I am the first to admit that I’m no wine connoisseur, though I know what I like. You might label me an unsophisticated enthusiast, one whose tastes have evolved from the sweet white zinfandels of my early twenties to a broader and much drier palette of whites and reds in my—ahem—more mature years. I know some general guidelines—white with fish and chicken, red with beef—but have had it on my “to do” list to learn more about food and wine pairing since I’ve noticed that sometimes a wine I loved at one meal was absolutely unappealing with a different entree. We don’t have deep pockets, so my husband stocks up on whatever affordable wines strike his fancy when he makes a run to St. Louis, coming back with pinot grigio and prosecco from Viviano’s Italian grocery, and bottles of California merlot and cabernet sauvignon from Trader Joe’s. (And yes, there’s a bottle or two of Three-Buck Chuck in our wine rack for those special occasions when only the cheapest wine will do.)
But oddly enough, though these days I buy local whenever possible when it comes to the food I eat, I’ve seldom felt as committed to sticking to my own Missouri River Bluffs region—or the state of Missouri—when it came to wine.
Then I spent an afternoon with Sarah Cyr, the sommelier and co-owner of the Wine Cellar and Bistro, and the scales fell from my eyes.
Sarah has a gift for food and wine pairing, as all who’ve taken her wine classes or dined at her restaurant can attest, and she’s a very good teacher. A certified first-level sommelier, she oversees the Wine Cellar’s extensive wine list, one that has been recognized with The Award of Excellence by The Wine Spectator Magazine every year since 2005 “for having one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world.” (Click here to take a look at the restaurant’s 10-page wine list, which starts with a page of Missouri wines.)
She and her husband Craig recently celebrated their 10th year at the helm of one of Columbia’s most respected restaurants, with an unshakable commitment to using locally sourced, sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Taking it to the next level, Sarah and Craig, along with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, began the Wine Cellar Garden Project in the spring of 2013, offering hands-on Saturday morning gardening classes followed by a fresh, seasonal lunch—often featuring bounty from the garden—and wines chosen by Sarah.
In this first of three food and wine pairings, with a focus on Missouri wines, Sarah shows me what goes best with brut from Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport (gold medal winner, 2013 Mid-American Wine Competition). I was so impressed by the wines we tasted that afternoon that it’s changed my buying habits, and the next time the occasion calls for a bottle of bubbly, I’ll be shopping for Les Bourgeois brut.
In the words of fellow Missourian Mark Twain, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”