Red-Hot Wine and Grill Pairings at Seattle’s Miller’s Guild

Walk into Miller’s Guild, and the first thing you notice is the massive, wood-fired grill. Admire its sheer size as you settle into your seat, and rest assured that James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson knows what he’s doing with it. The grill’s prominent display, paired with the dark wood and metal accents that make up the restaurant’s decor, help to make Miller’s Guild the rugged and undeniably cool culinary powerhouse it is in Seattle.

And just as Jason Wilson knows his grill, sommelier and Miller’s Guild partner Jake Kosseff knows the wines that the en fuego beast requires. We chatted with Kosseff about the unique wine list he’s created for Miller’s Guild, the holy matrimony of grill and wine, and — of course — a little about why he’s loving Rueda and Ribera wines.

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Miller’s Guild has a menu and decor that is distinctly rugged, with everything having a hand-crafted feel.  Do the wines on your wine list follow suit?

We like to think of Miller’s Guild as representing the more rugged luxury of handcrafted things, as opposed to the smooth lines and general evenness of mass-produced things.  In this sense, our wine absolutely follows suit. We are looking for wines in which the character of the land, the grower, and the winemaker all show, as opposed to wines that are designed to be smooth at all costs, or to cater to trends.  We strive to ensure that every part of the experience at Miller’s Guild is authentic and soulful.

Obviously the grill is a huge part of the menu and overall experience at Miller’s Guild. What is the golden rule when you’re pairing wine with grilled food?

The absolute most important thing is that the wine has layers of flavor. The grill (the way that we use it) doesn’t dominate the flavors of the things we cook, but it adds a lot of intensity. We want to get the same things out of the wine — not the biggest flavors, but lots of them. Flavors that are consistent throughout your mouth, in the attack, the mid-palate, and the finish. This requires wines that are not only well flavored, but have a lot of character (smoother isn’t always better with our grill), and have balanced acidity and tannins (in the case of reds) so that the flavors carry through.

Ribera del Duero is the perfect match for our 90 day dry-aged bone in New York Strip steaks cooked on the grill.

Miller's Guild

Photo by Rina Jackson

If you had to pair the Rueda with one dish on your menu, what would it be and why? And the Ribera?

Rueda is the perfect match for our grilled romaine salad with brined Halibut Cheeks, pancetta and lemon/basil vinaigrette dressing. The bright fruitiness of the wine is the perfect foil for the rich saltiness of the fish and pancetta, and the grilled flavors on the lettuce. And the wine and salad dressing are in perfect harmony.

Ribera del Duero is the perfect match for our 90 day dry-aged bone in New York Strip steaks cooked on the grill. The smoky rich flavors of the grilled meat make the cherry and plum flavors in the wine explode, and the long, firm tannins are the perfect textural match for the marbling in the steaks. Both the steak and the wine taste even better when these two are put together.

From a varietal standpoint, what is it about Rueda/Verdejo and the Ribera del Duero tempranillo that drew you to them?

Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero is delicious because it has so many layers and the wines are so substantial, even the reasonably priced ones.  the wines are invariably rich, with deep, cherry and dried plum notes, tar and licorice that are often enhanced by sweetness and dark, spicy flavors from oak.  And there is a texture to Ribera del Duero wines as well: firm, long tannins that feel very noble in the mouth make it such a great pairing with rich meat dishes.

Rueda Verdejo has such an amazingly vibrant smell and flavor, that it makes me happy.  It’s like a field full of butterflies, you have to be really cynical not to smile when you find it.  The aromas of lemon, lime, hints of tropical or stone fruit, and the fresh, bracing palate, but often with more richness than other similarly crisp wines, make for a really delightful combination.

It’s like a field full of butterflies, you have to be really cynical not to smile when you find it.

For the average American wine drinker, what would be your advice when it comes to branching out and trying new types of wine? Any summer favorites?

Superior Wine and Grill Pairings at Miller's GuildMy advice to everyone is the same (and I find that experienced wine drinkers need it at least as much as “average” wine drinkers): Try something new . . . the worst thing that happens is that you don’t like it.  But more likely than not, it will expand your palate, and give you a new category of wines to like.  In a good restaurant, if a sommelier recommends a wine and you don’t like it, they will happily take it back.  So take advantage, and take the risk.

On a more practical note, if you want to lessen the risk that you don’t like something, try to keep a list in your head of wines you really do like, and maybe even try to be able to explain why you like them.  Use these to describe to an expert at a wine shop or a sommelier in a restaurant what you are looking for, then let them pick something similar, but trust their advice.

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