After an introduction from Wendee de Ryke – Sales Manager at Radburnd, I’m talking to Ahi’s Head Sommelier Russ about matching wines with the menu items, and any challenges and opportunities that may present. Obviously I’m keen to hear about the two sensational Radburnd wines in particular – the Syrah having finished 2nd in the WineFolio Top 10 Tasting – https://winefolio.co.nz/?p=3198.
Do people tend to choose the food and then try and find a wine, or do you get people who want to have a specific wine (like Radburnd Chardonnay, yum) and then wonder if the food they want to choose will go with it? It’s a really mixed bag with the drinking priorities of everyone who walks through our front door. Some will go straight for the food menu, decide on food and then look for wine to pair with it. Others will sit down, order a glass of champagne or cocktail and then start to think about what other wine/s they will have throughout the meal.
Is part of your process of pairing flavours in menu items and the wines – done with the chef? Yes, generally a dish goes through several versions/ trials before it goes on to the menu and this gives me a chance to provide feedback on components of it. I’ll often then go and grab a bottle of wine or two that I have open and try it with the dish to then work out a pairing for it.
What’s the difference in approach if a customer orders a bottle of wine, compared to by the glass? Fundamentally it’s the same, I find it more comes down to how much they want to drink or party size if they want to order by the glass or bottle. If guests are open to drinking by the bottle, it then opens up a lot more options to recommend them. It usually starts off the same though, are they looking for a white or a red? Crisp and fresh, or rich and textural for a white. Light and fruit driven, or full and structured for a red? Then you can give them a few options and go from there.
I see that you have wine matching with the ‘Trust us’ option – is that flexible? For the wine pairing I serve a glass of bubbles with the 4 snacks, then a wine for each course (3 savoury, 1 sweet) after that. I generally serve a white, an orange or lighter red, another red, then a sweet/ fortified wine to finish. Occasionally you get someone who doesn’t drink red wine or doesn’t want a glass of bubbles with the snacks start, but most of the time they’re happy to let us guide them.
When you’re asked for a recommendation, is that an opportunity to take someone outside their comfort zone (Gruner, sherry, grenache) or do you literally recommend the best wine for a certain dish? A little bit of both, it really comes down to understanding the guest and listening to what they want. Some guests are really adventurous and want to try something they’ve never had or heard of before, and then there are others that drink the same wine every time they go out. However most of the time guests come to us for an experience, and are happy to take recommendations and try something new they’ve never had before.
What would you match the Radburnd wines with at Ahi? We currently list the 2018 Chardonnay and 2018 Syrah from Radburnd Cellars. We’ve just put a clam chowder on the menu and it would be incredible with the Chardonnay! Our wild shot red deer dish would be beautiful with a bottle of the Syrah.