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Foodie Feature: Wine Tips from the Experts

December 11, 2015

We are highlighting some of your favorite sommeliers and wine directors on the best bottles of wine to bring to a friend's for dinner. Apply these expert tips at your next dinner party and you'll soon have the reputation as the wine connoisseur of your group.

When you are a dinner guest at a friend’s house and asked to bring wine, what is your go to white and go to red, and why?

Brent Kroll
Wine Director
Neighborhood Restaurant Group

My go to white right now is Assyrtiko from the island of Santorini. An extinct volcano/island which is home to some of oldest rootstock in the world. The wines have a delicious saline/savory quality, with tropical and citrus fruit. While they have weight, they're very acidic, designed for seafood and can age well. Producers I have really liked lately are Karamolegos, Sigalas, Hatziadakis and Gai'a. 

My go to red right now is Nerello Mascalese. It's primary red fruit means you can get a Pinot drinking to try it. They are pioneers of Mt Etna, the most active volcano in Europe. Although it may smell like ripe, gentle, red fruit and volcanic minerality, it has the structure(acidity and tannin) to go with various meats and pastas. Producers I've really enjoyed lately are Passopiciaro, Terre Nere, I Custodi and Pietradolce. 

Erik Segelbaum 
Regional Wine Director
STARR Restaurants

My go to white wine is Riesling. Washington State, French, German, Austrian, Australian… It doesn’t matter… Any Riesling. There is a reason almost every Sommelier will tell you Riesling is the king of grapes. It is a tremendously versatile grape. In addition to (typically) having extraordinarily ripe and complex flavors, Riesling’s high acidity makes it perfect with food. However, it is also a great standalone aperitif. That same great acidity will prime your palate and stomach. If the Riesling does have some residual sugar, then it can be saved for a cheese/dessert course, or best of all as a dessert in and of itself. Riesling’s other star attraction is that, with little exception, it is almost always an exceptional value for money. Sure there are some earth-shatteringly expensive dessert wines made from Riesling. But typically dry Rieslings are very reasonably priced and almost always over-deliver on quality at any price point.

As for red wines, I’m a big fan of Portuguese red table wines. As a Sommelier (and consumer) I am tremendously excited by value. While to me, value does not necessarily mean inexpensive, it does mean that the wine over delivers on quality for its price. Generally speaking, Portuguese dry red table wines provide a whole lot of bang for your buck. My favorite (and most readily available region) is the Douro Valley, the very same region from which Port is made.  If I feel like my dinner companions are more interested in a domestic red, Washington State reds offer exceptional quality for value. There are too many great producers to name. Washington’s biggest strength is the fact that virtually all varietals grow there, and grow well. They are also increasingly easy to find in greater variety and price point on the shelves at your favorite wine store.
Oh and Champagne… I always bring Champagne!

Max Kuller
​Wine Director
Estadio and Doi Moi

Well, I tend to bring wine with me everywhere, by default, so when actually asked to bring wine for a dinner I am likely going to end up getting pretty specific trying to find fun wines to complement the cuisine. That being said, I am assuming you might want a more general answer, to which for me is this:
I love drinking/ sharing mature wines (wines at the point of their life where they are hitting their prime/ showing their most wonderful characteristics). In addition to usually tasting smoother, more nuanced, and all around yummier than the younger versions of themselves, mature versions of wines are often tough to come across here in the US (vs. Europe, where wine cellars are far more common not just in upper-class circles), so when brought to dinner parties they tend to garner special attention (kind of like someone brought a time-capsule).

I have the advantage of a collection of older wines to draw from, which really helps.  But, assuming you do not, I have some tips for finding a good mature bottle with out breaking the bank:

Most retailers will have primarily young wines, but with an outing to a good wine shop that stocks some older vintages, such as MacArthur Beverage or Schneider's, it is possible to find an array of mature bottles at reasonable prices which can really provide a wow factor when brought to a friend's.  But, let's say you are looking for a bottle at your local neighborhood shop that stocks only current vintage wines. There are some GO TO things to look for if you are looking for mature:  Firstly, the Spanish region of Rioja: An array of mature traditionally styled reds, and even some whites from the regions' great vintages of 2010, 2009, 2005, 2004, and even some 2001's are still out there as current offerings due to the traditions of the region. If you see Reserva or Gran Reserva on the label of a bottle of Rioja from one of these vintages it is a great bet! On a slightly less extreme level, Italian Riserva level reds can provide similar satisfaction- Chianti Classico, Taurasi, Barbaresco and Etna Rosso are some favorite moderately priced regions to look for when hunting.  2007, 2009 and 2010 tended to be very strong throughout much of the country and are usually worth the roll of the dice. 
One specific mature French white wine that I buy by the case when I find it is a Muscadet-Sevre et Maine from Chateau du Coing called Comte de Saint-Hubert from the Pays Nantes region of the western Loire Valley.  The wine, made from the fairly neutral grape varietal Melon de Bourgogne, rests on its lees (dead yeast cells) for many years, develops a rich textural quality and expressive smokey-melon fruitiness, yet maintains a crisp stoney minerality. The importer, Williams Corner, has most recently brought in cases of the lovely 1999, which can be found at the right shop for less then $25/btl! Mature, affordable, super complex, interesting, fun, delicious and  food friendly.. this one is the definition of a go to for me!

Adrian Mishek
​General Manager

 I suppose you would first have to have friends to invite you over, but I get the gist of the question. I am kidding, my wife is a close friend, though she does live with me… It really depends on the time of year for me, but if I were to narrow it down to something affordable, because it probably won’t be only 1 bottle of each. I would most likely look for versatility in the wines body and structure not to mention crowd pleaser. For the white Domaine Didier Champalou, Vouvray Sec. It has pear, apple, flowers, and a little minerality on the nose. The palate starts with ripe apricot & honey and finishes with my favorite childhood dessert lemon sorbet. It is a dry easily sipped wine that has a rounded structure that can handle most foods. Truthfully though the white usually doesn’t last past the typical pre diner kitchen huddle. On to the red, Ochota Barrels ‘the green room’, grenache/syrah. I first had this wine a few years ago, in a former life in Miami. I spent years there bashing Australia’s wines…now look at me. Just goes to show never say shiraz and Ochota never does. It is not what most people expect out of a granache/syrah blend from down unda, it’s a little more edgy and rebellious. Spicy nose with orange, rosemary & ripe red berries. Pinot like body with plum, spice, and of course tart juicy berries, and pleasant soft tannic finish. It is a fun walk down a little different road. I mean how could you not like a wine from a surfer turned wine maker that names his wines after bands like Fugazi, Shellac & Slint. I find I tend to pick wines that want to be consumed and don’t need food to balance them. Both of these wines do very, very well with food but as all my DC beer drinkers would say are very session-able.