Every aspiring wine lover knows that oysters were made for Chablis, crown roast of lamb pairs magnificently with Château Margaux and white truffles demand Nebbiolo. But do the best sommeliers in North Amercia, those who regularly drink grand crus, live by the same rules? What do they like to eat when they're uncorking a magnum of fantastically rare wine? It turns out they often love really simple food.
"The most common mistake we all do with great wines is to let them spoil waiting for a special occasion to open them," explains champion sommelière Véronique Rivest. "Just crack them open any night you feel like it."
According to experts, wonderful wines don't need fancy pairings: A bag of chips and delivery pizza will do just fine. After all, you're supposed to be having a good time. The Globe spoke with five top sommeliers to ask them about comfort food – and the seriously fun wines that go with them.
Champagne and chips
Véronique Rivest, winner of Best Sommelier of the Americas 2012
"Everyone who knows me knows I love champagne and potato chips," confides Rivest, sommelier at Les Fougères in Chelsea, Que. What chips go best with bubbly? She likes Miss Vickie's and Covered Bridge. "Salt and vinegar can work, but it needs a slightly fuller champagne. With just plain regular-flavoured chips, I prefer fresher, livelier champagne. No particular brand, but not the richer, leesier, toastier styles." For the main course? Her ideal dinner is a creamy, rich, wild mushroom risotto paired with "the earthiness and overall 'undescribableness' of soul-stirring Barolo or Greek xinomavro from Naoussa."
Grand cru Chablis and hot wings
Michael Madrigale, head sommelier of New York's Bar Boulud
For Madrigale, who was just named Sommelier of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine, fall is all about football tailgating parties. "Hot wings are a staple at those get-togethers," he explains. "Premier cru and grand cru Chablis (Domaine Raveneau is the ultimate) work really well – especially when you start dipping them into blue cheese dressing." On cold nights, he likes making a crockpot of beef stew, which he serves with syrahs from Cornas (by Thierry Allemand or Auguste Clape), for their "smoky, peppery, black olive and floral quality."
Sancerre and pea soup
Will Predhomme, head sommelier at Toronto's Canoe
Predhomme, winner of the best sommelier in Ontario competition, loves split-pea soup with Sancerre or fumé blanc – although he swears it's even better with "that Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry that's been in your grandma's liquor cabinet for a number of years or with 10-year-old tawny port. Try it, it works great." And he's happy as long as there's bacon in the meal: "Bacon is one of the most versatile food groups," he avows. "It pairs with just about anything." For dessert, it's pumpkin pie with Tokaji from Hungary, which shows toffee and pumpkin spice notes.
Beaujolais and burgers
Rajat Parr, wine director of rn74 in San Francisco
"I personally love Beaujolais and burgers," notes Parr, author of Secrets of the Sommeliers. The gamay-based wines from the village of Morgon in particular, he says, make for an "amazing pairing" with burgers – whether from fast-food chains or from foodie-temples like Zuni Café. He suggests Marcel Lapierre's Morgon 2010. His perfect meal is smoked rabbit stew with Jean Foillard's Morgon Côte du Py 2010.
White burgundy and omelettes
Vanya Filipovic, wine director and maître d'hotel at Montreal's Joe Beef
Filipovic adores white burgundy: "Early, late, with nothing, with snacks, with dinner, Meursault when it's raining, Chassagne with special company, Chablis in the afternoon, Auxey, Puligny, Saint-Aubin: That minerality is addictive," she says. "On Sunday mornings, I make myself a really runny omelette with loads of tarragon and gruyère, and I pour myself a huge glass of Saint-Aubin. That's the epitome of happiness, for me." She also recommends it with charcuteries – parma ham, saucisson, pâté – or with hummus, labneh and pita. "Oh my. Loads of salt and olive oil drizzled everywhere. With white burgundy it's amazing!" And, she adds, Domino's mushroom-topped pizza with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or Armand Rousseau's Clos Saint-Jacques is "pretty baller and next level also."