“The notion of absolute truth is one of the worst enemies of art.” Chef Liebman reminds me often. As a sommelier who was trained in a very traditional, classical way, I was taught to bring to the table the traditional, scientifically “correct” food and wine pairings.
Working with a chef who puts art first, I experience living where art lives, in that slim margin of possibility that there may exist another reality, another right answer, an unexpected option outside of the “correct”, obvious, or scientific answer, but that may be as great as—though different from—the original thought. “The absolute truth belongs to science not to art;” he insists “art is about the experience, the journey, the question, the discussion, and the unexpected.”
One accepted bit of wine and food pairing ‘truth’ is, “what grows together, goes together.” We wanted to test that – among other theories – so we went to Oregon to stretch our creative muscles and question some closely held ‘truths’.
We always want to make people think, encourage them to explore, broaden their culinary horizons beyond the slogans; to look beyond the absolute truth, and conventional thinking. In particular, we wanted to see what happens when an Israeli-born, Canadian chef creates a menu in Oregon, using local ingredients, then pairs it with both Canadian and Oregon wines? How well will the old grows-together-goes-together theory stand up…or will it come crashing down? And what affects the outcome more; the chef’s style or the local ingredients?
We arrived in Hood River, Oregon, three days before the event at Phelps Creek Vineyards and started searching for ingredients while owner, Robert Morus, ran around opening back vintages we’d never tried before.
Even before we arrived, Chef Liebman had a general menu and wine pairings in mind, but he wanted to let the terroir of Oregon speak to him and direct his cooking. He sees himself as a facilitator of his culinary art. “It’s not about me, my ego, or even about the terroir - it’s about the art that speaks through me, I am just its facilitator” For Chef Liebman, the terroir is the brush, the ingredients, the palate, but you can’t let the brush and palate dictate the painting; you can only allow them to guide your artistic choices.
Here’s what we discovered…
It Starts in the Vineyard
Grape Leaf, Roasted Pinot Noir Grapes, Wild rice, Falafel, Hummus
- Paired with -
Phelps Creek “Lynette” Chardonnay, Columbia Gorge 2013
Phelps Creek’s kitchen is surrounded by their beautiful rolling vineyards; it is just natural to use what the vineyards give – the leaves, the grapes. Grape leaves stuffed with rice is a traditional Mediterranean dish that Eyal grew up on. “Lynette” Chardonnay is a classic, cool climate wine with a gorgeous mouth feel and notes of citrus, wet stones, and apple combined with rich brioche.
This combination of freshness and richness creates a great pairing with Chef
Liebman’s medium-bodied dish. On one hand it adds freshness and on the other, has enough body to hold its own against the richness of the wild rice and hummus.
Close to the Ocean
Corn and Filbert Soup and Baharat Crawfish
- Paired with -
Phelps Creek “Cœur du Roy” Pinot Noir Blanc, Colombia Gorge 2010
Lacey Estates Winery, Gewürztraminer, PEC 2013
As soon as we arrived in Oregon we discussed with Phelps Creek’s proprietor, Robert Morus, an idea Eyal had about creating a still white wine from a red grape, specifically Pinot Noir. Of course this has been the way with Blanc de Noir forever, but why only sparkling? To our surprise, he went to the cellar and came back with a small-production white wine made from Pinot Noir they had bottled several years ago.
I can’t properly express the excitement we felt sipping this wine; fascinating and confusing at once, you taste the Pinot Noir grape but visually, it’s a white wine. This is the type of wine that opens your mind and makes you rethink how flavour connects to vision; how the colour we see in the glass or on the grape affects what we expect to taste, perhaps even what we do taste. To me, it also raised the questions of how we’ve come to accept this exact situation – white Pinot Noir in a sparkling Blanc de Noir without confusion – but when presented in a still wine, it’s pretty mind blowing!
The other wine we paired with this dish – Lacey’s Gewürztraminer – is decidedly unconventional, and would not have worked if Chef Liebman had not added just the right amount of spice to the soup. The spice creates an appealing contrast to the wine’s sweetness and notes of pineapple, rose, and lychee. It was a delicate balance; too much spice would have ruined the pairing with the Pinot Noir Blanc. Such nuanced cooking demands a taste of both wines for the chef right before he added his spices. And, I admit, I like to spoil him with great wines, at least once in a while!
Chocolate Raviolo, Squash, Duck Breast, Green Beans, Strawberry
- Paired with -
Phelps Creek “Cuvée Alexandrine” Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge 2013
I fell in love with Phelps Creek Cuvée Catharine Pinot Noir; I simply couldn’t stop drinking it, even with all the variety of wines that were poured for me during our visit. Phelps Creek’s terroir is beautifully captured in this wine – the flowing vineyards and gentle hills, the apple trees and roses planted close to the vines, the smell of warm earth, ripe grapes, green leaves, the freshness and authenticity—it’s all in there. This wine’s flavours of forest floor, cherries, with hints of volcanic notes, and chocolate on the finish, combined with its elegant and crisp personality, paired beautifully with the chocolate raviolo and duck.
Down to Earth
Leg of Lamb, Fingerling Potatoes, Huckleberries, Chanterelles,
Caramelized Apple, and Leek
- Paired with -
Phelps Creek Syrah, Columbia Gorge 2013
Back 10 Cellars, Start from Scratch Chardonnay, Beamsville Ontario 2016
Chef Liebman prepared two legs of the same lamb in two different ways: one braised in red wine for four hours and the other roasted for less than 40 minutes. The idea here was to allow our guests to experience how different preparations of the same ingredient will change the wine pairing.
I was very impressed by the dark violet, medium- to full-bodied Syrah from Phelps Creek with its round, velvety texture, dark cherry notes, and beautifully balanced tannins and acidity. Classically, Syrah is considered the ultimate pairing with lamb, so it was fascinating to compare that traditional pairing with a non-traditional pairing of an oaky Chardonnay.
Back 10 cellars Chardonnay is one the most Canadian wines I know of. It’s made by a Canadian winemaker, using Canadian yeast, aged in Canadian oak; it’s Canadian all the way.
Pairing Chardonnay with lamb is not conventional, but the body and oakiness of the wine makes it possible, if the lamb is not long braised but roasted. Trying it with both roasted and braised lamb demonstrated how the cooking technique can make or break a pairing. The refreshing caramelized apple of the dish connects with the tangerine, apricot, and caramel notes in this wine.
Exploring how lamb raised in the mountains of Oregon, cooked by a Canadian chef, pairs and behaves with both Canadian and Oregon wines, was what we aimed to bring to the table.
When Pigs Fly
Dominican Republic Valrhona Taïnori Dark Chocolate Brownie, Salty Bacon, Rosemary Smoke, Gewürztraminer Crémeux
- Paired with -
Phelps Creek Vin de Glacé Gewürztraminer, Columbia Gorge 2013
Château des Charmes, St. David Bench Cabernet Franc, Ontario 2014
Vin de Glacé Gewürztraminer is a delicious sweet wine with notes of pineapple, lychee and honey that pairs well with almost any dessert. It’s a classic, by-the-book pairing. Next to this wine we poured a Canadian Cabernet Franc (Château des Charmes) – not by-the-book at all!
This Cabernet Franc comes from grapes grown in St. David bench, a unique microclimate that allows its grapes to fully ripen. The wine, therefore, boasts beautiful notes of tobacco, liquorice, and black berries with a hint of chocolate at the finish.
I am willing to bet that with almost any other dessert this Cabernet Franc would have clashed horribly. The sweetness of most desserts would obliterate the wine’s fruitiness, leaving only the bitter, tannic notes. But you already know that Chef Liebman and I like to play in that slim margin where art, possibility, and exceptions to the rules live. By adding spices – Baharat – and salty, savoury bacon to the chocolate dessert, Chef Liebman created a bridge of savoury notes between the wine and the dessert, thus allowing the sweetness of the wine to come out on the tongue as a contrast to the salty and spicy notes of the dessert.