Thomas Carter's path to a career in wine began while studying ancient art and architecture in southern France for a fine arts degree at Columbia College. A birthday dinner and bottle of Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin Grande Cuvée 1989 at Alain Ducasse's Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo inspired him to enroll at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y. After graduating, a stint as a sommelier at Mario Batali's Otto Enoteca and Pizzeria, a Best of Award of Excellence-winner, led to posts at Le Bernardin, the now-closed Alain Ducasse at the Essex House and now, the renowned farm-to-table restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where first lady Michelle Obama hosted a luncheon for spouses of world leaders in 2010. Carter spoke with Wine Spectator about how he approaches wine pairings to match chef Dan Barber's Greenmarket-inspired food and about his choice pours for each season.
Wine Spectator: What do you find to be the key to successful food and wine pairings?
Thomas Carter: It depends where you are philosophy-wise. For me, for everyday eating and in a restaurant, I think the food should lead the dance, unless it's a wine dinner, of course. You don't want to mask the food, you want to bring out its nuances and highlight it with wine.
WS: What are your favorite wines to pair with Dan Barber's cuisine?
TC: I'm an acidity nut, so for me, good wine structure has a base of minerality and acidity and everything else just mantles off of that, and I think the chef's food is very much like that. I love dry Rieslings with just a hint of sweetness.
WS: What wine-pairing tips can you give someone who frequents farmers markets and uses fresh, seasonal ingredients?
TC: Farmers markets not only highlight where things are from, but also the intensity [of the ingredients]. You go there to get the best ingredients possible and I think you want to do the same with wine. You don't have to go on a "whole" or "natural" wine kick and find some überbiodynamic guy. There are plenty of producers out there that farm sustainably. They don't look at the vineyard as a farm but as an organism. They're highlighting the fruit, treating it with respect, so there's not a lot of dancing around in the cellar, not a lot of oak treatment, not a lot of masking the flavors, just purity.
WS: Can you recommend a wine to serve during each of the four seasons?
TC: Riesling for all seasons [laughs]. It goes really well with food. But also for spring and into summer, I like dry Vouvray. Barbera and Pinot Noir for fall. And wines from Piedmont and the Rhône Valley go really well with root vegetables in the winter.
Strengths: France (especially Burgundy), California, Italy
Sentimental Nod: Five vintages of Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape back to 1988 ($375); Hommage à Jacques Perrin Grande Cuvée 2001 ($725)
Longest Vertical: Six vintages of Château Palmer back to 1978
Getting Geeky: Non-vintage Champagne cuvées listed with disgorgement dates
For Acidity Nuts: S.A. Huët Vouvray Sec Le Mont 2007 ($85); Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Alsace Turckheim 2004 ($85)
630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.; (914) 366-9600; www.bluehillfarm.com
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