In just two years as the sommelier and wine director at New York's world-renowned Le Bernardin restaurant, 37-year-old Aldo Sohm has become a wine world heavyweight, having been recognized as "Best Sommelier in the World" in 2008 and earlier this month for "Best Wine Service" at the James Beard Awards. Trained in his native Austria, Sohm came to the United States to improve on his then "dumpy" English so he could better compete at wine competitions. We caught up with Sohm this morning to chat about the unwritten rule of pairing fish with white wine, which vino goes well with grilled salmon and that other reason why he now lives in America.
How did you become a sommelier?
Ever since I was little I had a thing of smelling food and wines. At first I didn't really like wine when I entered the industry. This was [when I was ] 16 or 17. People in the restaurant would ask me what you could recommend and I didn't know and thought this was embarrassing. [Then] I went on a wine trip with my father -- he invited me. I was 20 and I saw it, and it was kind of interesting and just went from there.
You said you moved to the United States to improve your English, but I get the sense there was another reason?
Austrians love to complain. I hate to complain so I figured it is easier to change a country than to change myself.
More about pairing rules -- and how to break them -- after the jump.
What do you say to the rule of white wine with fish and red wine with meat?
That is kind of a basic help. It depends on whether it is grilled, roasted, poached or fried. That's a major point. The color of the meat is not that easy. The sauce makes a difference as well. I love breaking rules since my childhood. Like in school, cheating is absolutely allowed, but the only thing is not getting caught.
How do you not get caught?
I pay attention to acidity, to the tannins if you are talking about red wines and the amount of alcohol. I check to see which herbs are in a dish. Chef Ripert has a very playful way of cooking and I have a playful way of working with wine. It's like a relationship: If only one gives and only one takes, it's not going to last very long. As a marriage they are supposed to be better together. That's the ultimate target you want to achieve.
How would break down pairing by cooking method?
As soon as you roast or grill you are getting char. This has more flavor, so you can go with a more bold wine. If the fish is poached, you are going to taste the fish only. It is more delicate and you don't need a very alcoholic wine.
How about sauce?
If you have a richer sauce, you need a little bit more acidic wine.
We asked you to pair five wines under $25 with grilled salmon (see our list below). Of the wines that you have chosen to pair with grilled salmon, which is the safest bet?
I would go with the Riesling. Riesling and salmon work well together. Salmon is a little bit of a fatty fish and for fat you need a little acidity.
What's the most adventurous wine?
The Pinot Noir from Argentina. It has a beautiful fruit and a richness, but also has a little minerality to it. It has a little bit of acidity and is delicate and has a rich fruit. The acidity cuts the grease, and the delicacy builds the connection by not overwhelming it. The fruit brings the harmony, enhancing the flavors of the salmon and the wine.
Which kinds of reds would you not pair with fish?
It doesn't make sense to go with a heavy red like a Cabernet Sauvignon. There is only the wine and no fish. The problem is that they kill the food. It's a fight against the food, slashing your partner. If you are going to break the rules, you have to do it wisely.
Below are Sohm's five picks under $25 -- in ascending order from white to red and accompanied by Sohm's tasting notes -- to pair with grilled salmon this summer.
2007 Chablis Champs Royaux, William Fevre, France: "Floral flavor, mineral driven, citrusy, medium in alcohol, fresh almost steely fruit, medium bodied."
2007 Riesling Unplugged, Tesch, Nahe, Germany: "Peach and lemon flavors, dryer in taste but fresh with acidity; a good sipping wine because it is inviting to drink."
2007 Sauvignon Blanc Cloudy Bay, Marlborough, New Zealand: "Rich fruit, medium to full body, expressive on the palette with plenty of acidity."
2006 Bourgogne Jadot, Burgundy, France: "A lot of strawberry and raspberry flavors, delicate flavors and a little smoky, delicate fruit flavors on the palate that stays for a few seconds on the tongue."
2007 Pinot Noir Saurus Patagonia, Argentina: "A little more expressive in the fruit, a little smoky and spice-driven from the soil. It has a richness in the fruit and a spiciness on the palate.A very easy to drink pinot."
Filed Under: Drink Recipes
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