When it comes to wine pairing, there’s a lot to keep in mind. The complex interactions between food and wine can make or break a meal, a fact that Gregory Stokes, manager and sommelier at Downtown’s Veritas, knows well. He’s accredited as an advanced sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers, and he’s currently working toward master sommelier status—an elite distinction that he likens to earning a doctorate degree.
Stokes says he knows of only two or three advanced sommeliers in Central Ohio, and only one master sommelier—Chris Dillman of The Refectory Restaurant & Wine Shop.
We tapped Stokes’ expertise, asking for his top picks for a variety of holiday entrée options.
“I think the really classic pairing for [turkey] is Beaujolais Nouveau, but I like to be different,” Stokes says. The cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy and other accompaniments can make pairings difficult, he says, which leads him to the cabernet franc Les Pensées de Pallus Chinon from Domaine de Pallus in Chinon, France. “It has a more fruity, polished style, which is kind of a nod toward what people like, I think, about Beaujolais. It has this really nice herbal note, which I think kind of pulls together with the sage coming in the stuffing.”
This is a broad category, so Stokes relied on a dish from his childhood to make a recommendation: prime rib with horseradish cream. “That spiciness definitely makes it interesting,” he says. “I know a lot of people would gravitate toward cabernet, but I feel like most cabernets actually aren’t pairing wines; they tend to be all about themselves.” Instead, he suggests the zinfandel from Ancient Oak Cellars in California’s Russian River Valley. “[It] has a really nice kind of fruity, broad texture to go against the spiciness of the horseradish.”
“Artichokes and asparagus are brutal to most wines,” Stokes says. He chose the Hirschvergnügen grüner veltliner, from Hirsch winery in Austria’s Kamptal region, for a white pairing. “Grüner veltliner, as a grape, does very, very well with certain vegetables that basically make most wine taste awful. … If you want to do a red wine, this is where I actually would go to Beaujolais. Beaujolais, to me, has this beautiful fruitiness but also this kind of peppery spice that plays really well with a lot of different vegetables,” he says. His pick: the one from winemaker Nicole Chanrion, in France’s Côte de Brouilly region.
“Pretty much any white wine is a really good choice,” Stokes says. It’s all about what you’re making to accompany the main dish. “If you’re going to do it with kind of a lemony sauce, then I really like a sémillon from Australia; Brokenwood makes a really good one,” he says. “If you’re going to do a heavier preparation with cream, then you could go for a Côtes du Rhône or a chardonnay.”
“In my mind, if I’m having pork around the holidays, there’s sauerkraut involved,” says Stokes. “I really like doing those regional pairings. There’s this great region in France called Alsace, which is right on the border with Germany, so it’s a very German culture. … They make a really good pinot gris.” He recommends the Zotzenberg grand cru pinot gris from Domaine Boeckel in Alsace.
“After-dinner wines, to me, you’re definitely going to go into the sweet wine category. As to whether that settles your stomach, I make no proclamations,” Stokes says. “There’s a brand called Chambers [Rosewood]—they’re in Victoria, Australia—and they have a wine called Rutherglen muscat. It’s basically red moscato that’s been fortified with some brandy and aged in a barrel. It tastes a little bit like Earl Grey tea. It’s really good.”
For a true aperitivo, though, Stokes turns to Fernet Branca. “I love it,” he says. “It’s an aggressive flavor, and in my mind, what you have to think about with doing these amaros is, basically, [taking it] like medicine. Unless you’re crazy like me, you don’t sip Fernet. You take the shot … for most people, it’s going to taste awful. But I guarantee within 10 minutes, you’ll feel amazing.” If you’d rather start with something a little more approachable—what Stokes calls a version “with training wheels”—try the Edizione Speciale from a Washington, D.C., distillery called Don Ciccio & Figli.
Whether you drink reds, whites or anything at all, Stokes has one final note about your wine selections. “I think the first rule of wine pairing, ultimately … you should just drink what you like, because if you don’t like a wine, it’s not going to be a good pairing for you,” he says. “You can try to be impressive and do these really cool pairings, and that’s great. But at the end of the day, know your guests, know yourself—and if you have a bottle that you really love, you don’t have to listen to me. Pop it and drink it. As long as you’re drinking wine, who cares?”***
Bubbles for All
When it comes to your New Year’s Eve toast at midnight, “it’s hard to go wrong with Champagne,” says Veritas sommelier and manager Gregory Stokes. “I think of Champagne in two different ways: there’s house Champagne and grower’s Champagne.” The difference, he explains, is whether the vintner grows the grapes on-site or buys them from another grower in the Champagne region of France.
For a house Champagne, Stokes recommends Royale Réserve Brut from Philipponnat, in the city of Montagne de Reims. “I think they do an outstanding style,” he says. “It’s both rich and toasty but fresh; really accessible, really high-quality.”
“And then for a grower that I absolutely love, right now I’m obsessed with Dumangin Champagnes. It’s a tiny little producer in the village of Chigny-les-Roses.” That label’s Premier Cru Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut “is fabulous,” Stokes says. “We did a tasting recently, and most people in the tasting preferred that to Dom Pérignon, side by side.”
And if Champagne isn’t your thing? Stokes suggests a bubbly rosé from Cleto Chiarli in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. “It’s pinot noir mixed with lambrusco, but done in a dry style,” he says. “Really pretty, really elegant; it’s a crowd-pleaser.”
Want to sample a variety of bubbles for your NYE bash? Check out Veritas’ sparkling wine happy hour, 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. All glasses of sparkling wines—from Carafoli Pignoletto for $5 to Dom Pérignon for $30—are half off regular price.