Last night I had the opportunity to join the monthly wine dinner held at the new location of TJ’s Seafood Market featuring the wines of Dallasite, Mike Merriman. I was a guest of TJ’s owner, Jon Alexis, who firmly believes the best food to pair with wine is seafood, confirming he is in the right business. Not being a huge beef eater, I have to agree. The nuances and layers of flavor you can extract from seafood, either served in its most natural sushi style state, or covered in rich and flavorful sauces make it the ideal canvas to highlight subtleties in various wines from whites to reds.
The night was all about highlighting the wines of the northwest, with Merriman’s wines coming predominantly from his estate vineyard in Willamette Valley. I am a huge Willamette fan, and knowing the quality products and creativity of the team at TJ’s I knew we were in for a treat. The night started with TJ’s gorgeous jumbo prawns with remoulade and cocktail sauce passed around the small and welcoming dining room as guests chatted with Mike before the night got started.
As we were seated we were immediately poured chilled glass of very crisp, bright Chenin Blanc. Usually when I think Chenin Blanc I think floral, honey and apples with a touch of residual sugar, how it is made in many parts of the world. This one, from fruit sourced from 30+ year old vineyards around Yakima Valley, Washington, was very Old World/Loire Valley, France in style, with great acidity to balance the a spot on pairing of Sauteed Scallops With Grapefruit Beurre Blanc.
TJ’s Chef Scott Hoffner created one of his favorite pairings next, combining strawberry, pomegranate and grapefruit filled Merriman Rose of Pinot Noir with a very Spanish style paella, made in the traditional way of starting with the saffron, chorizo and tomato infused sofrito on the stove top, then adding the rice and placing it in the oven to bake until a thick crust has formed on the bottom, and then adding shrimp, calamari, mussels and clams. Spicy and rich paired with the fresh, slightly acidic and fruity Rose transporting the palate to southern Spain.
Mike Merriman began his adventure in wine after meeting David O’Reilly of Owen Roe by chance in Dallas in the mid 1990′s. After the meeting he was inspired to visit Oregon and work harvest for several years and eventually purchased his vineyard from O’Reilly in the mid-2000′s with 2006 marking his first vintage to produce Merriman Pinot Noir from his Carlton vineyard in the heart of Willamette, surrounded by neighbors like Alexana, Lemelson, Ken Wright, and one of my favorites, Soter. He started out small, only producing 100 cases that first year of Pinot Noir, but knew he had something special when his first vintage earned 90 points in the Wine Spectator. Since then he has grown his production, now up to 2000 cases, adding in the Rose and a second label introductory Pinot Noir called Cummins Road, a very young, fruit forward Pinot filled with strawberry and raspberry jam flavors, slight spiciness and just a touch of earthiness. With this TJ’s paired a gorgeous piece of sushi grade, sesame seed crusted, seared tuna with a wasabi vinaigrette with a touch of siracha, enhancing the earthiness in the wine while balancing the acidity and youthful tannins.
The Estate Pinot, the first wine Merriman created and made from only the best barrels produced each year, showed the characteristics of what you look for in Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – spice, ripe berry and cherry fruit with touches of cola and forest floor earthiness, yet was still soft and luscious without too much intensity, pairing well with potato and onion crusted Bay of Fundy salmon with shaved raw mushroom and fresh thyme broth, highlighting the earthy herbaceous flavors of the wine.
TJ’s has started holding these wine dinners every month, with French wines paired with the most seasonal seafood on the menu for next month. Visit TJ’s website to sign up for their email list to receive information on monthly dinners and specials.