This week we’ve been exploring Auden, the newly opened bistro at the Ritz-Carlton. Yesterday we interviewed executive chef Mark Arnao and today, Fork in the Road chats with the wine director of the Ritz, Marika Vida-Arnold.
After months of preparation, she has assembled a list of over 500 selections of wine. The list consists heavily of women winemakers and locally brewed beers. We sat down with Vida-Arnold to talk about her list, wine pairings, and if the shape of a glass really affects how you taste wine.
Why the focus on women winemakers?
A lot of people ask, “Are women better winemakers?” I get all these silly questions. But they’re fair because people don’t know the process behind it. I believe in balance, as I do with a good wine. We needed a lot more femininity [at the Ritz]. We have a male chef and a female sommelier. It’s really about trying to create some balance. You need both to make it interesting. It oxygenates the business, if you will.
What’s a good wine that works for both steak and fish?
Pinot noir is a compromise wine. The great thing about Pinot noir is if you have a couple coming in and one has steak and one has fish, you can do Pinot. It’s not going to overpower the fish because it’s not a tannic wine. You don’t want a red with lots of tannins with fish because it will make the fish taste metallic. The way of getting around that is to find a grape variety that has lower tannis. Tannis are the natural preservatives that you get in skins. It’s also a red wine for white wine lovers because it’s so soft. You can see through it. But those that are trying to go from white wine to red, Pinot is a great way to do that. Pinot is a welcoming red if you will. It’s not going to overpower. It has lighter body, less pounds, and higher acidity so it goes well with fish. That’s another wine and food rule on thumb: acid on acid.
Chef Mark Arnao has a Skuna Bay salmon dish with sauteed kale and coriander citrus juice. What would you recommend for that?
In this particular case, you can go either way with white or red. Let’s say if the dish was poached. I’d probably go with the white. It’s a very soft, less intense way of cooking so you’d want a less intense wine. But when you kick it up a notch and you grill it and you braise it, or you caramelize it — to me that screams a little bit red. But then with the coriander and the kale, it can be argued that that it goes better with some whites.
So I’ve heard that the shape of the wine glass can affect the taste of wine. What’s your take on this?
Normally, for Pinot, you want the bowl, specifically because it’s a single varietal as opposed to a blend. The bouquet is much more pronounced in a bowl. For Bordeaux, which is a blended wine, you typically want something taller. If you put a Pinot in a Bordeaux glass and vice versa, you will not get the aromatics as much. Does it really matter for more than that? Obviously taste-wise, it’s always about the aroma. We only can taste four different things, but we can smell over a thousand things. Have you ever tried to eat or drink something when you have a cold? It’s kind of like that. The shape of the glass affects how you smell it. There are studies done that have argued against that, but personally I feel there is a difference, particularly with Pinots and bigger reds. Usually in most restaurants you’ll have an all-purpose glass, a Burgundy, and a Bordeaux.
What is it like being a female sommelier? There aren’t many females in the industry, correct?
Certainly. If I were to go to a tasting tomorrow and if there were 10 sommeliers there, there would probably be two female sommeliers. Most of them would be 50-year-old men. It should never be about what I like, it should be about what the client wants. In our industry, sometimes that idea gets lost — it becomes about how much you know. There are always sommelier competitions we can go to, and my advice is to save [that attitude] for that. But for your guests? Take care of your guests because that’s all that matters. When somebody goes out to dinner, you want to pair something for them. You want to give them what they want. Candidly, I think women are a little bit better at this. That’s been my experience. So I’m not saying there aren’t fantastic men. My favorite is a man — the sommelier at Le Bernardin. He’s brilliant. It’s not a feminist statement. But by and large, I do sense that when it’s a female sommelier, they are always concerned about what you want as opposed to getting to fan out their latest rosé from Corsica.