Battle of the Sommeliers

Let the games begin.

This past Sunday, I had the honor and the privilege to travel to the magnificent restaurant at Fearrington Inn in Pittsboro, North Carolina to choose wines to pair with an elegant five-course menu created by Executive Chef Colin Bedford.

The catch:  each course would be paired with two wines, one that I had chosen and the other that Max Kast, Sommelier at Fearrington, had chosen.

The other catch, we didn’t get to look at the menu until exactly two hours prior to dinner.

What an amazing and challenging time it turned out to be.

At 4 p.m. on Sunday, Max and I met in the cellar where Chef Bedford relinquished the menu to us both at the exact same moment.  We were allowed to ask any questions about the preparations as well as taste any key components in the dish, i.e. Horseradish Foam, Verjus, Ice Wine gelee.  It was quite impressive to see the menu that was comprised of beautiful yet complicated elements for pairing wine, making it even more fun and exciting.

After a thorough examination of the menu with about two dozen questions answered, I was allowed to go into the cellar with Assistant Sommelier Paula to choose wines for each course.

Paula was patient and kind as I asked questions in regards to inventory and vintage.  She even opened a few bottles for me to taste so that I could confirm whether or not they would match the dish.

Because I am a daredevil, I only chose one wine that we also have on our list at On the Square.  The other four were wines I had yet to ever taste, and I was extremely excited about seeing the results.

Max, being the perfect gentleman that he is, chose his wines after I had chosen mine.  Partly because we see eye-to-eye on many things wine-related and partly because of the wine, we actually chose an identical bottle, although for different courses.

Of course, Max and Paula had already thought that could happen (although highly unlikely because of the depth of the list) so Max had to return to the cellar and choose another wine.  What a great guy to let the visitor have the advantage.

All in all, it was an extraordinary night.  Lively conversation, amazing food and incredible wines that we introduced before each course.  No one in the dining room knew who had chosen which wine, including my husband who was sitting at a table nervously casting his votes on paper.  Max and I even shook it up a bit by introducing one another’s matches so that no one had a clue as to who had chosen what.

The results:  I won two courses and Max won three, making him the champion sommelier of the evening.  For the full menu with wine pairings, please see below.  Note:  I am Wine A and Max is Wine B.

Oh, and for those of you who would like to know Stephen’s voting (because you know I checked), he voted for my pairings in every course except dessert.  The result:  he was allowed to sleep in the room with me at the end of the evening.

First Course

Smoked Arctic Char with Prosciutto & Ikura Roe

Beet, Mustard, Horseradish, Tapioca

Wine A-Leth Roter Veltliner, Hofweingarten, Wagram, Austria 2009

Wine B-Hans Wirsching Silvaner, Iphofer Julius-Echter-Berg, Franken, Germany 2009

Second Course

Salad of Wild Mushrooms with Celery Root & Shaved Foie Gras

Quail Egg, Truffle, Ice Wine, Salsify

Wine A-Enderle & Moll Pinot Noir, Baden, Germany 2009

Wine B-Sono Montenidoli “Il Caniuolo” Rose, Tuscany, Italy 2009

Main Course

Seared Striped Bass with Vichyssoise & Caviar Cream

Duck, Fennel, Yuzu, Hazelnut

Wine A-Azienda Agricola COS “Pithos” Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2009

Wine B-Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir, Franholz, Alsace, France 2008


Baked Chapel Hill Creamery New Moon with Truffle & Quince

Arugula, Celery, Walnut, Verjus

Wine A-Reichsgraf von Kesselstat Riesling Kabinett, Graacher Domprobst, Mosel, Germany 1997

Wine B-Westmalle “Trappist Ale,” Tripel, Belgium


Lemon & Vanilla Parfait with Pinenut Caramel

Marscapone, White Chocolate, Yoghurt

Wine A-La Yunta Torrontes Tardio, La Rioja, Mendoza, Argentina 2005

Wine B-Coffele “Le Sponde,” Recioto di Soave, Veneto, Italy 2009

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  • Christie Austin

    We were there and it was a wonderful, wonderful evening – more than four hours of wine and dine. What a challenge to have to choose, when either wine offering was excellent. It was interesting in that sometimes one wine was great for sipping/tasting, but we preferred the other at “pairing” with the food. Both sommeliers are so great, the choices were a tossup.