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Pairing Margerum Wines with Bento Boxes

Jul 03, 2023Jul 03, 2023

Los Olivos Tasting Room Serving Sushi and More by Jina and Brian Bae of BB Sushi

Given the tremendous range of flavors available in Japanese cuisine, from fresh to funky, savory to sweet, spicy to delicate, it’s confounding that sushi and its culinary counterparts are not already a regular part of pairing menus in wine country. Counteracting that unfortunate oversight is Margerum Wine Company’s new tasting room in Los Olivos, where customers can pre-order bento boxes that have been developed to match with Doug Margerum’s bottlings.

“I love everything about Japan, and I love my wine with Japanese food,” said Margerum, who’d just returned from his latest trip to the island country when we met to try the first official bento box together. “It was one of my best markets for so long, and COVID just killed it.”

While preparing to open this Los Olivos location — which is tiny, especially compared to the winery’s Funk Zone spread on East Mason Street — Margerum “wanted to do something completely different than any other place in town.” Sushi was a novel choice. “I don’t think it exists,” he said when asked if other tasting rooms served it.

He reached out to Jina Bae, the former chef at A-Ru in Buellton. With the help of her son Brian, Bae now sells their creations directly to customers out of the Los Olivos Grocery under the name Sushi BB. Margerum took his team over to figure out the bento box, explaining, “She laid out a picnic table full of food, and we brought the wines.”

They created a $150, five-course meal for two, which must be ordered a day in advance of your visit. After we chose between metal and wooden chopsticks, our box started with a crispy soy paper roll full of Dungeness crab baked in vanilla bean sauce, paired with the similarly crisp Barden blanc de blancs sparkling wine. The yuzu kosho yellowtail that followed was washed down by the zesty Sybarite sauvignon blanc, and then came unagi, yet the sweet-smoky eel didn’t come with a red wine.

“If you had told me intellectually that this worked with the M5 White, I would have said no,” explained Margerum of how the white blend somehow matched the rich meat. “There’s a little bitterness in Rhône whites that work with that sweetness. That was the big surprise of our original tasting.”

We got into reds after that, namely the M5 red blend that played against the richness of the bluefin tuna with shiso, avo, and umeboshi in sesame dressing — “there’s a roast beef quality there,” said Margerum — and the Barden pinot noir with the bulgogi pork dish. That freshly styled red cleaned up the Korean spice well.

There’s also the option to order Kumamoto oysters alongside a bottle of that blanc de blancs. That $90 combo comes topped with finely sliced scallions, a tiny drip of sriracha, and, if needed, lemon juice and ponzu sauces on the side. They were seafoam fresh, a refreshing option for hotter days, or just to kick off your meal, like we did. “Oh,” moaned Margerum as he slurped the shellfish down followed by the sparkling, “That’s a nice match.”

As to why he needed a second tasting room at all, there are myriad reasons. “People would come to wine country and ask about the tasting room, and we’d have to tell them it was 45 minutes south,” said Margerum of the Santa Barbara hub, which remains a busy place.

But Los Olivos will also serve as a place for people to pick up wine club shipments, for wine industry professionals who visit the Santa Ynez Valley to stop by, and as a jumping-off point for touring his estate vineyard, located just a couple minutes away. “It’s a little extra credit for us, and a place to be able to entertain visitors,” said Margerum, who recently moved to the town himself.

Plus, the valley is evolving. “Mattei’s is a game-changer,” said Margerum of the recently opened resort. “It’s bringing another population to town that’s definitely our demographic.”

Presumably, they’re of a class that likes oysters and sushi. “It does require a little planning,” said Margerum of the need to order oysters and bento boxes at least a day in advance. “But it makes this a must-visit.”

Margerum Los Olivos Tasting Room, 2446 Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos; (805) 504-1209;