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Tim Atkin

The Wine-List Inspector

At The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle gets wines as fresh as its seafood

Tim Atkin | January/February 2014

Ballard is an appropriate setting for one of Seattle’s best seafood restaurants. This old working-class neighbourhood is the historic home of the city’s Scandinavian-dominated fishing industry. Mind you, the neighbourhood has been transformed in the last decade, with new bars, condominiums and a vibrant music scene. These days, the tattoos are more Nirvana than Norwegian seadog.

It’s worth the long taxi-ride from the city centre to eat at The Walrus and the Carpenter, but be warned that you may have an even longer wait for a table. This noisy, bustling restaurant doesn’t take bookings and is justifiably popular. The focus here is oysters, fresh, plump and briny. But don’t miss out on the other, tapas-style seafood: the curried crawfish broth, Manila clams and smoked trout are particularly good.

The chef, Renée Erickson, also chooses the wines. Her list may not earn her many friends among local winemakersthere are only two Washington winesbut it will appeal to Europhiles. It’s a short, well-chosen selection, mostly French, with detours to Italy, Spain and Greece. Most of the wines are light-bodied and unoaked, with seafood-friendly acidity and minerality. And it’s good to see an American restaurant listing more adventurous grapes such as Assyrtiko, Chasselas and Mondeuse, rather than sticking to wall-to-wall Chardonnay and Cabernet.

Many of the 40-odd wines are available by the glass and pichet, as well as the bottle, which encourages diners to try different things. We had a fruity, pear-scented 2012 Idilico Albariño from Washington ($8 a glass, or £5), a tangy, saline 2012 Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko from Greece ($9), a pale, delicate 2012 La Bastide Blanche Bandol Rosé ($10), and a more assertive, raspberry and cherry fruity 2012 Domaine Sainte-Eugénie Corbières Rosé ($8).

We followed this with two reds: the surprisingly structured 2010 Trenel Saint Amour ($11), and a grassy, fragrant 2009 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny ($10). The Greek wine in particular is made for Erickson’s food.

For wine-lovers, there are two drawbacks. The first is that there’s no sommelier. This is not a crime in a small establishment, but the staff know more about sea cows and treasure coves than wine. The second is the cheap, tumbler-style glasses, which do the wines no favours. But these are quibbles. The Walrus and the Carpenter is worth queuing for.

thewalrusbar.com; around $30pp for three courses without wine

Where else to go and what to drink

SEASTAR

Sedate, hotel-based restaurant with stylish cuisine by John Howie. Around $68pp for two-course dinner
Best white: 2012 Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling, Columbia Valley One of the best Rieslings in Washington. Medium-bodied, off-dry, floral, intense and crispa lovely interplay between grapey sweetness and taut acidity. $54
Best red: 2010 Cristom Mt Jefferson Cuvée, Willamette Valley This is only the entry-point Pinot Noir from Steve Doerner’s outstanding Oregon winery, but it’s delicious: sappy, savoury and textured, with great perfume and considerable grace and elegance. Delicious with seafood, too. $69
seastarrestaurant.com

RN74

A wine-focused, bistro-style offshoot of the innovative San Francisco original. Around $57pp for two-course dinner
Best white: 2011 DeLille Chaleur Estate Blanc, Columbia Valley A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from superstar winemaker Chris Upchurch. Rich, complex and sensitively oaked with notes of fresh hay and lemon grass and a tang of grapefruity acidity. $73
Best red: 2010 Avennia Gravura, Columbia Valley Chris Peterson’s wines are among the most impressive Bordeaux blends in Washington state. Fresh, balanced and pure, with flavours of cassis and plum, fine tannins, and seamlessly integrated vanilla oak. $69
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