Corks+Forks: The Whale Wins’ Sardine Toast and Côtes de Gascogne Blanc

Vegetable-inclined French Fare From A Locally-Grown Chef and Southwestern French White.

Floor-to-ceiling windows flood light into the main dining room of Fremont’s most recent culinary development, The Whale Wins. Cool and soothing shades of blue paint the restaurant with an affability mirrored by the effervescent staff and the aromas of something salty roasting in the wood-fire oven draw diners in closer. It doesn’t hurt that the ceiling has a light fixture hanging above the window-seat tables that reads “HELLO HELLO” and ties in the congenial vibe even more so that owner Renee Erickson keeps congruent through all of her restaurant concepts (see Boat Street Cafe and The Walrus and the Carpenter).

Beyond the comforting senses of sight, The Whale Wins offers cuisine (so taste and smell) to coax many of the worried dietary minds these days – the vegetable-heavy menu adheres to many vegetarians, the fish courses satisfy the needs of non-red meat-eaters and gluten-free options are abundant.

Bright lights, big dining room at The Whale Wins.

With the veggie theme in the vibrantly ornamented bistro, it isn’t a surprise to find a bright white wine-focused list. Although the wines are distinctly European, several of the suds served have production sites within walking distance (Hilliards, Maritime and Fremont) and there are tallboys to take it further back to a homelike brew tranquility. Cocktails are simple, boiled down to a handful of ornate and unique ingredients like French apple brandy, aquavit and syrups from black tea and quince.

Erickson, an award-winning local chef and now three-store restauranteur, states on her website that: “The Whale Wins will be a warm, approachable, neighborhood restaurant.” She went on to say she and her partners aimed to create an environment were people could enjoy good drink and “flavorful, ingredient-focused food with friends and family.”

The Dish: Sardine Toast ($8) — Two bulky, whole boneless sardines are laid on top of a piece of toast slathered in curried tomato paste then accessorized with a shaved fennel and parsley salad. Light yet satisfying and chalked full of flavor from the briny fish to the sweet curry paste and licorice-hued fennel.

Salty fish calls for a steely white.

The Variety: Ugni Blanc — Known also as Trebbiano, Falanghina and more, Ugni Blanc might be more commonly known by its other name: Cognac. It is the second most widely planted grape on the planet and is the base to Cognac, the Ugni Blanc distilled brandy. It’s laser acidity makes it a necessary component to the rich spirit, however, makes it stand strong on its own. Crisp in citrus, clean with floral tones and mineral, and no-nonsense with excess fruit, Ugni Blanc is also the base to some vodkas, like Cîroc and Dolce Touch.

Why It Works: Salty creatures of the sea often need fresh, bracing beverage counterparts. Ugni Blanc from the Côtes de Gascogne is that wine – although declassified as “country wine,” the juice is zesty with acidity, floral notes are drying and the fruit is subtle behind striking limestone minerality.

The Recommended Match: Domaine des Cassagnoles Côtes de Gascogne Blanc ($10) — A citrus explosion of grapefruit that simmers down into a glaze of limestone, saltwater and white pepper tones. This wine straddles a fine line between elegant and austere with its minerality, which is ideal to line up with the saline characteristics of sardines.

The Whale Wins | 3506 Stone Way N, Seattle | (206) 632-9425