Last Sunday was the funnest wine tasting I’ve ever done! It was my delight to join Tessa Leung and her staff at Sontes in Rochester, MN. Over the course of about 5 hours, we tasted 42 wines. We tasted wines available by the glass and wines from their Captain’s List and everything in between. It was wildly fun and tremendously educational. We spoke with Bryce, Trevor and Joel from the kitchen, who shared great insights on what they look to pair and highlight in their delicious creations… which are all served Tapas-style. Annie, Staci, Mike, Kaylea, Megan, Dawn, Jodi, Karen, Kim, and Mel talked about their “Sontes Regulars.” Tessa has a great staff and they’ve followed her lead in listening to their customers and knowing what they like, don’t like, and, importantly, how to recognize a “teachable moment” to introduce them to a new offering or pairing.
While we tasted and practiced identifying wines by their color, clarity, aromas, flavors and mouth-feel, we also discussed the differences in Old World vs. New World styles. We spent time, of course, discussing Bordeaux and Burgundy blends but also the creative, wonderful wines that Argentina and Chile are also making and everything in-between. It is amazing how talking food and wine with creative food and wine lovers, increases the intensity of flavors and our ability to taste in more detail.
During a break, we trooped back to the kitchen for some food and pulled about 15 spices, herbs, salts and more to put into little wasabi saucers. At first we had lined them up at one end of the bar… it was overwhelming. So we moved to a coffee table in the lounge and all sat around playing with the herbs & spices and looking for their scents and flavors in the wines. Experiential learning is so fun and effective! We were shoulder to shoulder, peering into the little white wasabi saucers, taking pinches of Herbs de Provence, apple salt, celery seed, cinnamon, bits of wonderful rich vanilla bean, cloves, basil, oregano, cilantro, white pepper, black pepper, star anise, fennel, thyme, and, thanks to Trevor, burned apple wood. Remarkable how when smelling an actual herb or spice, that scent will “pop” in smelling and tasting a wine featuring that herb or spice. It is also amazing that when tasting a wine thoughtfully, the first food that pops into your mind as tasting fabulous with that wine, will often the perfect pairing.
Among the great wines we tasted were some “royalty;” some “pawns,” but all well-made. We tasted four gorgeous Oregon Pinot Noirs – Bethel Heights, Brandborg, Adelsheim and Domaine Serene. We also tasted “New World” wines- Zuccardi Zeta Malbec-Tempranillo and MontGras Reserve Carmenere. It was incredbile to taste both the Faustino V and the Faustino I to taste side-by-side their differences; when possible choose the primo. But wait, it doesn’t stop there! Some of our Old World highlights included Transhumance, Les Trois Couronnes Vacqueyras, Les Trois Gigondas, Perrin Chateauneuf de Pape, Corteforte Amarone “Osan,” and the Francois Cotat Les Monts Damnes Sancere.
As you have surmised by now, Tessa is incredibly talented, generous and wise. She enables her staff to learn by tasting the gammit including the very best from her list, so they know how to serve the breadth of Sontes’ clientele and showcase her superb farm-to-table cuisine. She is a genuine aficionado and lover of food & wine and a sterling example of what makes the food and wine community so fabulous.
Stay tuned for next Friday’s story of matching Pinot Noir to forest mushrooms and a Meritage to sweet potato flan…
Pairing to Perfection, LLC