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Adventures in Wine Pairing Part III: Tale of Two Tasting Menus

August 23, 2010

Richard, Sharon, Tim and Traci at Quince

I like to do tasting menus with wine pairings at some of our better restaurants, as I typically learn something from an inspired pairing. One of the things I learned from these two recent restaurant visits–to San Francisco’s Quince and Luce Restaurants–is that the City has a hot sweet wine for the summer and its name is Brachetto. Yes, the aromatic light red grape from the Piedmont, which produces sweet, raspberry and berry flavored wines, sometimes with fizz, as in Brachetto d’Acqui, seems to be the “it” wine of summer this year. It paired well with our delicious blackberry souffle at Quince as well as with our cumin peach yogurt mousse at Luce Wine Restaurant. In neither case did our Brachettos, a NV Malvira Birbet at Luce and ’09 Marenco Brachetto d’Acqui at Quince, have more than a short-medium finish, and the alcohol was a sobering 4.5% to 5.5%. Both brought light, refreshing berry flavor and balance to the end of the meal.

Here’s an account of both tasting menus, and how well our wines paired, starting with Christianne’s pre-birthday dinner, where we all had the Summer Tasting Menu, at Quince.

QUINCE SUMMER TASTING MENU W/WINE PAIRINGS FOR CHRISTIANNE’S BIRTHDAY – Quince Restaurant, San Francisco, California (8/13/2010)

pre-dinner Champagnes at Sharon and Tim’s

We started the evening by gathering at Sharon and Tim’s place for some pre-dinner bubbly: three very nice grower Champagnes. Our dinner reservations weren’t until 8:45 pm, so we had a chance to get together and visit in a very relaxed setting first. My favorite of the Champagnes was the very complex and elegant Pierre Peters Les Chétillons, that producer’s tete de cuvee, but all three of them showed very well.

Our three elegant human bubblies: Sharon, Traci and Christianne

1st course

When we got to Quince, Christianne had a choice of two tasting menus–the Summer or Chef’s–because the rule there is that everyone at the same table has to have the same menu. Christianne went with the Summer Menu, drawn in part, I think, by the suckling pig dish. With this decision down, we then quizzed the sommelier about the wine pairings. They generally sounded good, but we didn’t like the idea of a young Barolo with our suckling pig course, so found an older red Burg on the menu that we thought would fill this role better. We also ended up substituting the Pibarnon Rose for the original rose planned.

After an amuse of persimmon tomato gazpacho with cucumber and diced melon came this attractive first course, steamed scallop in squash blossom with three sauces, including nasturtium sauce. It paired decently with the Muscadet, which was good and minerally on its own, but a rounder white Burg, especially Meursault, probably would have been a more suitable pairing.

2nd course

Our second course was a squid ink spaghetti “alla chitarra” pasta with Santa Barbara sea urchin. It paired very well with the Pibarnon Rosé, which had the right amount of acidity to cut through the pasta, and soft red and orange fruit flavors that echoed the sea urchin.

  • 2009 Château de Pibarnon Bandol Rosé – France, Provence, Bandol
    Light orange pink color; tart cantaloupe, chalk nose; tart, dry cantaloupe, pink grapefruit, mineral, tart green tangerine palate; medium finish 91+ pts. (good pairing with squid ink pasta w/Santa Barbara sea urchin) (91 pts.)

3rd course

The third course was tortelloni with black prince tomato, eggplant and burrata cheese. The Occhipinti Frappato was a flavorful and inspired pairing with this. Traci liked the wine so much, she tracked down and bought some bottles the next day.

  • 2007 Arianna Occhipinti Vittoria Il Frappato Sicilia IGT – Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT
    Medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; ripe cranberry, tart berry, mineral, hibiscus, floral, herbal nose; tasty, tart red berry, ripe cranberry, mineral, blood orange, hibiscus palate with grip; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

4th course

The main course was a complex construction that included suckling pig, a filling of chanterelle and artichoke, crispy trotter and onion flan. We substituted this ’00 Arnoux for the ’03 Barolo called for on the wine pairing menu on the theory that this Burgundy would be much more drinkable, and would pair fine with the dish, which it did. The Arnoux Les Chaumes itself was quite tasty, from a vintage–’00–which has been drinking well for at least a couple of years already.

dessert course

We ended the meal, following a palate cleanser peach sorbet with red wine granita, with this lovely blackberry souffle with blackberry sorbet. The Brachetto d’Acqui’s bubbles also helped clear the palate, and its berry flavor went just fine with the light, berry flavored souffle.

  • 2009 Marenco Brachetto d’Acqui Pineto – Italy, Piedmont, Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG
    Bright cranberry red color; red berry, Italian soda nose; cherry, herbal, red berry, almond, Italian soda palate; short-medium finish (89 pts.)

Paul, Christianne, Al and Anu


Chef Dominique Crenn beat Michael Symon on Iron Chef America in a contest aired August 12, 2010, in which yogurt was the secret ingredient. Her five-course tasting menu inspired by the show is featured at her restaurant, Luce, this month, and we did the wine pairings. My buddy, Luce’s wine steward John Wight, did our pairings, with some consultation from us on the red wine with the squab course (we were concerned that his original pick, a young Barolo, would overpower the squab, but we needn’t have been so concerned, as it was a very flavorful squab that stood up well to the Lagrein we picked, and would probably have handled the Barolo as well).

One of John’s most interesting picks was the ’08 Field Recordings Chenin Blanc from their Jurassic Vineyard. I hadn’t tried any of this producer’s wines before, but was quite struck by this high acid, food friendly wine, and made a point to check out the producer at Family Winemakers in San Francisco this past weekend. I’ll have more to say about them in my upcoming post on the big event. John’s other picks were all good too, and all had the additional virtue of not being very expensive either. Bravo!

Chef Dominique Crenn and Christianne

arctic char with char mousse amuse

yogurt verjus sorbet with cucumber consomme and shaved honey

Our first wine, with the amuse and consomme was a very aromatic and minerally Vermentino di Sardegna, which had terrific acidity and enough interest to carry me through the consomme dish, which was the least successful and complex of the dishes in this tasting menu.

yogurt in a summer vegetable garden

This was a very well composed dish with a variety of interesting textures, owing in part to the dehydrated vegetable flakes at the base of the dish, and to the yogurt croquette. The minerally Australian Riesling, with its camphor nose and good acidity, brought further interest and green notes to the dish.

  • 2007 Lengs & Cooter Riesling Watervale – Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Watervale
    Light green tinged yellow color; camphor, petrol, mineral nose; very dry, minerally, tangy green fruit, green tomato palate; medium finish (92 pts.)

divers scallops with quinoa, yogurt cubes, melon and micro greens

This was another dish with good textures, although the scallops were not as flavorful as I would have hoped. The Chenin Blanc definitely added another level of interest to the dish, and its high acidity cut through the creaminess of the yogurt cubes.

  • 2008 Field Recordings Wine Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Slightly cloudy light yellow color; rounded, yellow apple, ripe lemon, mineral nose; dry, creamy textured, tart lemon, citrus, mineral palate, very intriguing; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

yogurt crepe, squab and eggplant caponata

This was a very flavorful squab, probably the best dish of an interesting menu. The Lagrein went fine with it, but some of the flavorful southern Italians John was suggesting would probably have been very nice pairings as well.

cumin peach yogurt mousse with rose hibiscus broth

Now we get to the second Brachetto d’Acqui in less than a week. This one didn’t have quite the same level of fizz as our BdA at Quince, but it was equally flavorful and a refreshing pairing with our yogurt crisp, peach yogurt and rose hibiscus foam.

After the meal, John brought us a couple of glasses of grappa from the grappa-themed 888 Bar next door to Luce (both are housed in the InterContinetal Hotel on Howard Street). This was one of the more complex and interesting grappas I’ve tried.

  • N.V. Malvira’ Brachetto d’Acqui Birbét – Italy, Piedmont, Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG
    Dark cranberry red color; black currant, blackberry nose; frizzante, tasty, blackberry, currant, raspberry, herb palate; short-medium finish (89 pts.)
  • N.V. B. Nardini Grappa Tagliatella – Italy, Veneto
    Light cranberry red color; anise, almond, cherry liqueur, Italian wedding cookie nose; complex, anise, cherry liqueur, raspberry palate; long finish (92 pts.)

Richard, Tom, Christianne and Paul

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2010 6:20 am

    Sounds like too great evenings. Very nicely done Richard. I especially like how you try to incorporate pictures into this posting. This is something I learned from you when I started my blog.

  2. August 28, 2010 10:37 am

    Richard, I am going to Luce for my birthday.
    I see some tips throughout the post. But wanted to drill down a bit more – what recommendations would you give — food, wine, etc…? (I usually like to bring my own bottle of a prized Burgundy or Barolo and drink throughout the evening. Would that work? Or should I go with their suggested pairings, but with some mods?) Would you go with this yogurt menu, or do a la carte or ask them to swap some items?

    • August 28, 2010 10:47 am

      For your birthday, I’d go with the regular Chef’s tasting menu, to get a better sense of what Chef Crenn does without the constraints of a particular ingredient theme. I think a Burgundy or aged Barolo would work well with a lot of the dishes there, but you should also ask John to suggest some pairings for particular dishes where you might be in doubt. There are a lot of interesting whites on the wine list that work with some of the lighter dishes.

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