Nov. 14 2014 05:26 PM

Themed pairings at the Marriott eatery are educational and tasty

Photo by Jen Van Tieghem

When I was invited to Wine Wednesday at Marina Kitchen in the Marriott Marquis (333 W. Harbor Drive), I wasn't sure what to expect. As it turned out, an educational tasting in the restaurant's chic wine room was a far cry from my typical midweek boozing (in sweats with my cat).

Each week, the wines are themed by region, upcoming holiday, price point, etc. Most Wine Wednesdays cost $20, while select dates include food pairings for $40, and classes are limited to an intimate dozen. 

On the day I sat with friends at sommelier Joshua Orr's long wooden table, the theme was the Pacific Northwest, which Orr said are worthy adversaries of California's popular wine regions. 

And he should know. We soon found out that Orr, an advanced sommelier, is the recent winner of the Guild of Sommeliers' Top|Somm competition and is preparing for his master sommelier exam. If he passes it, he'll be among the youngest to do so. Point is, the guy knows his wine.

As impressive as his résumé is, Orr is also very personable. With an easy-going manner, he set about convincing us that the Pacific Northwest might be the next Napa. With an audience that ranged in age from late 20s to 60s and whose wine experience probably varied similarly, Orr explained things in a way that was informative yet never condescending. 

Our tasting included two distinctly different Chardonnays, two Pinot Noirs, a Merlot and a red blend. Each pour was enough to taste and compare with another. We identified scents and flavors and, with our guide's help, articulated what we did or didn't enjoy. 

I found a particular highlight among the Pinots: the 2012 Bergstrom Silice from Willamette Valley, Oregon, with a peppery nose and a mouthful of decadent berries. Like any seasoned wino would, I quickly Googled it: While a price tag of more than $60 is a little much for me, the good news is the cost of the class is clearly a value.

An added bonus was the food that appeared on trays throughout the tasting, even though this wasn't a pairing night. A charcuterie board, crab cakes and a mind-blowing short-rib poutine appeared at opportune times. It seems the restaurant's kitchen sends pairable items during events—or maybe just whatever they happen to have in excess.

Finishing up the night, Orr had a special treat for us: a 2005 Cadence Ciel du Cheval from Red Mountain, Washington. The complex Bordeaux-style blend had me scribbling notes like "smoke," "eucalyptus" and "brown sugar." This, and several of the others, solidified Orr's thesis that Washington and Oregon's wines are up to California's standards, but with a relatively reasonable price tag. According to my homework, each bottle fell between $30 and $70. 

Overall, the event was a great balance of education and fun, with tasty wines, sumptuous snacking and a kind, knowledgeable host. If you're interested in checking it out for yourself, there are tastings on Nov. 19 and Dec. 3, 10 and 17. Get all the details here

Write to and Follow her on Twitter at @Jen_VT.


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