Just Ask: This Head Sommelier Answers All Your Wine Pairing Questions

SHARP & Mark Anthony Wines

Bernard Joseph-Lemoyne, Atelier’s head sommelier, is used to answering questions about how to select wine; one of Canada’s most acclaimed restaurants, Atelier, specializes in modernist cuisine, which can make wine pairings something of a daunting task. Although Joseph-Lemoyne knows that people are sometimes a little shy about talking to somms, answering guests’ questions about wine is one of his favourite things about the job. So we asked him the questions we’ve always wanted answered.

What’s something you’d like to see guests do more often when choosing a wine?

Try something they think they don’t like. Somebody might say “I only drink white wine” or “I don’t like Chardonnay,” for example, but Chardonnay is made in such a wide range of styles that you can have it light and crisp [or] full-bodied and dense — or even tannic, if it’s an orange wine. It’s our job to get people to try something different.

Should we still be pairing red with meat and white with fish? Or is that an outdated wine rule?

That rule is very much out the window. I am all for a white wine with a steak or a red wine with your fish; it’s all about finding the right one.

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Can you give an example of a fish and red wine pairing?

Sure. It all depends on the fish, but if you had something like a swordfish steak, it would definitely hold up to something bold like a Brumont Château Bouscassé Madiran, especially if it was cooked on charcoal. It’s a great pairing because swordfish is super flavourful and has density and marbling that’s almost like a rib-eye. I’m willing to stake my sommelier pins on that bet.

I take it that the Madiran would also work with beef?

Yes. So, if you’ve got a beautifully aged rib-eye with a chimichurri or even a duck breast, then the Madiran is a perfect match for that too. The wine has a tannic component, some fruit, as well as a green note and this blood sausage savouriness — all of which will come alive with this pairing.

Since we’re deep into rosé season, do you have a recommendation?

Rosé from Provence is really the benchmark, and a wine like Chateau Minuty M de Minuty Rosé really manages to highlight the grapes that are indigenous to the South of France, which is lovely to see. It’s perfectly balanced; it’s floral and there’s rich fruit. And I find there’s almost a little bit of a spice element and some smokiness [that comes] through. Served not too cold, it will express itself well.

What would you serve with it?

A fantastic pairing for the Minuty is a charcuterie board with some cured meats, some rich cheeses, and maybe a crostini and some kind of fruit compote — maybe all dressed in some nice, rich olive oil. It’s the perfect versatile wine to play with all those elements.

That sounds great. Would it pair just as well with other starters?

It could, but I’m thinking things like scallop ceviche or a flaky pastry canapé mightwork better with an acidic white like the Porer Pinot Grigio from Alois Lageder.

What is it about that Pinot Grigio that makes it so good in this role?

The Lageder Pinot Grigio has got a beautiful texture and this biscuity, brioche-like character, but it’s still a light-bodied wine, so that would lead me towards lighter fare. It’s grown in a quite mountainous, almost Alpine area in Northern Italy. And, on the nose, it’s got a first-day-on-the-ski-hill kind of freshness that I really love.

Any last thoughts on what people should know about talking to their somm?

Just that it’s a fantastic opportunity for the diner to pick our brain and ask why we’ve chosen a specific pairing or what some terminology means. I think that these are the kinds of questions that break that fourth wall and help people become more comfortable choosing wine.