Home cooking and wine should go hand-in-hand. Don’t get hung up on what you should be drinking, just pour a glass and take a bite. Below, a trio of local wine education experts share their suggestions for light meals and appetizers and the vino to accompany them.
“Sparkling wine is very versatile. Cremant, a French sparkling wine, is less expensive than Champagne, a little lighter and can be found all over France, “ says Peter Ward, wine consultant for Just Simply…Cuisine in Woodley Park. Another less expensive sparkler is Italian Prosecco, which Ward says is great for salty food such as bruschetta with pesto and fresh tomatoes.
Just Simply…Cuisine offers private classes and workshops, and Ward works with owner Chris Coppola Leibner to offer unique pairings for her menus. Another crisp and inexpensive favorite of Ward’s is Argentinean Torrontés. The white is “comparable to Pinot Grigio but more interesting” and complements heartier salads with summer produce.
Don’t count out reds with warm-weather home fare. Ward cites Beaujolais Cru as some of the “best red wine for the money.“ – Bottles rarely run more than $20 – as they represent the cream of the crop for each region.
“Give it a light chill, maybe an hour in the fridge, before serving,” he recommends. Serve it with pasta, roasted chicken or a bolder fish such as tuna. Amanda Weaver-Page, instructor at Culinaire and general manager of the new Clarendon wine shop Grateful Red, has worked in restaurants since she was 15. Armed with extensive culinary and wine education, she encourages her students to figure out what kinds of wine they like – and then explore why they like it.
“What is acidity? What are tannins? If they understand their palate they won’t get pigeonholed into thinking they just like Chardonnays or Cabernets. There are a million types of each.” At Culinaire, Weaver-Page focuses on different ways to pair wines and tries to debunk myths, such as only serving white with fish. “That’s not a good way to pair anything. You have to consider all of the flavors, and look beyond the predominant ones on the plate.” Both she and Ward suggested dry rose with grilled seafood, and for meaty and oily fish Weaver-Page taps Pinot Noir.
Love burgers? Consider your toppings. Viognier will be great to cut the fat of lots of cheese or guacamole, but a medium-style red such as Côtes du Rhône may be better with charred vegetable accompaniments. Mary Watson, sommelier at Cookology, echoes the sentiment of how home cooks should allow ingredients to lead their wine choices. Her self-described laid-back attitude toward instruction is ‘’less about what we should be drinking and more of what you want to be drinking.”
Fresh produce and herbs influence how Watson teaches. Cookology partners with Great Country Farms in Bluemont, VA, who are a drop point and develop recipes for their community supported agriculture program. The garden bounty inspires her to explore pairings such as pineapple sage with Chardonnay. “Even salt and pepper have an effect on wine, but we just don’t think about it.”
Watson explains that cooking techniques should be key considerations when mulling wine pairings. Salmon is a perfect example. Smoked salmon is salty and rich, making it a great foil for sparkling wines, while poaching changes the texture of the fish and transforms it into a better partner for a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. Throw a salmon filet on the grill, and the carmelization and smoke ask for a lighter red, such as a Burgundy or the aforementioned Pinot Noir.
The good news, according to Weaver-Page, is that you’re going to have to eat and drink a lot to experiment and discover your favorite personal pairings. Sounds like homework everyone can enjoy.
Cookology: 21100 Dulles Town Circle, Sterling, VA;
Cork Wine Bar: 1720 14th St. NW; 202-265-2675;
Culinaerie: 1131 14th St. NW; 202-587-5674;
Just Simply… Cuisine: 3224 Cathedral Ave. NW; 202-487-3316;