by Joe Roberts
WC Dish wine writer and blogger
How confident are you with a wine list?
Yeah, I know – dumb question. You’re the one who always makes the right call when your date, your boss or your date’s boss hands you the wine list at dinner, right?
Despite a growing trend to make wine more accessible to the consumer, restaurant wine lists remain daunting beasts. In an attempt to make things easier, restaurants are organizing their wine selections in novel ways to demystify the whole affair.
Case in point: local Asian-fusion restaurant Teikoku. In keeping with their culinary theme,Teikoku, recently revamped their wine list, presenting each wine under the headings Earth, Water, Fire, Wind & Sky, representing the elements many Eastern cultures believed govern all life. A novel approach, for sure, but while it might have better karma, does it bring you any closer to true wine list enlightenment?
With thirsty hearts, open minds and a total inability to read Chinese characters, Mary B. and I asked Teikoku to pair some of their menu items with corresponding wine from the Elements list so that we could find out for ourselves. The results proved that you don’t need to default to sake or beer when dining on fine Asian cuisine.
Mary, along with her date, Mrs. Dudette (my wife), my infant daughter and yours truly all sampled a six-course meal of standard menu items paired with a wine choice by the Teikoku staff. Excepting my infant daughter, that is – she declined her share of the food (save for some avocado) and her wine (don’t worry, Mary and I drank her share, so it didn’t go to waste). Each wine was a by-the-glass selection unless otherwise noted.
Hyatt Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington) and Pan roasted lamb chops massaman curry sauce – This Cab is heavy on the cassis, and matched the richness of the curry nicely.
Perrier-Jouet “Grand Brut” Champagne and Oyster shooters – An inspired and classic pairing. Bubbly works great with raw seafood, especially sushi.
Arabella Sauvignon Blanc (Roberston Valley, South Africa) and Salmon tomato Caprese – With a vinegar-heavy dressing, this was a not-so-inspired pairing. According to Mary (and I quote): “It’s like a vinegar explosion in my head!”
Butterfield Station Shiraz (California) and Spicy basil fried rice – Nice, with the Shiraz blueberry notes tempering some hot spice in that rice.
La Linda Torrontés (Argentina) and Seared Albacore salad with soy ginger dressing – A tasty enough match, if a bit on the safe side. Although the vibrant white wines made from the Torrontés grape might not seem like a typical choice, this solid performer is a “go-to” wine for the Teikoku staff.
Miller Wine Works 2005 “Kendrick Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Marin County, CA, $85 a bottle) and Grilled Hawaiian butterfish – A match bordering on sublime perfection.
All in all, Teikoku has excellent food and an imaginative wine list to match. As for the “Elements” wine list: it’s well suited to Asian cuisine, and clearly took care and effort to prepare. Is it easier to navigate than wine lists organized by wine region or style? Not really.
We all felt it could still be confusing for budding wine aficionados, so if you find yourself scratching your head and wondering if your sushi platter is more “Fire” than “Water” (or vice-versa?), remember that you can always call on the educated staff to help you in a pinch… or to give you confidence in making an elemental pairing.
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