Seasonal Wine Pairing Tips from Davenport's Kurt Heilemann

By Kaitlin Ohlinger, Foodable Contributor

Ask Davenport’s wine mind Kurt Heilemann about his background and here’s what you’ll receive: “I’ve been around town for a while…”

Indeed, it is the whole truth. However much downplayed, it is doubtful that his regulars would blink at the lack of initials following his name. “As for being a Somm, I never paid the fees to take the tests, so I guess in that sense technically I'm not. I’m just the wine guy, the house drunk, the local wino. I'm definitely not one of the cool kids, I just do what I do.”

With the rise of the celebrity Somm culture, Heilemann is a rare breed. Likewise, Davenport has a refreshingly simple and pure style. Its vibe is decidedly European cozy; there’s no better doorstep to darken once the weather turns cool than this dimly lit, snug space. So what gets Kurt going when it comes time to bust out his wine chops this time of year?

Fall Ingredients Galore

“For me this is my favorite time of year food and wine wise," says Heilemann. "Seriously, look around. We have the best of the late summer goodies hanging around with beautiful tomatoes and peppers and such, and at the same time chanterelles and shelling beans are showing up. You can put together a meal that bridges the vivacity of summer with the comfort of fall so easily. [There is a] slow evolution into the ability to actually have food to go with the wines we have been ignoring while we sweated out this summer.” And as we all recall, it was a hot one. 

Bigger Isn't Always Better

We have extended Indian Summer capabilities here in Portland, plus our weather patters are sometimes a little ADD: you can be enjoying a 65-degree sunny day and a brisk, chilly night all the way into November. There’s no reason to ignore the beautiful charms of a light, high-acid red that can bridge the gap between late fall and early winter.

“We aren't in the heart of winter yet, so why jump into those wines? I’m not popping giant Bandol or Barolo or anything of the sort just yet. Sure, everyone says it is time for reds, but not just reds. Lets talk Nerello Mascalese from Etna, or lighter bodied goodies from Chinon or Samur, or a wonderful little Langhe Nebbiolo. Nothing too heavy yet, that is what December and January are for. It is also the time for the more powerful whites of the world. White Rhone, always White Burgundy or some of those love/hate creations out of the Jura.”

Don’t Lose Sight of White Wine 

Most wine people will gladly profess their love of white wine year-round, and Kurt is no exception. “In some ways I almost feel as though it is easier to drink white in the winter than red in the summer. As the seasons change there are more and more foods that call for a red wine, but there are always those that cross the lines. If I had to choose a "house wine" to drink all winter long, I'm going for the Guiberteau Samur Blanc… such a pretty Chenin, plus its affordable and it puts a smile on my face.” With a sales pitch like that, who could resist?

Does Tradition Trump All?

Tradition is definitely a clear theme you’ll find in Davenport’s food and wine selection. Their Hungarian Goulash is a consistent favorite among diners and local food press. Kurt calls himself a curmudgeon, but if respecting Old World wine tradition makes him a curmudgeon, clearly he’s not the only one. “There is a reason the Burgundy and Piedmont and the Loire are what they are. I know it isn't all that "exciting," but Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Nebbiolo, Chenin Blanc and Syrah from the Northern Rhone deliver. There are a lot of people pushing boundaries, exploring, innovating. I respect that, but I guess I’m a little bit old school.”

When it comes to fall, most people enjoy a touch of nostalgia. Comfort food, ingredients they haven’t had since last year, and warming flavors. A perfect mate for Old World wines. If there is any kind of theme to be found at Davenport, and in Heilemann’s wine sensibilities, it’s that getting back to one's roots can be incredibly rewarding. Someone who doesn’t fuss with titles or certifications; that simply does what they do. A wine list that doesn’t try to be trendy or gregarious, but instead offers the essence of what wine is: an experience meant to be enjoyed on an individual, unique level. Humble simplicity is what makes Davenport special.