Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Memorable Evening of Wine and Food Pairing

Rachael Lowe (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Having spent 30 years in the wine industry and being able to travel to wine regions in Italy, France, New Zealand, Chile, California and several other places, I know a few things about wine. But you soon understand that no matter how long you work at it or how many territories you travel to, you'll never know it all. In fact, the nice thing about being in your 50s (I'm 55), is realizing how little you do know and being able to accept that fact (I've talked about this with several friends my age and they all agree).

Maintaining the belief that you don't know it all will open your eyes to some amazing experiences. This past Wednesday was one of those memorable moments in my life when I enjoyed dinner at 16 Restaurant at the Trump Tower in Chicago. Rachael Lowe, the young, effervescent, engaging wine director here since mid-2010, personally selected wines to accompany my dinner. 

I had asked her not to bring any Italian wines to the table, as those represent much of my work. Other than that, she was free to select any wine she saw fit. I didn't think of it at the time I ordered my meal, but I threw her a curveball, as I started with an appetizer of pork belly, while selecting yellowtail snapper for my entrée, meaning a white would come after the red. As you will read below, Rachael was more than up to the task of finding the right wines for these dishes.

Here is what I enjoyed along with Rachael's wine selections for each dish:

Amuse-bouche: Braised lamb with pumpernickel bread
Wine selection: Krug Grand Cuvée, non-vintage (or "multi-vintage" as Rachael called it)
I know what you're thinking- this outstanding Champagne could go with anything, but it was a perfect opener (how could you not have a smile on your face when the wine director brings you Krug Champagne?). The wine worked beautifully with the pork, which was served in tiny cubes and was remarkably tender.


Appetizer: Crispy pork belly with red cabbage, pumpernickel and cider gelée
Wine selection: Jean Foillard Morgon "Cuvée Corcelette" 2009
Like many wine lovers, I just don't try enough examples of Beaujolais, so I was happy to enjoy this offering. Rachael described this wine in glowing terms and she was spot on, as this was a Beaujolais of great complexity and persistence that displayed a great deal of finesse and elegance as well as varietal character. The fruit aromas of cassis, red raspberry and strawberry were amazing and the weight and texture of this wine was ideal for this marvelous dish, which was again, very tender with subtle spice.


First course: Squab breast with Hunter Valley foie gras
Wine selection: Domaine de la Solitude Chateauneuf-du-Pape 1999
This was clearly the richest course I enjoyed for dinner and it needed a big red; this was plenty big. I remarked to Rachael that I would love to revisit this wine in another 10 or 15 years - it's got that much depth of fruit. The ripeness and spice of this wine were perfect for the squab and the wine more than held its own with this remarkable course.


Main course: Yellowtail snapper with quinoa, ginger curry apple purée, salsify, golden raisin caper relish
Wine selection: Nicolas Joly Savennieres "Clos de la Bergerie" 2005
To say that this unique white, made by the great biodynamic producer Nicolas Joly, was able to stand up to the snapper is an understatement; I think this wine could pair well with shark roe! Made from Chenin Blanc, this is a full-blown, powerful white with plenty of spice and grip; this should be drinking well for another 7 or 8 years. This was my favorite course, by the way, with the fleshiness and tenderness of the fish complemented so well by the sweetness of the apple purée and golden raisin relish.


Dessert: Blackberry tart with buttermilk ice cream
Wine selection: Domaine de la Cure Monbazillac 2009
This dessert wine from southwestern France, made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon was a marvelous finish to my meal. Deep amber in color, the wine is quite rich on the palate with medium sweetness and very good acidity. It added another dimension to this exquisite dessert.

Thank you, Rachael for the education in pairing wine with food - I learned a lot. This was truly a memorable evening!


P.S. I would be remiss not to mention the outstanding work turned in by Chef Joseph Rose. This restaurant was operating at a high level when it first opened in 2009, but since Rose has taken the helm in the kitchen, he has taken this dining room to new heights.

The restaurant has been awarded one Michelin star, but I am still waiting for the local critics to give this restaurant its due. I believe it is on par with the best restaurants in the city, as it combines beautifully creative cuisine with a gorgeous room and extremely friendly and professional service.

P.P.S. There was an insightful article about Rachael in the July 31 issue of Sommelier Journal (read here). Rachael is well on her way to becoming a Master Sommelier; she has one more exam and if all goes well, will earn that title sometime in the summer of 2012.

I certainly wish her well in her quest. She is clearly one of the most knowledgeable wine professionals in Chicago - and easily one of the most charming!


  1. Great post (and photo) Tom; and Rachel is such a lovely and delightful young woman to work with. Glad you had a good time!

  2. Thanks for the nice comment. Yes, Rachael is a delightful person and a pleasure to deal with!

  3. What a fantastic write-up of what sounds like an amazing meal! Rachael Lowe is such a professional. And of course, thanks so much for the great notes about the '05 Joly Savennieres "Clos de la Bergerie". We're proud to have that wine in our portfolio, but it really requires a brilliant sommelier like Lowe to help it show its best. With that description of the pairing, it sounds like she made sparks fly.

    Jon Troutman, Domaine Select

  4. Jon:

    Thanks for your nice comment! I've had two different examples of Joly's white wines over the past few months in dinners at 16. They are really out of this world and Rachael's pairings with these wines were just great!