WINE, DEFINED Don’t be daunted by a long list of vino – our top wine aficionados are here to guide you through it B Y M ATT L ARDI E PHOTOGRAP HY BY SA R A H A R N ESON
LIKE AN ANCIENT GREEK SCROLL OR THE FINAL exam for advanced quantum physics, wine lists can often be intimidating and unintelligible. Vouvray? Gewürtztraminer? If every wine is supposed to have a year, what does “non-vintage” mean?* Even the most adventurous diners can end up feeling like the dunce at the smart kids’ table when presented with an ambitious wine list. (Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. We’ve all been there!) So, we’re enlisting some of Durham’s foremost wine experts to share some of their tips and tricks for demystifying the almighty wine list. I turned to Michael Maller, general manager at Vin Rouge and beverage director for Mateo, Mothers & Sons and the soon-to-open St. James Seafood and Oyster Bar, and Arturo Ciompi, who is a four-time winner of the Association of Food Journalists National Writing Award and occasional wine writer for this magazine, The Herald-Sun and Indy Week.
Arturo Ciompi knows he can count on an excellent glass of wine at Oval Park Grille.
What is the first thing you look at or for in a wine list?
MM The first thing I look for in a wine list is value. If wines, at any
price point, aren’t priced fairly, I’ll probably turn to beer. I look for a few wines I know and check the prices. AC Some restaurants feature wines from one country (France, Spain, Italy, etc.) If that is the case, I look for breadth of selections, hopefully covering most of the country. On more generic lists, I look for wines that are from smaller producers, wines that have a cache that a good server (or sommelier) can expound upon. Do you pair your wine with your food or vice versa?
AC I go both ways. I often bring wine, and am a huge fan of North
Carolina’s BYOB policy. I will pair to the wine if I bring it. I will pair to the food if the wine list is good enough to match my food selection. If it is not, I’ll skip wine altogether.
*Vouvray is a region in the Loire Valley of France that produces Chenin blanc almost exclusively. Gewürtztraminer is a grape variety traditionally found in the Alsace region of France as well as Germany, northeast Italy, Switzerland and Asturias, and used to make crisp, dry white wine. Non-vintage, often noted as “NV” on wine lists, refers to a wine made from various harvest years (e.g. 2005, 2006, and 2007 as opposed to just 2006) and is most common in the production of sparkling wines, although non-vintage still wines can also be found.