Using a Sommelier to Best Advantage – Lessons Learned at the Daily Review Cafe, Houston

31 Oct

          I attended a wine dinner  a few weeks ago at The Daily  Review Café in Houston.  The  dinner featured “Not  Forgotten” wines – what I  gathered to be a distributor’s  odd lots, as many were older  and the distributor indicated  they were not available for  sale, except through  collections.  We were told the  distributor took the wines to the chef, who tasted them and designed the dishes to complement each wine. Here was the menu:

Course 1

Pan Seared Diver Scallops with shaved fennel, oranges, baby arugula, crispy potatoes tossed in a pineapple truffle vinaigrette

Tre Serre Cortese 2008

Course 2

Duck Confit Cake with mushrooms, gruyere cheese and dried cherry reduction.

Bacasis Crianza, (Pyrenees, Spain) 2002

Course 3

Roasted Pork Tenderloin topped with a chimichurri sauce and  a potato puree

Bacasis del Planta Bonarda (Mendoza, Argentina) 2010

Course 4

Smoked Short Ribs finished with a blackberry coffee barbeque sauce with grilled cornbread and asparagus

Starry Night Zinfandel (Sonoma County, California) 2007

Course 5

St Barthelemy Carbernet Sauvignon Port (Napa, California) 2001

            The dinner was amazing.  And at $54 per person, wine included, for 5 courses, it was also, to me, a great value.  Unlike many wine dinners that are hosted by vintners and/or their distributors, there was not a lot of education offered about the individual wines.  Even so, I Iearned some things, simply through participating with an alert mind, that I think will be very helpful to me in the future.  I didn’t love any of the wines at first blush.  Several, the Tre Serre and the Crianza in particular, seemed woefully lacking in aroma.  But what I found was that each wine and the dish it was served with, worked so optimally together that each was enhanced.  The meal was simply terrific.

            I have eaten at some of the world’s best restaurants, but as I reflect back, I realize that I’ve always been too intimidated to really take advantage of what well trained sommeliers could do to enhance my dining experience.  As I think about why that might be, I guess I was worried that I would feel foolish, or somehow inadequate, if I tried to talk shop with an expert.  I am familiar with pairing basics and know many wines experientially.  I thought that was enough.  Now I understand, with much increased clarity, that much can be gained through seeking particular flavors present in wine at a particular time in its life to enhance the specific characteristics of a dish.  Restaurant sommeliers are well suited to this because they are trained to know even an extensive wine list well. But they also know the food that is served.  They have tasted it and know what would complement its unique attributes.

            While I’m looking forward to increasing my own skill in understanding wine through my sommelier training, I’ve also made a commitment to myself.  I’m going to leave my ego at home the next time I am out for a special meal and I’m going to have a real conversation with the sommelier.  I think it will enhance my experience.

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One Response to “Using a Sommelier to Best Advantage – Lessons Learned at the Daily Review Cafe, Houston”

  1. suzetteharrel October 31, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    Great post! It reminds me of the time my close friends were eating at the Jules Vernes and asked the sommelier what wine he would recommend. When they told him what they were planning to eat, he said, “I would recommend the red.”

    I think your advice about sommeliers is excellent. I’ve generally found that when we (and it usually means my spouse) ask for recommendations and are clear about what price point we want to hit, the sommelier has been very helpful.

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