Pairing wine and food at New Orleans restaurants
By Benda Maitland for BestofNewOrleans.com
At Le Meritage in the Maison Dupuy Hotel, Mark Nelson pairs wines with chef Michael Farrell’s eclectic, French-inspired cuisine. A veteran of resorts including California’s La Costa Resort and Spa, Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables and English Turn, Nelson curates a nearly 250-label list with additional by-the-glass parings listed on the menu. Le Meritage has an explicitly wine-focused menu concept, arranging dishes by wine pairing categories.
”We have a lot of fun with guests,” Nelson says. “We explain the concept and that there’s no right or wrong way to order. … Sometimes we take the lead with guests, which allows us to express the culinary vision of the chef in pairing the wines with the cuisine.”
Nelson, who has completed certification for the first round of sommelier training, said he likes to focus on smaller, lesser-known wineries. “I like to tell the story of these hand-crafted, small-batch wines and share the inspiration of the individual winemakers,” he says.
As a California native, Nelson is partial to Napa Valley wines, including a fondness for the style of David Phinney, winemaker for Soda Canyon “Barrel Chaser” Bordeaux blend and Orin Swift’s “The Prisoner” and Papillion.
Nelson likes to suggest off-the-beaten-path labels to open doors for wine enthusiasts and expose them to other varietals and regions. For example, only 156 cases were made of the 2008 Jules “Melange” Vin Blanc from Napa, a good match for the seared scallop with lemon-brown butter. Nelson also likes to pair the 2006 Maldonado Napa Valley Chardonnay with the scallop or Gulf shrimp and grits with tasso and red-eye gravy.
Nelson also opts for the 2007 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee, Napa, with the grilled filet of beef. He says Spain’s 2007 Valminor Albarino is a good accompaniment to the beet and pistachio salad with goat cheese.
”The Bennet Lane Turn 4 Napa Cab is in demand for the savory lamb chops and filet and with the braised beef short ribs,” he says. Another choice for pairing with the short ribs, he said, is the 2007 Lewis Cellars Alec’s Blend Napa.
Guests often request the 2006 Catapult Shiraz-Viognier from Australia’s McLaren Vale district to pair with the sage gnocchi, Nelson says.
More generally food-friendly wines include the 2005 Artesa Pinot Noir, 2007 Gary Farrell Russian River and 2007 Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir.
Nelson also is working on a list for the bistro that will open in an adjoining space in the Maison Dupuy. It will offer a new range of dishes and wines to pair and sample.