Talk of the Town: A Toast to Sommelier of the Year Kristen Young

Photo: Adam Eschbach

Seattleite clinks wine glasses with Sommelier of the Year, Kristen Young.

It was raining in Seattle. The sky had opened up and released its full fury to truly embody “April Showers.” Completely unaffected, the Waterfront Seafood Grill was bustling and vibing on Pier 70 to the tune of wine glasses chiming. Much of that was due to wine director Kristen Young loading up a few glasses of sparkling wine.

Photo: Adam Eschbach

“I love bubbles,” Young said sheepishly. “They go great with everything.”

Modest and bright, Young does not wear her Court of Masters or International Sommelier Guild certification pins. She said she has them, they just stay at home instead of visibly posted on her lapel to denote her distinction of wine excellence.

Seattle has decided to boast that for her. Dubbed Sommelier of the Year in the 2011 Washington Wine Restaurant Awards last month, Young gladly accepted her honor, and now raving press has followed with it. Her restaurant, the Waterfront Seafood Grill, took home the Wine Grand Award as well.

She is the first woman to receive the distinction in the award’s nine-year history. Amongst a sea of men in her field, Young tends to see things a little bit differently than her more masculine peers.

“People like to make such a fuss about wine,” Young said. “When, really, they’re just grapes from a farm. That’s all it is.”

Cool, unassuming and whip-smart (she also has a degree in Business Administration from the University of Toledo), Young is making her mark in the Northwest wine world. With this addition to her repertoire, she also runs her renowned “Boot Camp” wine training for her staff and the public, she is a judge for the Seattle Wine Awards and the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon, and all the while maintains a staff of nearly 20 certified sommeliers and a dexterous wine list at the Waterfront.

“We want to put the most focus (of our wine list) on the producers we love,” Young said. “We want a list that’s easy to read and easy to navigate.”

Young said the days of the 30-page wine list are over. “It’s an instant world, people want to do more with the 24 hours of their day,” Young said. “We want to offer a list that’s friendly, and we’re there to guide them along the way if need be.”

Seattleite took full advantage of following Young as she directed tables on the floor of her panoramic view restaurant during the rush of a Friday evening. Although the camera flash and an entourage may have been off-putting for some guests, Young handled the tables with grace and skill, making sure not to coddle but lead them to the best food and wine pairing available.

Photo: Adam Eschbach

“Kristin has the approachable elegance and knowledge to bring a wine to the table and interest them into wanting it,” general manager Siv Mennen said of her wine director. “It’s all exhibited by her passion for making sure each guest’s experience is enhanced by a perfect pairing or by encouraging them to try something new.”

We got Kristen to ourselves in the private and picturesque North Bay dining room of the Waterfront and had her lay out her choice selections from her handpicked wine menu.

The Wine: Jaillance Cremant de Bordeaux Rose NV: “This is one of my all-time favorites. I think it has a little bit of tootsie roll and dried raspberry; it’s super versatile.”

The Food Pairing: “It’s fantastic with an ahi tartare, spicy fried chicken, oysters and salmon, but it has enough body to start up with little sliders. It’s a no-brainer because bubbles go with everything.”

The Wine: Buty 2009 Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay: “These are really great people and wines. It’s not over-oaked. It has the big texture people are looking for but it’s really bright and clean.”

The Food Pairing: “It’s great with halibut because you need the acid (from the wine) to cut through the fat. It’s fresh, it’s clean and it tastes like you’re biting into a ripe red apple.”

The Wine: W.T. Vintners 2008 Gorgeous Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills: “It’s subtle and smart, grateful for what it is but not overbearing. Plum, fig, baking spice and herbal notes that smell like a bath you’re drawing for your girlfriend.”

The Food Pairing: “Lower in alcohol, it’s a perfect Syrah for a seafood joint. Pair it with salmon, Arctic char, lamb, beefy slider, cheese. Or on it’s own as a liquid course… This wine is for people who want to eat seafood, but want to have red wine.”

In her “staff load of wine geeks,” Young is fondly referred to as “the SOY” after receiving her Sommelier of the Year award. Through the humor and support of her team — and maybe a few sips of bubbles along the way — she manages to stay grounded with her true passion for wine and genuine love of those “grapes from a farm.”

Waterfront Seafood Grill | 2801, Alaskan Way, Pier 70, Seattle | (206) 956-9171