Napa & Co. CTbites Invites Recap...The Importance of Pairing

Amy Kundrat

Owner Mary Schaeffer, with new chef Leonardo Marino, guided thirty lucky diners on an evening of off-the-menu dishes and signature wine pairings for CTbites Invites latest event at Napa & Co. on September 27. An exceptional five-course seasonal pairings menu served to showcase the breadth of the restaurant's food and wine program, the new talent in the kitchen, and some of fall’s best seasonal flavors such as fig, squash and chestnut. Guests even got to take home a bottle of Toast, a sparkling white wine Napa & Co. commissioned for the restaurant.

The Importance of Pairing

Having worked in a wine shop for a brief stint, attended countless wine dinners over the years as a CTbites editor and correspondent, and entered many a vineyard tasting room, I still have yet to fully comprehend and articulate the delicate dance that pairing food and wine requires. What I failed to comprehend over the past decade, took one evening with Mary Schaeffer, with a cookie reference no less.

The gist? Our brain begins to grasp the concept of pairings as early as childhood. “Milk and cookies illustrates wine pairing well. We pair them because they share the same texture (fat) and mouthfeel. Imagine replacing the milk with with orange juice? The acidity of the OJ and lighter texture don't complement the richness of the chocolate," said Mary.

Bridging the conversation to the adult palate, she continued "We pair weight of wine and food and then we pair the secondary components with the right wine within the weight category. For example, a poached lobster with butter needs a rich wine so we would head toward Chardonnay with oak but if the sauce had ginger, curry, etc then I would stay in a rich wine but choose a Viognier to pick up those exotic notes." 

And with that explanation and five subsequent pairings later, I experienced my "a ha" moment with 29 other folks.

New Talent: Chef Leonardo Marino

Nearly two months ago Chef Leonardo Marino took over the reigns of Napa & Co.’s kitchen. With solid time spent at Le Bernardin and Bouley (among others), Marino comes to Napa & Co. with his focus on natural-flavors-meets-exquisite-ingredents, not letting the restaurant skip a beat. His deft touch with fish (a whisper perhaps of Le Bernardin) and a hearty embrace of his Italian heritage (figs currently figure prominently), Marino’s approach, joined with Schaeffer’s wine program ensures Napa & Co.’s reputation for excellence.

Fall Seasonal Flavors

Scattered throughout the menu, late season tomatoes, squash and sweet potato, along with chestnuts and figs speak to this seasonal moment in time. The full menu is listed below, but I would like to observe a moment of silence for the Noilly Prat poached halibut served with a stem of broccoli rabe, fried leeks in a green grape buerre blanc and perfectly paired with a French Chardonnay, Cafe de Lugny. This dish speaks to how the mutual flavors of food and wine can elevate an already stellar dish and bottle of wine.

Amuse: Burrata Heirloom Tomato Brochette

Wine: Toast by napa & co., a Crement de Bourgogne, France NV

Course one: Fluke sashimi, white soy, jalepeno, scallions, griddled bread

Wine: Velenosi “Villa Angela,” Pecorino, Offida, Italy 2010

Course Two: Noilly Prat poached Halibut, broccoli rabe, fried leeks, green grape buerre blanc

Wine: Cafe de Lugny “Les Charmes” Chardonnay, macon Lugny, France 2010

Course Three: Butternut squash, sweet potato ravioli, chestnut brown butter

Wine: Benton Lane Valley, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2010

Course Four: Truffle honey glazed duck, red quinoa, baby turnips, black mission figs, port wine reduction

Wine: Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat, Southeastern Austrailia, NV