A sommelier's job includes many things—buying wine, maintaining the list, training the staff—but the most visible of these is his or her wine-pairings menu. The wine pairings are the chance for the sommelier to demonstrate his or her ability to compliment the chef's food without getting in the way and bring both dish and wine to a new level, where the combination is greater than the sum of the parts.
Coi's departed partner and wine director, Paul Einbund, was a master—an innovator and trend-setter. So I was curious to see how new sommelier Matt Fitch (who we featured in last month's 7x7's page on 4-star wine bargains) would uphold the standard set by his predecessor. The answer? Very well, indeed.
I was there last Saturday, when chef-owner Daniel Patterson had given over the kitchen to chef Stuart Brioza and pastry chef Nicole Krasinski, formerly of Rubicon. Fitch had, coincidentally, worked with those two, as his wine job immediately prior to Coi was as the assistant somm at Rubicon. So it was natural to expect a certain familiarity with Brioza's cooking.
So here's what he laid on us.
Dish: Spring Herb Bouillon poured over creamy dumplings with sprigs of fresh green herbs (parsley, fennel fronds).
Wine: Domaine Leflaive Macon-Verze 2006.
Pairing: A good, but not great pairing. I thought the oakiness of the wine and the slightly buttery character of the Chardonnay clashed a bit with the fresh green herbs and the bouillon. In his defense, the wine Fitch intended for the pairing was not delivered as scheduled.
Dish: Geoduck Clam marinated with bonito and piccolo basil, with new harvest potatos and potato foam.
Wine: Schloss Shonborn Riesling, "Hattenheim Nussbrunnen" Kabinett 1997.
Pairing: Excellent. The Riesling provided a dose of bracing acidity to what were some rich potatos and an almost mayonnaise like foam. But its clarity also was a perfect mirror for the pure, clean flavors of the clam.
Dish: Porcini mushrooms with baby greens, duck neck and liver jus and a hint of curry.
Wine: Tandem Pinot Noir, Ven Der Kamp vineyard, Sonoma Mountain, 2006.
Pairing: Lovely.The Tandem is a sophisticated Sonoma Pinot—restrained in its fruitiness, which made it great with the fresh porcinis. The wine's earthiness and spice played very nicely with the gamy livers and curry.
Dish: Suckling 'Porco Montes,' braised tender onions, artichoes and favas with various cuts of pig.
Wine: Bernard Burgaud Cote Rotie, Northern Rhone, France 2002.
Pairing: Inspired.2002 was a famously wet and bad vintage in the Rhone, yet many of the wines from the northern part of the region have turned out to be quite lovely. Kudos to Fitch for knowing this. The light syrah-based wine was graceful and perfectly textured for the pork, and the wine's exotic spice notes went perfectly with the scattered sesame-like seeds and spices Brioza sprinkled over the dish.
Dish: Bittersweet chocolate and flowering thyme croquettes with cocoa nib sabayon and berries.
Wine: Bodegas Toro Albala Pedro Ximenez, Montillla Moriles, Spain 1979.
Pairing: Delicious. Krasinski's dark chocolate fried wontons went great with the syrupy Spanish dessert wine. But the hints of orange zest, molasses and allspice in the wine made great partners with the berries and thyme.
Overall, Fitch did a great job. I wouldn't hesitate to order the wine pairing menu (this one was $65 to go with the $85 menu) at Coi with him in charge. I'm just looking forward to going back to see what he does with Daniel Patterson's food.