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West Coast Cuisine

Food, Spices & Wine

West Coast cuisine, also known as Pacific Northwest Cuisine, is all about the fresh, local ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest and West Coast areas of the United States and Canada - namely British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and northern California.

west coast-3West Coast cuisine should not be confused with California cuisine or Nouveau Cuisine, though several characteristics are common to both.

West Coast cuisine takes its cue from the lush, majestic natural environments found in the region that inspired it. Split latitudinally by the Cascade mountains, the Pacific Northwest area boasts rich farmland, temperate rainforests, and the seafood-rich Pacific Ocean to the west, and lush orchards and vineyards to the east. 

The results of marrying both bounties is a culinary match made in heaven. The wine-growing and producing areas of the world quite naturally produce some of the greatest Chefs, and the West Coast is no exception. British Columbia's famous Okanagan Valley, and the many equally famous wine-growing regions of Washington and Oregon States are producing some of the finest wines and best restaurants in the world.

Salmon figures prominently in West Coast cuisine, followed closely by halibut (above), mussels, shrimp and other seafood. The Gulf and San Juan Islands, with their plethora of producing and boutique farms produce world-famous lamb, specialty cheeses and herbs. Inland farms produce all manner of produce and some of the best-known fruit orchards in either country. Washington State and British Columbia are both known for their apples, and the Okanagan Valley, with its dry, Mediterranean climate has some of the biggest fruit orchards on the continent.

Extraordinary Weather, Extraordinary Cuisine

Heavy rains that fall on the west side of the range keep the super-rich soil producing crops almost year-round. Fresh herbs, mushrooms, berries, and untold other ingredients provide never-ending, ever-changing, fresh and flavorful inspiration for cooks and foodies of all inclinations.

blue mountain wineryFamiliar wine varietals like Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Semillon, Gewurztraminer and Reisling produce gorgeous award-winning West Coast wines. 

Lesser-known varietals like Ehrenfelser, Muller Thurgau, Pinot Auxerrois, Vidal, Madelaine Angevine and  Sylvaner, Lemberger, Marachal Foch, Pinot Meunier Siegerrebe, Schonburger, and Viogner have adapted beautifully to the region (many chosen specifically for their cold-hardiness) and are winning international awards.

Family-run, new world boutique vineyards like Blue MountainVineyards of Okanagan Falls, British Columbia (above), have been winning international awards, in blind tastings against some of the finest old world wineries in Europe.  

As with all cuisines, pairing wine with West Coast cuisine begins with finding balance. Match the weight of the wine to the weight of the food, taking cues from the range of herbs and spices used and the method of preparation. Unlike most other cuisines, West Coast cuisine focuses more on the inherent qualities of the ingredients themselves and less on heavy spice blends. The wines of the region therefore are sympathetic to the cuisine, so it makes sense to start there. Many regional restaurants, anxious to showcase local wines, offer wine-paired menus that change with the seasons and have developed their own micro regional cuisines that focus just on ingredients produced by local suppliers and growers.

A lighter wine like Ehrenfelser or Pinot Blanc would pair well with lighter dishes like grilled halibut and asparagus, while a baked salmon or rich risotto dish might fair better with a buttery Chardonnay or a Shiraz. Pair dishes that contain a great deal of high-acid citrus and un-cooked tomato with a balanced acid wine like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Auxerrois. Dishes with a touch of sweetness pair better with wines with some residual sugar, but less perceived sweetness than the dish - a Washington State Viognier perhaps. Highly seasoned foods, less popular in West Coast cuisine pair well with low-tanning, lower alcohol-content wines. Naturally rich foods like some seafood and game generally pair well with full-bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah, and of course Chardonnay.

Salmon is King

Salmon shows up on most West Coast menus and offers a range of wine pairing possibilities. Pair with wine according to method of preparation. Salmon's fatty flesh goes well with a clean, crisp wine that will tone down the oiliness. Most West Coast white wines are good salmon pairing possibilities, as is of course, Champagne. When preparing salmon at home, consider off-setting its fattiness with acidic ingredients like citrus and then match with a wine that is equal in acidity. Vouvray's compliment salmon dishes that have a touch of sweetness. Grilled salmon pairs very well with Pinots, Beaujolais and Barbera's - not regional wines, but excellent pairing possibilities none-the-less. When in doubt try a lovely Pinot Noir.

ice wine grapesThe Pacific West Coast produces some of the best ice wines and late harvest wines in the world and there are several festivals each winter dedicated to celebrating the harvest and pairing newly opened vintages with local cuisines. These specialty wines, generally white, are produced in very small batches and are generally very expensive.

Select grapes are left on the vines to shrivel (right) so there is very little water in the fruit but high concentrations of natural sugars. The grapes are picked at exactly the right moment, when frozen, and then pressed immediately to produce beautiful dessert wines with hyper-concentrated taste and aroma. Just a few drops of grape juice come from each late harvest grape, therefore a very large quantity of grapes is needed to produce each bottle. Bottles are generally half or quarter the size.

Ice and late harvest wines made from grapes and sometimes fruit, are considered desserts in themselves and are therefore most often enjoyed on their own, or with fresh fruit or cheese desserts like a blue cheese and pear tart.