I’m reasonably certain that everyone who reads Wine Review Online has had experience with pairing specific wines with certain foods—or if not experience, at least opinions about what to eat with what you drink. Since this is a topic that comes up so often in our wine-loving lives, I decided to take an informal survey to check in with other folks in the food and wine world about their experiences, principles, and even quirky preferences at the many points of connection between wine and food.
Owner, Ethos Restaurant, New York, NY
Ethos was closed for many months when so many Manhattan restaurants were shut down due to Covid but, happily, Ethos reopened this spring. According to owner Xenofon Lampryniadis, things are almost back to where they were in the “before times.”
“Mediterranean cuisine is coming back,” he said. “It had been slowly declining before Covid hit but it’s fully back now. In fact, it seems to be becoming more and more popular.”
Being an authentic Greek restaurant, the emphasis at Ethos is on seafood. The number one best seller here, says Lampryniadis, is fresh, whole fish such as branzino or sea bass, grilled, and seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, a touch of salt, plus lemon and capers. I can tell you from personal experience that the seafood options here tend to taste fresh and delicious (I also heard other customers enthusing over one of the lamb dishes).
Needless to say, a good Greek white wine is the ideal accompaniment to the seafood, and at Ethos there are multiple choices, from a variety of producers, including Greek grape varieties such Assyrtiko and Moschofilero. Several tasty red wine options are also available, both Greek and international.
On the relatively rare occasions when Lampryniadis has a chance to go home for the evening, he generally opts to have red meat for dinner. “I love seafood, but when I’m at home I often want something a little different—like steak. But I also like to sometimes try something Asian or European.”
When I ask what he likes to drink with his steak he has a one-word answer: Cabernet. Any particular label? “No. I am not very picky. Any good Cabernet is fine with me.”
Bartender, Ethos Restaurant, New York, NY
“My favorite pairing of food and wine would probably be a good steak with a good rosé wine. There’s something about a rosé that really helps the meat show off its rich, beefy flavor. I really like it when you can taste the berries in a wine. In a red wine I like to taste the coffee and the caramel that a steak tends to bring out, but with the right rosé you’ll get all that and so much more. I like the fruity, coffee, berry, peppery aspects of that food and wine combination. Everything is made better, everything comes together.”
Author, wine consultant and blogger (@ tartetatintales.com). She is the former owner of Cornerstone Communications, a Manhattan based public relations and event management agency specializing in premium wines, spirits, food and travel.
“My favorite wine and food pairing is sweet with salty. Think of foie gras and Sauternes or any sweet wine for that matter. What about sauerkraut, and pork sausages, German style, served with a Riesling? Or Chinese Dim Sum with a Gewurztraminer which, while not sweet per say, has a fruity quality which makes you think it is sweeter than it really is.
There are all sorts of classic examples of this, such as salty Roquefort cheese with a honeyed Sauternes. I first became enamored with this contrasting combination years ago on my honeymoon. My late husband, Ed Lauber, took me to Germany to visit his family—they make wine in the Mosel region—as well as to meet some of his suppliers. Among the people his company, Lauber Imports, represented was JJ Prum. While the owner, Manfred Prum, was very shy, he had no problem with going down into his cellar and pulling out multiple vintages of his Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett for us to taste. Manfred was a bachelor at the time, so he made no fuss presenting his luscious wines. He served them simply: with salty pretzel sticks. Manfred taught us that when a wine is exceptional, simplicity is the best way to showcase its pedigree and ethereal deliciousness.”
Harriet Lembeck is a Certified Wine Educator (CWE) and Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS). “It’s all pretty serious rather than a leisure interest for bankers,” wrote Jancis Robinson in her article about Harriet’s work in wine education in 2015.
“My food and wine pairings are very flexible, not strict,” Harriet told me. “First, I usually drink anything that’s open, such as leftovers, especially after we’ve had a brief tasting, or if there’s something that was opened from one of my wine classes: ‘Harriet Lembeck’s Wine & Spirits Program’ (shameless plug).
Next, if I find a big red with high alcohol, I’m not adverse to putting in a couple of splashes of water to cool it down. I always remind myself that wine is food, and they usually go together nicely. Just remember that there are no rules, and what you drink on a hot day can be different from what you drink on a cold day. Be brave!”
When I asked my Wine Review Online colleague Michael Apstein what his favorite food and wine pairing might be, these are some of the things I learned in the email he sent back. I have lightly edited some of the content.
“I typically am less concerned about food and wine pairing than I am about the quality of each. I remember ordering a German Spätlese at a restaurant that had a fairly boring menu but a wonderful list of mature German wines, so I decided to get one of them to go with the steak I’d ordered. That said, with food and wine pairing I typically embrace the more-is-better philosophy. For example, I opt to drink a rich white Burgundy like Corton Charlemagne with a rich, butter-drenched lobster. But showing flexibility last week, when I had a boatload of guests, I opened both a creamy white Burgundy and a mineral-infused Muscadet from the Clisson Cru to have with lobsters, and everyone voted for the firmer Muscadet. Chaque un a son gout—to each his own taste. As for red wine pairings of wine with food, I gravitate towards the leafy, mushroom-y flavors of mature red Burgundy to accompany something like simply grilled duck breasts.”
Founder of Carbonnier Communications, a platform that provides marketing, sales and communication services to wine, food and spirits producers.
“One of my favorite food and wine pairings is an aged Comté cheese along with a Vin Jaune, both originating from the Jura region in eastern France. Vin Jaune, made from the Jura’s native Savagnin grape, is typically aged in oak barrels for a minimum of six years and three months, under a cover of flor-like yeast. Vin Jaune may be something of a cult wine with its very distinctive aromas of walnut, green apple, dry fruit, exotic spices such as cumin, saffron and ginger — the closest thing to it is probably Manzanilla Sherry. Vin Jaune is packaged in a special, squat, 62 cl bottle (24 ounces) called Clavelin. The king of Vin Jaune is the famous Château Chalon, named after the ancient village of the same name, whose history is lost in time.”