When pairing food and wine, Greg Claus has some simple advice.
“Think outside the bottle,” said Claus, executive chef at Revolve Food & Wine in Bothell.
He simply combines the wine he likes with the food he likes.
The challenge for him is making as many as 40 customers happy at Revolve’s monthly five-course dinners featuring regional winemakers. But the philosophy still works wonders.
“You pick what you like, and you work with it,” he said. “There are times where you get a pairing that works so well that it’s almost mind-blowing.”
Claus, 58, said food and wine have a symbiotic relationship — they enhance each other.
“The pairings are meant to elevate each item,” he said. “The food is supposed to make the wine taste better, and vice versa. Pairing is often made out to be way more difficult than it is. You want to make sure the food doesn’t overpower the wine, or the other way around. It’s just finding a balance.”
Claus, a chef for more than 40 years, curates an eclectic menu of American cuisine. He starts with the wine and takes into account the characteristics of the grape varieties, which often come from all over the world.
His favorite aromas to experiment with are vanilla, cinnamon, lavender, cumin and black pepper. He also pays attention to subtle details, such as whether the wine has earthy, fruity or floral notes, and the region in which the grapes were grown.
“The region or the grape is going to produce certain notes you can always count on, whether it’s Bordeaux, Alsace or Napa Valley,” he said. “There’s amazing stuff coming out of Washington. I don’t need to go to Spain or France to find my pairing.”
Claus doesn’t adhere to conventional wisdom about pairing food and wine, like white wine with seafood and red wine with beef.
“I like to find ways around that,” he said.
For example, he once paired a Portuguese port wine with pepperoni pizza.
“It was really good,” he said. “Who would think to drink port wine with pizza?”
With practice, he said, the pairings will eventually become like second nature.
Claus recommended three pairings to try, with two wines from Kirkland’s Northwest Cellars and a Spanish bottling. The Kirkland vintner will be featured at Revolve’s next winemaker event, Feb. 9 at the Bothell restaurant.
Steak au poivre with Northwest Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2014: The steak’s strong peppery flavors pair well with the subtle notes of vanilla in the wine, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and carmenere.
“You might think the pepper is going to overpower everything, but then when you taste it, the wine rides over the tongue and the tastebuds,” Claus said. “It’s almost like euphoria.”
Manila clams and braised pork belly with Northwest Cellars’ 2018 Leggiero Rosé: A syrah-led blend accentuates the briny flavor of the clams and the fat of the pork belly, and follows with a smooth finish.
“The wine cuts through the fat and actually opens up the flavors of saltiness,” Claus said. “You can actually taste all that at the same time.”
Claus added that the sweet aroma from the wine — which will smell like a white rose petal if blended with syrah, grenache and cinsault — makes the palate all the more surprising.
Cheese, olives, almonds and Zestos Old Vines Garnacha 2016: One of Claus’ favorite pairings is a cheese board — with goat and gouda cheese, Kalamata, picholine and cerignola olives, and marcona almonds — with a Spanish-style garnacha wine.
Claus said the garnacha’s smokey and earthy flavors perfectly complement creamy cheeses. “I wanted to find one wine that was complementary to all (the) cheeses on the board,” he said.
His preferred goat cheese? Find one that is soft-ripened and cave-aged, which gives the cheese a more savory flavor and is similar in texture to cheddar. A lightly aged cheese with a fudge-like texture and tangy flavor, such as Humboldt Fog, also works.
Claus likes to roast the marcona almonds and dress them with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
Revolve Food and Wine, 10024 Main St., Bothell, hosts monthly winemaker events. The next one is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 9. The featured winery is Kirkland’s Northwest Cellars. Tickets are $110-$140. Call 425-287-6420 or go to www.revolvefoodwine.com for more.