coast. I had almost no money left but I was happy, and had found our new home in Sonoma. When we moved in I slept on the floor for months, unable to afford a bed. The house just had all of Jr’s stuff in it, and then my mass of interview notebooks, and bottles upon bottles of wine to sample.

AE: What food(s) did you find most comforting as a child?

ECB: I grew up in a Native household. My mother is Aleut, and my father Inupiat, so Native food was the real treat. There were other foods (like moose meat bolognese) we ate too, but things like dried fish in seal oil, and muktuk (which is whale blubber) were god sends to me. To be honest, whale blubber is such a strong smell and taste I don’t know if I could eat it so easily now but I have vivid memories of coming home from elementary school. After opening the front door, the smell of boiled whale meat would waft out the door over me. I’d be so excited I’d run up the stairs ready to sit down at the table.

AE: And what does “comfort food” mean to you today?

ECB: Today what I crave most is clean, more delicate flavors. If you think about the layers and complexity that French broths carry… foods like that. Pure expressions that are subtle and complex both.

AE: Do you have a go-to “house wine” that you always have stocked at home?

ECB: The wine I want right then is my house wine.

AE: When you’re planning a meal, do you generally develop it around the food, or the wine?

ECB: My approach is varied, and depends on if the experience is driven by work that I’m bringing friends into, or I just feel like cooking. If I just feel like cooking, then I make whatever food I’m in the mood for, and find the wine after. But I also do a lot of meals that are posed more as a study for wine pairing. Those begin with the wine but become a dance of flavors through both.

AE: Is there a dish that you’re famous for among your friends?

ECB: A few of my friends in California call me the “moose meat underground” but what they expect me to bring to a party is pie.

AE: How do you decide where to eat when you’re traveling?

ECB: My favorite thing when traveling is actually for someone to choose foods for me. I’m allergic to shrimp and mussels — now go! What would you love to share with me?

AE: I’ll get back to you – it depends where you’re going. :) What is your favorite place to shop for food?

ECB: I love going to fresh produce pop-ups or stands, and I also love markets with a rush of flavoral tidbits — little food items from all over. It isn’t always that I will buy those things. I love imagining the world behind all those things.

Go-to grocery though has to have killer grass feed meats, and fresh produce.

AE: Imagine yourself as a culinary ingredient or grape variety. What would you be, and why?

ECB: Honestly? I have no idea. I’m kind of a ding-dong when it comes to understanding myself in the big picture, and it seems like your question is dependent on that. This is one of those things I’d have to ask friends to answer for me.

AE: I’ll start asking around. But in the meantime, tell me, would you consider your approach to food & wine pairing to be more scientific or intuitive? 

ECB: The only true answer for me is both. I follow my gut in choosing what to drink, but I love to know everything possible about a wine and to think of it within its context. I’m a philosopher and a poet by training but I grew up in a culture that values its food for survival and nourishment. What that means is I’ve got the mind of an academic, the heart of a writer, and a thirst to fill my senses.

Food Pairing Profile: Tina Morey (Volume VIII)

Now that this website is fully up-to-date, it’s time for me to catch up on my blogging.

Since Le Metro Volume II, back in July, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most talented wine professionals in the country to develop food pairings for our monthly selections. While originally intended to help you make the most of these special wines, this has grown into a gratifying exercise in community-building and a really fun way to explore the many approaches one might take to pairing food and wine.

This week, starting with our current release – Vol VIII: Valleys of Valpolicella –  I’ll be working backwards and introducing you to these folks who I’m proud to call my friends.

For our January pairings, I decided to keep it close to home after all of the holiday craziness and capitalize on the deep expertise of my business partner Tina Morey, Le Metro’s Ops Maestro. Tina has a decade of experience under her belt as a professional pastry chef, and is one of the most thoughtful wine professionals I know. Working with her is immense fun, and every conversation leaves me with new food for thought. (Pun totally intended.)

Let us know if you’re interested in trying Volume VIII for yourself and checking out Tina’s complete food pairings!

Aaron Epstein, Curator

AE: Tell me about that pivotal moment when you decided to dedicate your life to wine. (Come on, we’ve all got one…)

TM: The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington. We sat at a communal table, spoke and laughed with folks from all over the country, listened to a classical guitarist and was completely in the moment. The 1910 Madeira at the end of the evening was mind-blowing but I can’t explain why. The highlight for me was the professionalism and ease that each and every staff member elicited.  I wanted that confidence, that knowledge, that sense of complete trust of each member’s ability at any given time during the evening.  The wine was part of the entire experience, but it fit so seamlessly it never stood out, but floated from course to course so that it was the entirety of the evening, that sense of totality that has remained with me for years.

AE: What food(s) did you find most comforting as a child?

TM: Toast. Honestly, my childhood is a blur, but what stands out is dark toast spread with salted butter. My bread choice has evolved since then, but most mornings I still enjoy dark toast with unsalted butter and my homemade berry jam.

AE: And what does “comfort food” mean to you today?

TM: Unplanned, simple, seasonal meals.

AE: Do you have a go-to “house wine” that you always have stocked at home?

TM: Anything sparkling, usually under $20.

AE: When you’re planning a meal, do you generally develop it around the food, or the wine?

TM: Since I have many types of bottles in the house, 9 out of 10 times I match the wine to the food–I like to cook seasonally.  However, being a Sommelier, it’s fun and many times required to develop a menu around the wine.

AE: Is there a dish that you’re famous for among your friends?

TM: Too many! I’m not boasting, it’s just that I trained as a pastry chef so I’ve been doing this awhile. A few standouts are Butternut Squash Lasagna, Citron Tart, Riesling Poached Pear Cake, Rosemary-Infused Chocolate Cake and Spicy Bucatini.

AE: How do you decide where to eat when you’re traveling?

TM: I eat atrociously when I travel alone for work. When I’m traveling with my husband, he likes to choose so I let him.

AE: What is your favorite place to shop for food?

TM: I’m a big believer in family-owned specialty markets—they are the pulse of any community and should be revered!  I think that comes from growing up in a large Italian family in New Jersey.

AE: Imagine yourself as a culinary ingredient or grape variety. What would you be, and why?

TMSaffron. Rarely seen, used sparingly. When applied correctly, will knock your socks off! Aglianico. I’ve always been fascinated with this grape—the name rolls off the tongue and it’s somewhat of a dichotomy. Furmint. I like that the grape can go either way: dry or sweet. There’s somewhat of a choice involved. Furmint vines bud early and ripen late, which allows the grape to develop such concentration and complexity.

AE: Would you consider your approach to food & wine pairing to be more scientific or intuitive?

TM: Intuitive, but since I’ve been trained in the wine industry, the scientific plays a huge role in how the intuitive is processed and interpreted.

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