Advanced Sommelier Laura Koffer, the longtime beverage director for all off Top Chef Michael Chiarello’s restaurants (including Yountville’s famed Bottega and Coqueta) has traded the restaurant floor for Wine Access, and we’re thrilled to bring her finely tuned palate to Wine Access members.
From calibrating the perfect pasta pairings to studying under The Wine Bible legend Karen MacNeil and Iron Chef Morimoto, Laura’s experience with global cuisine is second to none. This week, we bring you her perfect summer pairings, inspired by international flavors that are easy to recreate at home. Plus, all of her recommendations are ready to ship today!
Food: Cedar plank roasted salmon
Laura’s Perfect Pairing: Oregon Pinot Noir
Salmon and Pinot Noir is a classic combination for a reason—it really works! Forget the whole idea that red wine and fish don’t mesh. Together, the smokey, woodsy undertones of traditional Oregon Pinot Noirs harmonize with similar flavors given to salmon from a cedar plank. Hints of citrus and fresh red fruit add contrast, while the fat inherent in salmon makes the wine’s tannins disappear, prepping your palate for bite after bite. Whether you prep this on the grill or in the oven, it’s a signature pairing that never disappoints.
Food: Classic BBQ Brisket
Laura’s Perfect Pairing: Napa Cabernet
Big, boldly flavored food like a smokey, melt-in-your-mouth brisket needs a wine with just as much personality, and nothing packs a punch like Napa Cab. With its signature full-body and the classic, spice flavors imparted by oak aging, Cabernet brings out the nuances of barbeque preparations while its sturdy tannins are tamed by the juiciness of the meat, letting them act as palate cleanser. Just be careful—if you use a spicy rub or sauce, Cabernet could exacerbate the heat.
Food: Lobster Roll
Laura’s Perfect Pairing: Chardonnay
With summer shellfish, it has to be Chardonnay—creamy and rich with a refreshing finish. Whether you’re biting into a chilled Maine-style lobster roll or a warm and buttery Connecticut version of this classic, Chardonnay’s rich mouthfeel and bright acidity is a delicious contrast. A wine with just a touch of oak adds some toasty vanilla notes that deliciously enhances the natural sweetness of the lobster in a drool-worthy combination.
Food: Caprese Salad
Laura’s Perfect Pairing: Rosé!
Nothing says summer better than tomatoes and rosé! Classic rosés from sun-kissed regions are the perfect match for juicy, flavorful, in-season tomatoes. A Caprese salad is inherently delicate in flavor—the combination of umami, acidity, and delicacy can be a challenge—but rosé is a perfect supporting actor. Rather than being powerful, these wines are light and crisp, adding dashes of refreshing acidity and aromatic herbal notes at just the right moment. The most important thing when pairing tomatoes is to match the acidity and not try to overpower the flavor. Great rosé does both!
Laura’s Perfect Pairing: Albariño
Albariño, grown in the seaside region of Rias Baixas, screams to be paired with seafood, especially delicate, raw preparations like sushi. Known for its salty undertones and floral, citrus aromatics Albariño enhances the fresh, briny fish and sweetness of starchy, sushi wines. My favorite nigiri is a simple hamachi with just a tiny dab of wasabi, and nothing matches better than a cool, crisp Albariño.
Food: Grilled Iberico Pork
Laura’s Perfect Pairing: Champagne
Luxury meets luxury. The appeal of grilled Iberico pork is the melt-in-your-mouth texture and delicate flavors—which can be easily overpowered by bold, full-bodied reds. Classic, toasty and citrus-laden Champagnes allow the dish to take center stage while refreshing the palate… and leaving you wanting more of each. Warning: This pairing is so good you’ll want to have multiple bottles of Champagne on hand.
Laura’s Perfect Pairing: Grenache
A wine as layered as Paella! Grenache is lighter bodied and less tannic than many reds, so it doesn’t overpower delicate seafood, but it has bold, vivacious red fruit and herbal aromatics and flavors that match with the mélange of flavors in a perfect paella. The signature ripe cherry notes and savory Mediterranean herbs, and Grenache’s Pinot Noir-like structure sings with the saffron, shellfish, and rabbit (or chicken) of traditional Paella.
Food: Grilled Octopus
Laura’s Perfect Pairing: Sake
Sake isn’t just for sushi! The depth and complexity of sake is wide-ranging, and a richer style of sake can match the charred flavor of grilled octopus in structure, without overpowering the delicate octopus. Tannic wines easily overpower flavorful, savory seafood preparations like octopus, while sake always elevates them. In essence, the creaminess of high-quality sake brings out the sweet and briny components of grilled octopus. Sake, like rosé, also moves seamlessly from one dish to another, making it perfect on the table with whatever charred goodness is coming off the grill.