Love ’em or hate ’em, traditional food and wine pairings exist for a reason. Basic rules serve to elevate both elements, like serving red wine with red meats or white wine with lighter fare. But when taking pairings to the next level, it’s sometimes better to overlook the clear choice in favor of the less obvious, which can still be accomplished by following the fundamentals.
In Pairings, an ongoing limited series that looks at the sommeliers and chefs that create the world’s best restaurants, we see mind-blowing flavor combinations that utilize a few basic rules. The premiere episode, available now on SOMM TV, features the team at SingleThread, a three Michelin star restaurant in Sonoma County. From farm to kitchen to wine choice, a pairings’ success lies firmly between the three.
SingleThread chef and owner Kyle Connaughton, together with his wife, Katina, who runs the restaurant’s farm, explain how the relationship successfully works.
“She’s working for weeks and months with the farm team to grow something for us. We have it for a day. My place as a chef is to transfer the energy from what she’s growing to our guest,” says Chef Kyle.
“It’s incredible working with Kyle because we balance each other…collectively, we can create something very special and memorable together,” explains Katina.
And when it comes to wine choice, Rusty Rastello, the restaurant’s wine director, explains how flexibility and communication make it all work. “Kyle is incredibly brilliant and incredibly thoughtful. He’s the only chef I’ve ever worked for that understands that he can change the dish, but I can’t change what’s in the bottle. So, if something needs to be tweaked, he’s going to do that,” says Rastello.
Through thoughtful teamwork and ingenuity, some of the best food and wine pairings are born. At SingeThread, it happens to start with identifying a basic concept which then blossoms into one of the most unique culinary experiences on earth.
Smoked Black Cod Ibushi-Gin Paired With Gran Reserva Aged Rioja
Pairing Rule: Consider the cooking method plus other elements of the dish.
Wine: Bodegas Riojanas, Monte Real, Gran Reserva 1998
The first course of Pairings, episode 1, starts with a piece of local black cod from California’s North Coast. Typically, fish and red wine don’t pair with ease. But the rich fish marinates in shio koji for 45 minutes, then dries out for a short time before getting smoked in an Ibushi–Gin. The marinade plus the smokey element add components of flavor that yearn for a red wine.
An old Rioja, to be very specific.
“The textural elements, the smoke, and extended aging in oak, really balances and makes it a beautiful pairing,” says Rastello.
Rastello proclaims this pairing as one he’s most proud of in his entire career. However, he qualifies that it needs the tare sauce, which uses the grilled bones of the fish, along with mirin, sake, and tamari. “We need the sauce. Otherwise, the pairing does not work,” Rastello states definitively.
Venison Hoba-Yaki Paired With Akita Sake
Pairing Rule: Match textural richness versus the flavors.
Bonus Pairing Rule: Consider the dish’s regionality.
Sake: Kodama, Tenko 40, Heavenly Grace, Daiginjo, Akita
The obvious choices for rich red meat might be Syrah or Brunello, which both match the gamey richness of the venison. A full-bodied white from Châteauneuf-du-Pape might also fit the bill. Instead, Rastello settles on a sake pairing.
“I think you’re getting a lot of flavors from the vegetables. Rather than looking at one part to pair, understand there are a lot of green and herbal flavors. Carrots have this very light anise component, especially when you roast and smoke them. And looking for sake to match that is fairly easy,” explains Rastello.
Chef Kyle uses an ancient cooking technique called Hoba-Yaki (translating to leaf-grill), which comes from the Akita prefecture of Japan. The dried magnolia tree leaves go directly on the grill with the miso and farm-grown roasted carrot purée on top.
The venison tenderloin begins its cook sous-vid at a precise temperature and then finishes on the grill. Before serving, it gets a brushing of rendered Wagyu fat.
Instead of focusing on the richness of the flavors, this pairing is successful because of the textural richness.
As a bonus, Kodama sake also comes from the Akita prefecture. Matching food and wine (or sake) from the same region is generally a safe fall-back rule when it comes to successful pairings.
Roasted Duclair Duck Hot Pot Paired With Sonoma County Chardonnay or Pinot Noir
Pairing Rule: Match the weight (body or richness).
Bonus Pairing Rule: Consider the style of meal or presentation.
Wines: DuMol, Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2015 & Sonoma Stage Vineyard, Eoin, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014
For the final course, the SingleThread team offers two wine options. Most traditional pairings suggest a red wine with duck. However, the small amount of collagen in the locally raised Duclair duck bones means the stock is flavorful but not too rich. This dichotomy lends itself to the bright flavors of both DuMol Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
“Their wines are incredibly age-worthy and delicious with a lot of acidity and minerality, all the things you’re really looking for,” says Rastello.
The duck is cooked in a traditional Japanese donabe hot pot with a collection of vegetables from the restaurant’s farm. The family-style dish, which allows people to gather and share was the precipice for giving two wine options.
“We wanted to allow people to choose their own adventure,” says Rastello. “It’s something that’s a little more fun, especially during a communal course like this. It made sense. He (Chef Kyle) was overjoyed at the response from our guests.”