It doesn’t have to be Carnival time to enjoy the signature dishes of New Orleans. From jambalaya to bananas Foster, we asked three Big Easy sommeliers to sound off on 10 favorite Louisiana foods and the wines to best match with them.
Meet the Wine Experts
Chris Oakley is sommelier at Meril in New Orleans, the newest concept in celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant empire.
Ryan Plas serves as “wine guy” at Coquette in New Orleans’ historic Garden District, where modern Southern cuisine meets an international wine list.
Bill Burkhart is sommelier at the swanky Grill Room at the Windsor Court Hotel, renowned for its extensive wine cellar, high tea service and luxurious spa (and included in Wine Enthusiast’s America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants 2015).
Pairing Wine with Jambalaya
“With chicken and sausage jambalaya, I would go with a light-bodied French Burgundy like Michel Gay et Fils 2011 Vieilles Vignes Chorey-lès-Beaune, because the high acid, lower alcohol and great earthiness will complement the dish perfectly by not compounding the spiciness,” says Oakley.
“My go-to would be a Reserva Rioja like R. López de Heredia 2009 Viña Tondonia Reserva,” says Plas. “ A wine with more age ought to meld seamlessly with the smoked, meaty flavors of the dish. Plus, the tannins become soft and stewed down with time and would match the texture.”
“Hearty jambalaya calls for a wine with a bit of sweetness and acidity like Selbach-Oster’s 2014 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett from Mosel, Germany, which cuts the spicy nature of the dish,” says Burkhart.
Pairing Wine with Étouffée
“I love a German Riesling with étouffée, preferably an Auslese or Spätlese that has balanced acidity and sweetness,” says Oakley. “The rich sweetness and fruity characteristics of Fritz Zimmer 2015 [Piesporter Michelsberg] Auslese from Mosel will be great with a spicy étouffée.”
“For most kinds of étouffée, I would suggest a Chardonnay with a little lees contact or one that was aged in a neutral oak barrel, as too much oak would distract from the dish,” says Plas. “The initial acidity of Lioco Estero 2013 Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley cuts through the creamy texture of étouffée, while the lees contact will add a weight to the wine that would match the richness.”
“Étouffée is traditionally creamy and rich, so the high acid content in Château d’Epiré’s 2010 Cuveé Spéciale Chenin Blanc from Savennières, France, will refresh the palate,” says Burkhart. “The apple flavors in this particular wine are also delicious with the dish.”
Pairing Wine with Crawfish Boil
“There is nothing better than a nice sparkling rosé on a hot spring day in Louisiana with some spicy crawfish,” says Oakley. “The crisp bubbles in Bodega Cruzat Cuvée Réserve Extra Brut Rosé from Argentina wipe the spice off of your palate and get you ready for the next dozen crawfish.”
“I usually like beer with a crawfish boil, so I would go for something bubbly like Sommariva Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut,” says Plas. “It has a nice subtle sweetness and stone fruit backbone that would tone down the spice, while still being dry and minerally enough to match the intense saltiness of the crawfish boil.”
“Crawfish boil flavors can be subtle and the powerful profile of a Riesling like Robert Weil 2009 Kiedrich Turmberg Riesling Trocken contrasts nicely,” says Burkhart. “This wine shows Old World mineral characteristics that play nicely off the crawfish.”
Pairing Wine with Red Beans and Rice
“Because of the meatiness of red beans and rice, go with a medium-bodied Pinot Noir from California like Goldeneye 2012 Pinot Noir out of the Anderson Valley,” says Oakley. “You need something with a little bit of body, but [with] soft fruit expression.”
“For red beans and rice, opt for a light-bodied, old-vine Beaujolais like Domaine du Vissoux 2014 Cuvée Traditionnelle Vieilles Vignes,” says Plas. “Older vines give the wine length and complexity. Red beans can be spicy and have a fair amount of sausage in them, so something on the fruitier side would be nice with the heat.”
“The starchiness of the beans and rice will complement [a] fresh, fruit-forward, oak-influenced California Chardonnay like Hanzell 2014 Sebella Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley,” says Burkhart.
Pairing Wine with Seafood Gumbo
“A Portuguese Alvarinho would go great with seafood gumbo,” says Oakley. “My favorite is Obrigado 2015 Nortico Alvarinho, because of the crisp acidity, minerality and flavors reminiscent of coastal seafood.”
“Gumbo is a lot of fun to pair with because of its intensity,” says Plas. “I usually like doing what I call ‘gumbo wines’, which ideally are field blends…One of my favorite blends is Weingut Wieninger 2015 Wiener Gemischter Satz from Vienna, Austria. This local white is a blend of Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder and Welschriesling.”
“We currently serve Piccini Prosecco Extra Dry from Valdobbiadene, Italy by the glass, and find the pairing to be delicious,” says Burkhart. “It’s a classic matchup of rich and spicy with bubbly and sweet.”
Pairing Wine with a Fried Oyster Po’ boy
“A good Champagne goes fantastically well with a fried oyster po’ boy,” says Oakley. “GH Mumm Cuvée R. Lalou Prestige Brut Millesime is a great representation from a classic house, due to its brioche notes that match with the French bread as well as the batter on the oysters.”
“Assuming it’s fully dressed, you would need something acidic enough to stand up to the pickles while also being salty enough to match the oysters,” says Plas. “I would love to have a slightly spritzy white wine like Ameztoi 2016 Txacolí de Getaria from northern Spain. Simply put, it reminds me of a salted lemon, which seems like an ideal flavor match for oysters, while the gulpability of this wine also matches the style of the po’ boy. I don’t eat a po’ boy slowly or gracefully, so you need something you can have a good swig of that is also palate cleansing, giving you a great first bite every time.”
“Assuming the po’ boy is dressed with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, a Godello like Rafael Palacios 2012 As Sortes Godello from Valdeorras, Spain is a multifaceted wine that mixes citrus, Old World acidity and a round, soft finish, and complements this traditional New Orleans favorite nicely,” says Burkhart.
Pairing Wine with Muffaletta
“With a muffaletta, I would go with a nice earthy Rioja because of the strong flavors found in the meats and olives,” says Oakley. “Look for a medium- to full-bodied wine like R. López de Heredia 2004 Viña Tondonia Reserva.”
“Playing on its Italian roots and offering relief from the salt in the dish, I would reach for a light-bodied, delicious red from northern Italy like Elena Walch 2015 Schiava [Alto Adige].”
“Imagine having a muffaletta, then enjoying a dessert with cherries, strawberries and peaches right afterwards,” says Burkhart. “Dopff & Irion NV Brut Rosé Pinot Noir from Alsace offers refreshing fruit that serves to round out the hearty, salty flavors of the muffaletta.”
Pairing Wine with Bread Pudding
“With a sweet bread pudding, a Canadian ice wine like Inniskillin 2007 Icewine Cabernet Franc is still going to hold up, due to its high sweetness level and tangy fruit flavors,” says Oakley.
“To play up the raisins and sweetness, I would pick a cream Sherry and one of my favorites comes from Lustau—their East India Solera Sherry is unlike most Pedro Ximénez-dominated Sherries,” says Plas. “It offers beautiful dried fruit flavors, shows notes of cinnamon and still has just a tinge of acidity to cut through the density of the bread pudding.”
“Sauternes famously pushes the window of sweetness in wine without seeming sticky or cloying,” says Burkhart. “Bread pudding does the same in the world of desserts, which makes the two a perfect match. Try Château Haut-Mayne 2011 Sauternes.”
Pairing Wine with Bananas Foster
“One of my favorite pairings with bananas Foster is Vin Santo. With balanced acidity, sweetness, and nuttiness, it’s an absolute hit and plays well off of the caramelized bananas,” says Oakley. “Badia a Coltibuono 2003 Vin Santo Chianti Classico is one I always enjoy with this dessert.”
“‘Rainwater’ style Madeiras remind me of brûléed bananas, so to mimic that flavor, I would pair this dish with Rare Wine Co.’s Historic Series Baltimore Rainwater Madeira,” says Plas. “The lightness of the wine itself would be a nice contrast to the heavy sweetness of the dish. Madeira also always has a pleasant nutty finish that would be a great accent to the vanilla.”
“The rare and delicious Vilmart et Cie Ratafia de Champagne dessert wine from France mixes hearty Pinot Noir flavors with unctuous sweetness and bracing acidity, which makes it a great match with bananas Foster,” says Burkhart.
Pairing Wine with Pecan Pie
“Warre’s Otima 10 Year Tawny Port is a fantastic pairing with pecan pie, due to the dark molasses flavors found in both the pecan pie and the Port,” says Oakley.
“For pecan pie, I would go with a J. Dumangin Ratafia de Champagne, a rather unsung fortified wine from the Champagne region made with grape juice of secondary pressings and brandy that has been barrel aged,” says Plas. “It is rare to see it outside of France, and J. Dumangin does a fine example with [its] prolonged barrel-aging. The prominent flavors of burnt sugar and dates plus a nutty finish allow it to mimic the caramelized nutty flavors of the pecan pie.”
“The bold, nutty, sweet characteristics in a late-harvest Pinot Gris from Alsace like Rolly Gassmann Vendanges Tardives is a perfect marriage with a traditional, Southern-style pecan pie,” says Burkhart.