As warm weather rolls in, you'll naturally find yourself craving fresh flavors, both in the glass and on the plate. Bright dishes play well with zippy wines, so we asked seven Wine Spectator Restaurant Award–winning wine directors to share their favorite pairings for summer. From trendy to timeless, these matches bring together elements like Sherry and oysters, crudo and crisp whites, and Chablis and crab—plus, some unconventional picks you might try out with a steak off the grill.
Wine Spectator: What is a favorite summer food-and-wine pairing of yours?
Justin Timsit, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Gramercy Tavern in New York: I think one of the greatest pairings is Manzanilla Sherry and oysters. I think Sherry is misunderstood, especially in the American market ... When you have that salty, briny, seawater quality that you get in a really great fresh oyster, and then you taste it with Manzanilla Sherry, which is just that same salty, briny character, it's just such a great match.
I think sometimes people are afraid to put California Chardonnay in a tasting menu, but a lot of the times when you have a butter-poached lobster—which is very common on tasting menus—those flavors and that texture, depending on the preparation and what else is in the sauce, sometimes a California Chardonnay is a perfect match. A lot of the time I see that there's a lot of thought that goes into [a pairing], and it can be very creative, but sometimes, the simpler the better. That's my approach to pairing in general. No need to overthink it if it's staring you in the face.
Jon McDaniel, wine director of Gage Hospitality Group in Chicago, including Best of Award of Excellence winner Acanto and Award of Excellence winner the Gage: It’s time for oysters; it's time for crudo. Fresh and light. We are moving from being stuck almost like a bear hibernating in a cave, and now we want to go to the ocean, we want to go to the lake, and that brings lighter styles of white wine that have crispness and aromatics ... [We're] looking at Fiano and Greco di Tufo—those really crisp, dry, aromatic white wines from Campania that have that volcanic soil to them—as chef [Christopher Thompson] is switching his gears at Coda di Volpe to bring in lighter foods, different styles of pasta with more vegetal characteristics. Those are the wines that we want on every table when our patio is open, and we want people to enjoy taking advantage of that short window of time in Chicago.
Barbara Werley, wine director of Grand Award winner Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Dallas: When [people] have things like a strip or a rib-eye with the fat, I think when they try Italian, the wines in general have such good acidity, I think [guests] are surprised at how well they go with them when they're eating and drinking them together. Sometimes when you taste Italian, people get a little scared because of the acidity, and sometimes the tannins, but then when they put it with the food, I think they're really surprised, and say, "Oh, OK, that works really well together."
Robby Younes, wine director of Grand Award winner Restaurant Latour at Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, N.J.: A roasted scallop with a shellfish dashi, black garlic, spring greens, daylily bulbs with the 2013 Husic Chardonnay Napa Valley. We [also] have a green strawberry from a farm next door, the unripe strawberry, [and] sorrel, with an amazing wine, the 2014 Laurenz Five "Charming" Grüner Veltliner from Kamptal, Austria—amazing.
Cedric Nicaise, wine director of Grand Award winner Eleven Madison Park in New York: The carrot tartare—we're using carrots mostly from New York, Riesling from upstate New York that we're pairing with it, and it's like the umami of the Riesling, and the structure and acidity [make the match]. One of the great things about chef [Daniel Humm]'s food is the acidity. All sommeliers like wines with acid, but oftentimes, with a lot of food, there's not enough acid to go with the wines we want to drink, and here it's the opposite. We're using a dish with ingredients from upstate New York, and we're pairing it with a New York wine—it's like a home run.
Brahm Callahan, corporate beverage director of Boston-area Himmel Hospitality Group that includes Best of Award of Excellence winners Grill 23 & Bar and Harvest: I always say that there are plenty of white wines that pair very well with steak. One of the best pairings I’ve ever had in my life is a Trimbach Clos Sainte Hune ’97 with our 100-day aged rib-eye. It just bent my head how good that pairing was. The Riesling had these mushroom and earthy notes coming through that played off the beefy flavor that developed in the steak, but plenty of acid to cut through the richness. Just an awesome pairing.
Kevin Bratt, wine director of Best of Award of Excellence–winning Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab locations in Chicago, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.: One of my favorite go-tos for stone crab was a revelation. I had the chance to visit Santorini a few years ago and taste some Assyrtiko from Domaine Sigalas. I remember thinking I couldn't wait to get back and try that wine with stone crab, because the minerality was a perfect pairing for it, and it's still one of my favorite pairings to this day. We also have king crab here, which is another one of my favorite dishes at Joe's, and the Chablis from Domaine Raveneau, the Valmur vineyard, is always great. If I had a death row meal, or something I'd have to eat for the rest of my life, I would do king crab with Raveneau Chablis.