Peter Greerty was raised in the heart of the Napa Valley in St. Helena, California. His restaurant career has led him to such places as Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, and the Ritz-Carlton Boston, where he was the Director of Wine & Spirits for the hotel. He currently is the sommelier of Bong Su, a new Vietnamese restaurant in SoMa. Bong Su was recently named one of the twenty “Best New Restaurants” by John Mariani of “Esquire” magazine, and the restaurant also just received the Wine Enthusiast Grand Wine List Award.
Family-style dining is about sharing the company of family and friends while sitting around the table eating dishes that are comforting. Bottles of wine are poured freely without care or reason. It’s about the conversation, not perfect food and wine pairings for each course; for the average diner, these are often minor details of little concern or consequence.
However, over the past several years, restaurants have started to downplay
the emphasis on design and the white tablecloth. Concepts are more
focused on what are the changing desires of today’s diner, with an emphasis on regional cuisine, seen in both the menu and the wine list.
Restaurateurs have designed menus and wine lists to complement each other.
An Alsatian Pinot Gris will be placed on a wine list because
you can drink it with a cod brandade and a fresh melon salad,
while a Mendoza Malbec can go with roasted sea bass with fennel
and a rotisserie rosemary leg of lamb.
While I don’t purposely pair white wine with a grilled steak to prove some senseless point, I do, quite often, pair fish with red wine depending on the preparation of the fish. And there are definitely wines that can bridge the gap between fish and meat.
Bridging the gap of dishes with a common wine is not as mainstream as
we may think—we just need to think outside of the box. A table with Vietnamese crab and garlic noodles and aromatic spiced Kobe beef pho can be bridged
by a Russian River Pinot Noir with its bright red cherries and
delicate allspice aromas and flavors. A dish of Andalusian shrimp
with sherry and another of braised oxtail with piquillo peppers
can be complemented by a Sicilian Nero d’Avola, loaded with spicy roasted tomato aromas and ripe plum flavors. And let’s not forget how amazingly a nice dry brut Champagne can tie together a fresh Dungeness crab salad with celery and tarragon, accompanied by a classic steak tartar with red onions, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce.
There are, of course, the more common and well-known pairings: for example,
Alsatian and German Rieslings pair well with Asian cuisine. Napa
Valley Cabernet and Zinfandels pair well with grilled meats and
vegetables, and Burgundian Pinot Noirs pair well with most mushroom dishes.
There are many criteria for judging which wines will work well for
multiple pairings. For me, the best wines for food pairings are
always wines with good balance and structure. The wine should
hit you in the front palate, the mid palate and on the finish.
The finish should be long, and the wine should be better 20 minutes
after it has been opened. There should also be a good amount of
acidity to bring out the flavors of the dish you are eating. A
good food wine should never have so much of one component that
it overpowers the dish. And finally, a good food wine should complement
the food you’re eating—they should play nice, and bring out the best in each other.
As a restaurateur once told me in Beaune, “Always choose your wine
before your food.” I don’t stick to this rule necessarily, but it does work pretty well.
Happy eating and drinking!