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COS Chronicle

“That special Cos twist”

ARTICLE -

Matthew Luczy was long torn between a career in music and one in gastronomy before finally opting for the latter, whereupon he honed his skills in Josiah Citrin’s two-Michelin-starred Los Angeles restaurant, Mélisse.
Now head of wine at Citrin and Mélisse, the thirty-two-year-old is one of the most savvy, original sommeliers on the California gourmet dining scene.

You received a Michelin Guide California Sommelier Award in 2021. How did your adventures in wine begin?

I first discovered wine at the age of nineteen and was immediately fascinated by its complexity. There are so many factors—history, art, climate, geology, agriculture, and science, to name a few—that contribute to the different ways in which a single grape variety may express itself.
It was the late 2000s when I began developing an interest in wine. The wine scene was buzzing in California, and it seemed like everyone was talking about it. That was when I heard the word “sommelier” for the first time and realized I could turn my passion into a professional pursuit.

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You knew right away that you wanted to become a sommelier?

One evening, almost by chance, I had dinner at Mélisse with some friends. After that meal, I not only knew I wanted to become a sommelier but that I wanted to become a sommelier at Mélisse.
I spent two years learning the trade while regularly going to ask for a job at Mélisse. They finally took me on, first a few times a week, and then full-time. I was named wine director in 2015.

What is the feeling at Mélisse, and what is the role of wine?

For a wine-lover, working at Mélisse is like working in a candy shop! The restaurant was created in 1999 by Chef Josiah Citrin. The cuisine blends several culinary traditions, including French techniques and Japanese influences, the latter driven by our second chef, Ken Takayama, with exceedingly fresh California ingredients.

From its creation, Mélisse has been one of the highlights of the southern California wine scene, for our wine list is extensive, and we pay special attention to service and food and wine pairing. Amateurs of fine wines often ask us to organize dinners around their private wine collections.

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You have another passion in life: music. What do wine and music have in common?

I hesitated between pursuing wine or music as a profession, and ended up going with the former. This may be why I think of wine, especially its texture and what it makes you feel, in musical terms. It is like the way sound engineers use equalizers to balance low, medium, and high frequencies. There are bright, dazzlingly fresh wines that are reminiscent of high frequencies, and dense, powerful, deep wines that are reminiscent of low bass frequencies.
It is a metaphor that works at many levels; a wine may feel like jazz, hip-hop, or rock music. The process of crafting wine can also be compared to making music, for both involve shaping raw material: in one case, sound, and in the other, fruit.

In either case, it is important to resist the temptation of going too far, for if the original material is over-manipulated, or if it is molded in a way that is contrary to its nature, it will not be able to reveal its essence or inherentbeauty in the same way.

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Cos d’Estournel stands out for the quality of its wines but also for the originality of its history and what it evokes in one’s imagination.

You are very familiar with the wines of Cos d’Estournel. What makes them different?

Cos d’Estournel is part of the Bordeaux elite. From one vintage to the next, Cos d’Estournel finds its harmony and balance without ever sacrificing its underlying personality. When you taste Cos, you feel the terroir and the fruit of the terroir; it is not one or the other. At Mélisse, we carry a magnificent vertical of Cos d’Estournel including the 1970, 1985, 1982, 1988, 1990, 1996, 2005, and 2010 vintages.

During dinners held by wine collectors, Cos is often served alongside Bordeaux’s first growth wines and it always holds its own, especially when it comes to the older vintages. I can recall in particular a highly memorable tasting of the 1966 vintage from Bordeaux that included several first growths and Cos d’Estournel. It is a wine that speaks for itself, whatever the preestablished hierarchy.

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Cos d’Estournel represents a very unusual universe in Bordeaux. Is this important for your clients?

Cos d’Estournel stands out for the quality of its wines but also for the originality of its history and what it evokes in one’s imagination. I love the label! It is very French, but it is also very unusual; it expresses that special Cos twist.
Whenever I serve Cos d’Estournel, I always talk about the history and unique character of the estate, because they are part of the tasting experience; they help make it memorable.

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You are an expert in food and wine pairings. What would you serve with the wines of Cos d’Estournel ?

With an older vintage of Cos d’Estournel, I would go against tradition and serve it with fish, perhaps a salmon with a tomatillo sauce. Tomatillos come from the same family as tomatoes but offer wonderful herbaceous aromas. Upon aging, Cos d’Estournel delivers the right texture of tannins to counterbalance the rich, intense texture and flavor of salmon, and the wine’s herbaceous notes recall those of the tomatillo.

With a Cos d’Estournel Blanc, which I love, I would serve one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, like our tomato soup with raspberry sorbet. The dish’s hot-cold temperature and herbaceous character would work very well with a Cos d’Estournel Blanc.

As for Pagodes de Cos, which is often enjoyed younger for a fuller expression of fruit, I would recommend serving it with something that would match its intensity, perhaps a more classic pairing, a generous, sapid dish like a ragout or braised lamb.

Let’s go back to music. What music and wine pairings would you suggest for the wines of Cos d’Estournel?

Cos d’Estournel’s very singular universe brings India and meditation to mind. I think it would work well with Brian Eno and his album Music For Airports, a magnificently hypnotic album that would be an excellent match for the depth of Cos d’Estournel.

Cos d’Estournel Blanc also evokes something dreamlike, but I would choose music with more vim and rhythm, like Re:member by Olafur Arnalds.

Finally, Pagodes de Cos requires more energy. It would be excellent with Nils Fahm and his album All Melody. There is that meditative element, but also a groove that matches the decisive personality of Pagodes.


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