The List: Redefining the Steakhouse Wine at Miller's Guild

Courtesy of Miller's Guild

Happy surprises abound at this hip Seattle steakhouse. 

What is a crab? It is a hard-shelled, sharp-clawed thing that scuttles across the silt, bottom-feeding and fighting to the death. And, yet, when it is hauled up, clacking and raging, it yields the sweetest meat. It’s this meat that, in season, made a lovely, mannered Dungeness crab cake, topped with a julienne of apples and fennel, at the crowd-pleasing Seattle steakhouse Miller’s Guild.

An anchor to downtown’s Hotel Max, Miller’s Guild is all high ceilings, chalkboard scrawl, and dark woods. The decor frames what another writer might have started her story with: the grill. This 2,500-pound Steampunk colossus flexes its applewood, mesquite, and oak charcoal flames with the help of tattooed, serious men who hand-crank the gears that lift and lower the iron grates, stoke the coals into sparking auroras, and test steaks’ temperatures by plunging a metal probe into the meat and touching it to their lips. Grab a front-row seat at the open kitchen’s counter and let their drama take you.

But don’t neglect the wine.

I began my story with that crab cake because the glass that Miller’s Guild partner and manager Jake Kosseff paired it with blew me away. It was a Soave—not a DOCG I adore—but the Anselmi Capitol Croce 2009 grabbed onto my nose first and then my palate. Rather than wrestling that crab or succumbing to it, it met the crustacean’s sea-floor funk, and the sweet beneath the shell, exactly. The Anselmi is 100-percent garganega, a grape that, over time, can reveal a randy complexity. This is a Soave that drinks like a gewurtztraminer, with a petrol nose and a pungent, dry palate. It’s wild and yet approachable. The wine list at Miller’s Guild is full of happy surprises like this. You think you know steakhouse wines. And then Kosseff throws you for a quaffable loop.

“That Soave is a little old,” he told me, working the floor with a smile. “And usually people drink them really young, but if the Soave has some age on it, all this stuff comes out, all the funky flavors and aromatics.”

Soave? you ask. Isn’t that awfully girly for a steakhouse? What about the Super Tuscans? The Washington State syrahs? Oh, they’re here. But the pinot noirs are as prominent as the bigger reds on Kosseff’s wine list—and that says a lot about his sensibilities as a sommelier.

“All they eat in Burgundy is beef, so the pinot makes sense,” says Kosseff, who is using his list to train the American steak lover’s blunt palate to brisker, more-nuanced reds—ones that doesn’t crush the meal with heavy fruit and wood, but rather allow the flavor of the beef to shine.

It’s a menu with some fun gimmicks. I was dining alone, but had I been with a group, I might have gone for broke with one of Kosseff’s vertical flights: multiple years of the same wine—say, the minerally Domaine de Sang de Cailloux, from a natural winemaker in the southern Rhône; or a perennial favorite like Dominus, Christian Moueix’s elegant Napa Valley cabernet, here in vintages dating back to 1999. Boxed out on the list and concisely summarized, these flights help sell the wines, but they also offer a teaching moment for budding eonophiles, who can select their favorite vintage or compare a few.

“I want it to feel friendly and comfortable, and not highfalutin' or dogmatic,” Kosseff, a former Best Young Sommelier of America, explained. And the relationship he builds with the producers this way can only help him when he’s looking for more of their wines.

The flip side to the focused flights is the remainder of the list’s well-curated diversity, a boon to a drinker who wants to match the glass precisely to their experience of the meat. With the steak, Kosseff poured me a trio of wines, starting with a 2009 Eveningland Vosne-Romanée. It was a gorgeous Burgundian pinot noir, earthy and bright, balanced and polished. But I felt it was stampeded by the beef: a 16-ounce boneless ribeye from Montana’s Meyer Ranch, wet-aged and pillowy-soft with a purity of flavor that took to a righteous salting.

I wanted a wine with more depth. I would have enjoyed Kosseff’s second pour, a Nicolas Perrin Crozes-Hermitage 2012, with a winter stew. A raisiny syrah from the Southern Rhône, it went better with a side of earthy black barley than the steak. But three was a charm. This time, Kosseff subverted my expectations of another wine varietal I’m not the biggest fan of: Argentinian malbec.

“Most are so boring,” Kosseff agreed. But the Luigi Bosca Malbec 2010, made from grapes grown at Finca La Linda in Vistalba exhibited none of the overripened, over-oaked dullness of some other malbecs. Lavender, spice, pungency—it had just the depth, complexity, but also clarity to do that steak a solid.

It surprised me, and it delighted me, and I could still taste the beef. That, in my opinion, is the way a steak wine should work. With a list like this, there’s both sophisticated enjoyment and education. Here’s hoping more chophouse sommeliers follow Kosseff’s deft approach.

612 Stewart Street; 206-443-3663;

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Miller's Guild