As the beverage director at Red Rooster Harlem, Amelia Handal’s job is to find unique pours to match the menu’s flavor-packed dishes, like fried chicken and mac ’n’ cheese. And while this sounds like a pretty cushy gig, it grows infinitely trickier this time of year, when humidity spikes, the temperature rises and big, bold Cabs aren’t top of mind.
But summer heat doesn’t deter Handal from turning to Bordeaux, thanks in no small part to the four-day inaugural Harlem EatUp! Festival that took place May 14–17 and challenged neighborhood somms to pair not just red, but also white and sweet Bordeaux with the rich, distinctive fare of local eateries. The task helped Handal rediscover powerful pairing partners in the region’s crisp, aromatic whites—especially this time of year.
And while mouthwateringly acidic whites are no-brainers when it comes to balancing rich dishes, Handal also loves to throw her guests a few curveballs, like California Syrah. Here are a few more of her trusty tips for pairing heavy supping with light sipping.
Rich foods call for high-acid wines.
“Generally speaking, I pair rich foods that have a fatty texture with either fuller-bodied whites with higher alcohol content or medium-bodied reds with softer tannins and high acidity. The whites can vary from dry to off-dry, given there is some heat in our dishes. When pairing reds for the summer, I try to focus on wines that can typically be served at cooler temperatures with more structured tannins and high acidity.”
Look to white Bordeaux.
“They can typically be the forgotten in terms of French white wines. They don’t necessarily have to be expensive and are typically meant to drink young. La Croix de Carbonnieux 2012 Blanc from Pessac-Léognan is a dry white wine with refreshing acidity, floral characteristics and a roundness. This wine pairs well with the Peanut Chicken served [at the restaurant] with coconut spinach, mango-braised pearl onions and taro root. The creaminess from the coconut spinach is balanced by the acidity in the wine, and the sweetness in the mango-braised pearl onions is complemented by the roundness in the wine.”
South Africa is a budget-friendly alternative to Bordeaux.
“South African wines are usually inexpensive and a lot of the time delicious. I would say to try South African red Bordeaux blends or Chenin Blanc. Specific regions to keep an eye on are Paarl and Elgin.”