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Wine Recs from David Sokolin

Pairing the right wine with your meal can be so difficult; there are so many flavors to balance and courses in the meal to consider. Scratch your head no more, we’ve asked for suggestions from a team of knowledgeable wine connoisseurs—big-time sommeliers, an at-home aficionado and an insider in the business.


Q

I love salad with seasonal greens and often find that a strong vinegary dressing can really throw off the flavor of a great wine. Do you have any suggestions for a wine that can take vinegar on?

A

Pinot Blanc and Viognier are really good with salad. They are aromatic, rich and can stand up to vinegar. Hugel makes a great Pinot Blanc and my favorite Viogniers are from the Rhone and are called Condrieu. Guigal is a great producer of Condrieu, one of my faves.


Q

If you’re serving a variety of appetizers that have ingredients like smoked salmon and raw onion, what might work?

A

That’s a tough one since raw onion is intense. I’d try a dry Riesling which can be oily and rich enough for the onion.


Q

What about Asian appetizers with spring rolls, prawn crackers, sesame toast, etc.?

A

I like Champagne with this kind of food. The bubbles in the Champagne cut through the oils in the spring rolls and prawn crackers. I love pairing Champagne with food and use it all the time.

Lately I’ve been into smaller grower Champagnes like Guy Charlemagne non-vintage for $39.95. It costs less than the larger brands and has a boutique, craftsman-like appeal that I enjoy.


Q

When serving a cheese course with a strong, smelly cheese included, what do you suggest?

A

I usually eat cheese after a restaurant meal and just stick with whatever I’m drinking. If I’m pairing wines with a stinky cheese it might be a Dal Forno Amarone or Valpolicella. They can really stand tall, but in general, I just go with what I would like to or am already drinking. Wine and cheese work together unless the wine is really light.


Q

So many restaurants these days serve homey, rustic dishes; for simply prepared roast chicken and root vegetables, what’s a good choice?

A

I find that Rhone wines pair great with rustic dishes since they are quite rustic and powerful on their own. Chateauneuf du Pape is the the perfect Rhone wine for these kinds of foods. Most restaurants love to carry them because the bang for the buck is there. They can run from $30 and up retail, and double that on a restaurant wine list. I’d suggest defaulting to them when eating out as a result since they are a fraction of the price of Bordeaux and the sommeliers love them.

There are so many good vintages of Chateauneuf on the market right now: 2003, 2005, and especially 2007, which Robert Parker called the best vintage that he’d ever experienced in any wine growing region! These are super fun considering their low prices. We have a 2007 Domaine De La Milliere VV (old vines) for $33.95 that is exceptional.


Q

What goes well with an Italian pasta in a tomato based sauce?

A

For me Tuscan reds seem to work best with Italian food. It’s that old concept that wine and food from the same region work together. In this case it could not be more true. I think that the Sangiovese grape that predominates the region in Brunello and many so called “Super” Tuscan blends have the perfect acidity to cut through tomato based sauces. They just work together in ways that other wines don’t.

I’m a fan of Brunello producer, Il Poggione. In 2004 Il Poggione produced one of the best Brunellos (rated 95 pts by Robert Parker), but doesn’t have the associated high cost that many associate with this region. It’s $54.95 and worth more, which is rare! The 2004 vintage is one to look out for across the board in Tuscany.


Q

How about pan-seared tuna?

A

Any form of Chardonnay works with tuna and I prefer when it comes from France’s Burgundy region. White Burgundies are Chardonnay’s with acid structures that stand up to food and make each next bite taste better. That acid combines with tuna’s flavor to create a taste that is greater than the sum of its parts. The fun part is that white Burgundies can have both the richness/creaminess that people love about California Chards but also have this acidity. Meursault is the prime example of this great attribute. It’s buttery round, but fresh and light at the same time. I like the Meursaults of Pierre Boisson which sell for around $50 bucks. Not cheap but really worth it.


Q

What about white fish in general?

A

Same answer as above for fish in general. I love white Burgundies but there are lots that work. Another one of my faves that costs less and delivers a lot is Domaine de Roally Vire Clesse. The 2007 vintage was rated 91 points from Steven Tanzer which is kind of huge for a wine that’s only $22.95. It’s like a baby Puligny Montrachet, or better. I serve it at home all the time.


Q

What’s a nice light wine for a summery meal of salads and a variety of grains?

A

I like super crisp wines during the summer heat and Sauvignon Blanc fills the bill. I usually drink Sancerre. It’s crisp and mineraly and works with salads and most summer meals. It’s cheap too. You can buy the Rolls Royce of Sancerre, Gilles Crochet for around $25 bucks a bottle. Many others are $15-20. They smell like fresh cut grass, in the best way of course. Perfect for fans of white Burgundy who are branching out and beaching out too.


Q

What are your favorite dessert wines?

A

Sauternes are the perfect after dinner wines for me. The golden color and almost syrupy texture is the perfect complement to most sweet desserts, especially chocolate cake which I love. At the top of the hierarchy is Chateau d’Yquem, which can cost hundreds a bottle. The good news is that there are a few nearby neighbors that are just a click off of d’Yquem at a fraction of the price.

2001 Chateau D’Arche is a perfect example. 2001 is one of the best vintage ever for the Sauternes region and D’Arche is a 95 point Wine Spectator wine that I once rated 97 points when I blind tested it. It’s close to d’Yquem’s quality and at $49 dollars it’s far off the price.


Q

For meat eaters, what are a few great bottles to go with a steak or a big juicy hamburger?

A

I’m a Bordeaux fan (along with the rest of the wine drinking universe). I love Lynch Bages, Leoville Poyferre (aside from the 1st growths), Chateaux Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Margaux and Haut Brion.

One of the best values in Bordeaux is Sociando Mallet. I’ve heard Parker compare it to Chateau Latour, but nice vintages of Sociando (like 2003) can sell for $69 dollars, vs $1000 for the Latour.


Q

Friends are constantly asking what to pair with pork and lamb, which have distinct flavors and are hard to match. What are a few good options?

A

The combination of Lamb and Pinot Noir is a match made in heaven. It’s just about my favorite wine/food pairing. For me nothing beats red Burgundy. I recently had a 2005 Vincent Girardin Charmes Chambertin ($125 dollar Pinot from Burgundy) with Scotta Ditta and it was a sublime paring. The gaminess of the Pinot worked with the similar elements of the lamb. Result: I’ll be doing that again soon.

Pork is an interesting question. I can go red or white. If white, I’d go big. Big fat Cali Chardonnay or even a Condrieu from the Rhone. For red wine I’d stick with a Rhone varietal like Chateauneuf du Pape which can also be great.

Note: Many of the wines mentioned in these suggestions can be found on Sokolin.


David Sokolin is a third-generation wine merchant, entrepreneur and President of Sokolin LLC, America’s Premier Fine Wine Merchant since 1934. Based in Bridgehampton, New York, his Company has one of the world’s largest and most diverse inventories of fine and rare wines for sale on sokolin.com. As a published author and established authority on wine, his recent book “Investing in Liquid Assets” (Simon & Schuster – 2008), immerses readers in the sophisticated and sexy world of investment grade wine. David says, “While most of my friends were taking their first sip of beer from Dad’s mug, I was sampling my father’s 1961 Petrus.”

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