The Iron Sommelier
1 dish, 3 sommeliers, 3 judges
by Shelley Boettcher,
photos by Nick Olexyn
Some wine pairings are easy, even for a beginner: pizza and Chianti, for instance, or steak and a California Cabernet Sauvignon.
But get a top-notch chef to make a complex dish with a lot of ingredients and flavours, and suddenly your wine pairings get significantly more complicated. Add beer to the table, and it’s time to call in the professionals. With that in mind, three of Calgary’s top sommeliers — Peter Smolarz, Brad Royale and Mike Roberts — gathered one afternoon to show off their considerable wine and beer pairing talents. They were taking part in City Palate’s 14th annual Iron Sommelier Challenge. Their goal: to come up with two winning pairings — one beer, one wine — for grilled organic Tofino salmon with yuzu, Ethiopian pistachio and truffle oil.
The way it works:
Each sommelier had a chance to try the dish a week before the judging, so they could go back to work, taste and brainstorm to come up with what they believed were ideal pairings. A week later, we all met at Murrieta’s Bar & Grill downtown, so they could present and defend their choices to the three judges. Then they left the room, allowing each judge to taste the dish with every wine and beer selection. As they tasted, the judges shared their opinions on what worked — and what didn’t. Finally, the judges had to agree on a winning wine pairing and a winning beer pairing. The sommeliers were called back into the room, and the top beverages were announced. Some years, it’s easy to pick a winner. Other years, not so much. This was one of those years where, when it came to the wine pairings in particular, the judges were overall all pretty happy with what they were drinking. In other words, if you’re trying to reproduce the tasting at home but you can’t find the winning wine, you may be just as happy with one of the others. Like our own sommeliers and judges, however,
Peter Smolarz, director of fine wines and purchasing, Willow Park Wines & Spirits
WINE 1: Ettore Germano 2019 Herzu (Langhe, Piedmont, Italy, $29)
“It’s a bone-dry riesling aged in amphora. I chose it because it has good acidity and a herbaceousness — thyme, basil — with a mineral backbone.”
BEER 1: Twin Sails Brewing, Vapor Wave (Port Moody, British Columbia, $23 for a four-pack)
“This beer is lighter in body, with a bit of acid to let the fish shine. It finishes with a tiny hint of salt that’s meant to match the salt of the dashi, and the tartness is for those yuzu citrus notes.”
Mike Roberts, sommelier-manager, Co-op Wine Spirits Beer.
WINE 2: Baron de ley Tres Vinas 2011 Blanco Reserva (Rioja, Spain, $33)
“It’s delicate, but really flavourful, and barrel-fermented. That gives it these savoury notes with a caramel sweetness, although it’s a dry wine. It has sotolon, a flavour compound in some wines that gives it almost a maple characteristic.”
BEER 2: Wild Rose Brewery, Barrel-Aged Goldspur Belgian Strong Golden Ale (Calgary, $11)
“This wheat ale has a bit of a citrus character in it that’s to match the yuzu in the dish. The beer has been aged in French oak barrels and has a malty sweetness with low bitterness, that makes for a sweet-savoury pairing.”
Brad Royale, Brad Royale Consulting.
WINE 3: Comte Leloup du Chateau de Chasseloir Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires, 2014 Muscadet Sevre et Maine (Loire Valley, France, about $21)
“This Muscadet is beautiful from the nose to the mid-palate to the finish. This wine is perfectly poised as a pairing to allow the dish to remain intact, without interfering with the chef’s original concept. Muscadet is one of the world’s most classic white wines; we should all drink more of it. This one is from 100-year-old vines, some of the oldest Melon de Bourgogne in the world. It’s amazing.”
BEER 3: Banded Peak Brewing Co. Plainsbreaker Pale Ale (Calgary, about $18 for a fourpack)
“The original beer that came to mind was Bud Light, served ice cold. But this Banded Peak Plainsbreaker Pale Ale has killer mandarin orange, grapefruit and Meyer lemon notes, which are complementary to the yuzu and work with the grill influence. The beer is intense enough to clean the palate, but not so much that
The Judges (L to R)
Jeff Jamieson (JJ), co-owner of Proof and Vine Arts
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth (ECB), Calgary Herald restaurant columnist
Dewey Noordhof (DN), general manager, Bridgette Bar
WINE 1: Ettore Germano 2019 Herzu
ECB: “Balanced. I really like this one. I’d drink it. I am drinking it.”
JJ: “This wine pairs really nicely. Both are crisp and straightforward, with a lot of flavours going on.”
DN: “This wine may be a bit too loud for the dish. It’s obviously exceptional riesling, and I can see why he paired it with this dish. I would have probably chosen the same thing.”
BEER 1: Twin Sails Brewing, Vapor Wave
ECB: “I love the beer but I don’t like the match. It doesn’t suit the fattiness of the dish.”
JJ: “Too much fruit on the nose and the salt was overpowering on the palate.”
DN: “A dish like this, I just wouldn’t drink beer with it. I love beer, just not with a dish like this. Not this beer, anyway.”
WINE 2: Baron de ley Tres Vinas 2011 Blanco Reserva
ECB: “It’s a great pairing. There’s a contrast but not tension. I really like this pairing. My favourite.”
JJ: “A really good pairing. This is the style of wine that I want to pair with this dish. It complements by contrasting.”
DN: “I love this wine. I’m going to buy this wine.”
BEER 2: Wild Rose Brewery, Barrel-Aged Goldspur Belgian Strong Golden Ale
ECB: “The pairing is not convincing me, but there’s less saltiness than the first beer, which is good.”
JJ: “I liked the pairing because of the similarities of the malt characteristics between the dish and the beer. I actually picked that beer.”
DN: “There’s a contrast but that’s why it works. I really like it.”
WINE 3: Comte Leloup, Chateau de Chasseloir 2014 Muscadet Sevre et Maine
ECB: “I like it a lot. I don’t have much to say, really, that hasn’t already been said. It’s a good balance, a great pairing. I think it does what Brad intended.”
JJ: “A perfect pairing. The body and the acidity levels are right between the other two wines. There’s a bit of fruit and the salinity of the wine — it just pairs perfectly.”
DN: “I haven’t found a Muscadet that I loved until now. But I love this Muscadet. It’s not just a good pairing. It’s great.”
BEER 3: Banded Peak Brewing Co. Plainsbreaker Pale Ale
ECB: “I like the fruitiness of the beer, but I found the hops distracting.”
JJ: “I thought the malt of the beer was perfect, but the hop content was maybe a little much. It overpowered the dish.”
DN: “The orange flavour in the beer is really complementary to the yuzu. I like it.”
The Iron Sommelier Recipes
Prepared by Chef Dave Bohati, Murrieta’s Bar & Grill.
GRILLED ORGANIC SALMON TORO
Because the belly of most animals contains the most flavour, it happens to be a chef’s best friend. We marinate our salmon in a blonde miso paste with grated ginger and green onions or chives.
1. Miso cure a 12 oz. piece of salmon for at least 12 hours before flash grilling on one side while leaving the other side raw. Slice and serve room temperature.
2. To make the miso cure, mix 1 T. grated fresh ginger with 2 T. finely chopped scallions in 3-4 T. blonde miso paste.
3. Meanwhile, make the ponzu sauce, as follows, and refrigerate:
- 1 c. dashi broth
- 1/8 c. mirin
- 1 T. soy sauce
- 1-2 t. yuzu juice (mix of half lemon and half lime juice, in a pinch)
- ½ t., each, sesame oil and Worcestershire sauce
This dish is intended to have a full range of flavour or total “umami.” When ready to serve, lightly rinse the salmon, pat dry and plate in a shallow bowl. Garnish with spiced pistachio nuts, a small bit of rinsed sauerkraut, a touch of good truffle oil, chopped avocado, 3 -4 thin slices of cucumber that have been lightly salted and drained, 2-inch pieces of chives and a few cilantro leaves. Drizzle about 2-3 T. ponzu sauce over all.
Note: this is an appetizer dish, so 12 oz. salmon will feed 4 people.
TWO IRON SOMMELIERS – ONE FOR WINE, ONE FOR BEER:
THE WINNING BEER – Mike Roberts Wild Rose Brewery, Barrel-Aged Goldspur Belgian Strong Golden Ale
THE WINNING WINE – Brad Royale Comte Leloup, Chateau de Chasseloir 2014 Muscadet Sevre et Maine