Erica Landon, 31, is the wine director and general manager of Ten 01, a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner in Portland, Ore. Born and raised in Portland, Landon's career has taken her through some of the area's top wine destinations, including the Timberline Lodge, the Ponzi Family's Dundee Bistro and the Heathman Restaurant & Bar.
Landon says she loves all wines, but her heart is closest to her native state's top varietal, Pinot Noir. The four years she worked at the Dundee Bistro, located in the Willamette Valley, were some of the most influential on her professional development. There the Ponzi family fully supported her education, while the local winemakers insured that she received ample practical experience. She also serves on the board of directors for McMinnville's annual International Pinot Noir Celebration.
Wine Spectator: What first got you interested in wine?
Erica Landon: I got my feet wet working for the Acardi family at Gino's here in Portland. They have a great wine program; the wine list is a bible of Italian greats with pages of Barbaresco, Barolo and Brunello. As I became more enamored with wine, the owner showed me more of the workings of the cellar, list management and so on. But if there was one wine that hooked me to work with wine, it was a 1988 Chave Hermitage that I drank with Gary Andrus at the International Pinot Noir Celebration Salmon Bake one year. I stopped amidst a mad dash of tasting incredible wines from producers like DRC and Lafite and just sat there and relished the Chave …. It just caught me off guard.
WS: How did you become a sommelier?
EL: After working at the Timberline, I was hired as the general manager of Dundee Bistro. The Ponzi family, who owns the restaurant, was incredibly instrumental in supporting my wine education. They sponsored my sommelier classes with the International Sommelier Guild and the Culinary Institute of America.
WS: When you were at Dundee Bistro, what did you learn specifically from working so close to the vineyards?
EL: Once a week the entire restaurant staff would drive out to a winery early before service. We would tour the facility, barrel taste with the winemaker and taste the current releases. We received such an education on how wine is produced. The staff at Argyle taught us about dosage and disgorging. At Domaine Serene we participated in cork trials where Tony Rynders, the winemaker, had us smelling the different flavors that corks can impart in wine—now that is a wine geek! And once we had a tasting at Cristom winery where we compared different oak barrel producers and styles, whole cluster versus destemmed fruit, and the same vineyard blocks from two separate vintages.
WS: What is the hardest dish on the dinner menu at Ten 01 to pair with wine, and what do you pair with it?
EL: The chef's menu is challenging to pair wine with. For example, last summer we served a glazed Carlton pork belly with spring onions, baby artichokes and asparagus. I decided to pair a wine more toward the pork belly rather than the accompaniments since it was the main feature of the dish. I went with a Tavel rosé because it cut through the glaze, but it was also rich enough to stand up to the pork. And it paired well against the artichokes and asparagus, which are very sweet in the summer, because it's crisp, refreshing and dry.
WS: What is your personal go-to wine-and-food pairing?
EL: The sashimi of hamachi [at Ten 01] is served with a green apple-celeriac vinaigrette that is bright and crisp. It goes so well with Roditis, a white Greek wine, because it's also crisp and floral. The Greek wine is fun because most people haven't heard of it and it gives me an opportunity to introduce them to it. And in the end, the Roditis and the hamachi bring out the best in each other.
WS: Are there other lesser-known wine regions around the world that you think are also underappreciated?
EL: I also really enjoy the wines of Austria, especially Wachau. The Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings are wonderful wines and at a good price point. And, with all the great red wines too, I feel like there's something for every wine lover from there.
WS: How do you emphasize value on the wine lists that you assemble for the restaurant?
EL: Compared to the other restaurants in downtown Portland, especially the Pearl District, we have low markups. We use a sliding scale so we can offer a range of wines in each price category. It's a good balance of high-end, amazing wines that are hard to get and great values. We also have over 20 wines available by the glass and a large selection of half-bottles that adds even more diversity to the selection.
WS: What is your favorite wine region?
EL: Pinot Noir is generally my favorite varietal, but I have a problem … I live in Portland, but I really love Burgundy! I love Gevrey-Chambertain and Chambolle-Musigny. I love Rousseau and Roumier (if I could drink a dream wine it would be Roumier's 1990 Bonnes Mares). Mostly, I love the way a red Burgundy can balance its richness with a delicate palate and terroir. The history of the vines and the wines there are special and great producers, like Roumier, really know how to nail it. I am not overly biased though. I love all wine, and fairly equally … Cab Franc from the Loire is a current obsession for me, as well as Riesling from all over the world.
WS: How many bottles do you have in your own personal cellar, and what are some of your favorites?
EL: I have a mini-cellar with around 25 cases, and it includes a few special bottles like the 2000 Roumier Bonnes Mares and a 1995 Krug Clos des Mesnil—I love anything with bubbles! I also picked up some 2004 Burgundies as everyone was making way for the 2005. It's a great vintage to drink today.