A Chardonnay wine from Burgundy, an IPA beer or an oxidised Negroni cocktail? Or maybe even a cold pressed vegetable juice? The wine list is no longer just about wines, and this is no contradiction in terms.
The topic of food and drink pairings in restaurants is becoming more and more interesting and diversified and the international trend is to think out of the box and also experiment with craft beers, sake and cocktails – as occurs for instance in the many Zuma venues throughout the world, the pioneering name in this ambit – or even with non–alcoholic proposals.
Today, the length and depth are no longer sufficient to judge a wine list or more precisely, the list of drinks. Now research, originality and consistency with the cuisine have become just as important, if not more so.
What also counts is the capacity of staff to provide a tailor-made service to the customer and intuitively interpret his or her tastes and desires, with suggestions and new experiences. So, here are the best restaurants in the world in which to have fun with great wines, along with some more outlandish and amazing alternatives.
One of the most complete, ambitious and original pairing experiences to be had in the world is that associated with the new Fronteras menu of the three Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant Quique Dacosta, an authentic journey around the world through different techniques and tastes. Not only are there some excellent Priorat and Riesling wines from the Moselle, but also Amontillado, craft beers, sake, cider and cocktails, such as the house's apple gin tonic with rose petals, which draws the tasting session to a close. The master of ceremonies is Jose Antonio Navarrete, a sommelier from Murcia, who, since 2007, has been working alongside the staff of the restaurant located in Dénia. He has a uniquely talented way of describing each bottle and evoking the magic of its terroir.
You don't need to be a teetotaller to appreciate alcohol-free pairings, which are often in perfect harmony with the dish and offer a welcome touch of lightness in the course of the demanding (and often endless) gourmet menus of contemporary fine dining experiences. This is the case of Ben Shewry's Attica, Australia's top restaurant. Between a Pinot Noir from Victoria and craft beers from Tasmania, a juice of grapefruit, ginger or smoked Granny Smith apple will appear out of the blue, perfect with the fish dish of King George Whiting with melaleuca.
Also at Elizabeth's in Chicago, a tiny restaurant owned by the multi-tattooed chef Iliana Regan, the original food menu is reflected in unconventional pairings: naturally produced wines and Pale Ales from Illinois, pear cider from Normandy and sake, not to mention elderflower kombucha, fennel tea, spicy carrot juice, lime soda and ginger. The foie gras coulant with passion fruit and celery financier? Perfect when served with a Gonzales, a cocktail made from gin, tequila reposado, salty caramel, pineapple and coconut. It's all happening at the Tippling Club, one of the restaurant-bars where the liaison between fine dining and mixology (a rising trend worldwide) is expressed most successfully.
On the Tanjong Pagar Road in Singapore, British chef Ryan Clift works side by side with the bartenders to create original pairings of drinks and his progressive cuisine. An equally interesting story is recounted by the chapter on wine (which ranges from Victoria to the Old Continent, with a particular focus on organic products), but the real fun is to be had with the cocktail menu.
In Italy, Milano is the right place to go for all those who love to mix their drinks; here too there are more and more venues in which cocktails enjoy the same status as wine (if not more) when paired with food. Just think of Dry and Pisacco, two innovative formats created by the same think tank (also with the participation of chef Andrea Berton) in which all vetoes and traditions go by the board. At Dry's they serve pizza and focaccia with fine cocktails created by Guglielmo Miriello – from the Martinez to the Ibisco Sour. At the Pisacco bistrot you can sit at the "communal" bar counter and gradually work your way from a Slovenian Vitovska to a craft Vermouth under the guidance of Giovanni Fiorin.
More and more guests at the Seta restaurant in the Hotel Mandarin in Milan order cocktails during dinner, including the now famous Smoked Negroni. This is the right place to do so, thanks to the top notch team at work behind the bar counter, guided by Mattia Pastori. Some creations are inspired by the refined dishes of chef Antonio Guida, such as his risotto with sepia ink and tiny calamari, turmeric and peas: its liquid version goes under the name of “Dark Side of Margarita” and is a new twist based on mezcal, turmeric syrup, orange liquor, lime juice and crusted salt with sepia ink and peas.
The same attention is reflected in the wine list, which only contains organic and biodynamic labels from all over the world, strictly delivered by bicycle to the restaurant. You are sure to notice a weakness for naturally produced wines from the Langhe or Collio wine growing areas. Sommelier Alessandro Perricone is Italian and always manages to pinpoint the perfect harmony between food and wine, as well as serving great wine labels also by the glass.
In Paris, the best biodynamic wine list is that of Saturne, a minimalist-style bistro of Nordic design where you can find all the most interesting craft products from France, Italy and Spain, sold by the glass and selected by Ewen Le Moigne to be perfectly in line with the “natural” and minimalist cuisine of chef Sven Chartier.
New World terroirs
It is not just the view over the Baía de Guanabara that makes the Aprazível restaurant so special in Santa Teresa, the Bohemian district of Rio de Janeiro, but primarily their wine list, this being a unique overview of the best small-scale artisanal producers in the country, such as those of the Serra Gaúcha.
This is all thanks to the research work carried out by Pedro Hermeto, one of the partners, who has compiled a unique selection that is representative of Brazil and the rest of the world. The excellent craft beers, like the cachaças, are homemade.
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