When Alice Hama, sommelier at Crustacean in Beverly Hills, selects a wine to pair with a dish, she doesn’t refer to it as a pairing; in her words, she finds “a wine friend” for the food. She looks at it more like matchmaking with the food, the wine, and, most importantly, the guest. “Certain foods and wine get along better than others, just like people,” Hama explained.
She also furnishes what she describes as “story pairings” with her wine recommendations. “Wine is not only about the aroma and profile, but it’s also about the story. Especially in Beverly Hills since there are a lot of film people,” said Hama. If she learns that the guests are celebrating a romantic anniversary or on a date night, she may offer the couple a wine from Freeman in Sonoma, a winery that was established by a man and woman in love, and share their story.
Hama also happens to be the only Japanese female sommelier in Los Angeles, an ambassador for Japanese wine, and a certified sake somm from Japan. One of her areas of expertise is pairing wines with Asian cuisine. In the past, Western somms would knee-jerk pour riesling for all Asian foods. The thinking was since there is a sweet element to Asian cuisine as opposed to French, a sweet wine would go with the food.
Furthermore, wine to Hama isn’t just an accompaniment to the food but rather the final ingredient. “Wine should be the next layer to the sauce,” said Hama, “Some fish are soy sauce based, others are gravy. Reds for fish so they can be friends with the sauce.”
Of course now, I had to ask her to help me pair my favorite foods with wine. Here are her tips.
Crustacean’s Roasted Crab with Garlic Sauce and Secret Spices:”If focusing on the garlic component, then drink Champagne or sparkling wine. If it’s the herbs that are getting attention, try a red.”
Something really spicy from Chengdu Taste:”Normally, these foods are high acid foods—do not pair a red. My first choice is Champagne to cleanse the palate and not fight the spice. Also, a German sweet wine Gewürztraminer is a trendy wine in the somm community. It has a profile of lychee and white rose. It’s also good with spicy Vietnamese food.”
Sushi—”Sushi rice has a little sweetness. If it’s salmon with sea salt, go with Chardonnay. But if it’s aged soy sauce, pair with Pinot noir or Cabernet. Tuna goes with Cab. Also, if the fish is wrapped in nori, the dried seaweed, that’s a red wine friend.”
Thai or Indian Curry:”Champagne for spicy. But for Indian food, I’d recommend Indian Syrah. India actually grows grapes and produces wine, Syrah in particular. Ideally, I’d pair local food with local wine. If Indian wine is not available, go with Australian, but not French. The climates are more similar.”
So, the next time you’re out for dinner, rather than pairing your food with wine, friend it one instead. That’s exactly what wine’s all about anyway.
Crustacean, 9646 South Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-205-8990