For many chefs, it’s no longer enough to know where their ingredients come from: They want to grow, butcher and preserve the foods they work with, too. In recent years, sommeliers and beverage directors have also been getting into the DIY trend by making wine, either for their own restaurant lists or for retail stores. As might be expected, the wines from these pairing masters are exceptionally food-friendly, with relatively low levels of alcohol (sometimes below 13 percent), lots of refreshing acidity and beautifully balanced fruit flavors. And because so many sommeliers also love to cook at home, they are creating recipes that show off just how well their wines go with food.
For winemaking inspiration, many of these pairing pros look to France. Rajat Parr, wine director for restaurants in the San Francisco–based Mina Group, makes a meaty, peppery Syrah near Santa Barbara that’s more reminiscent of the restrained wines of the northern Rhône than the over-the-top, fruit-forward bottles that California produces in abundance. His Parr Selection Purisima Mountain Syrah is a fabulous match for his Syrah-braised lamb shoulder, which is topped with olives and dried cherries that have been soaked in yet more Syrah: The deeply savory flavors of the wine and the food are delectable together.
Kevin O’Connor, the former wine director at Beverly Hills’ Spago restaurant, models his single-vineyard LIOCO Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs on the earthy, understated wines of Burgundy. His Sonoma County Chardonnay, made with grapes from several local vineyards, has a bit of California richness—delicious with his herb-rubbed chicken with sautéed morel mushrooms. Salad is always a tough match for wine, but O’Connor’s Chardonnay blend also has a bracing acidity that tastes great with the watercress he serves alongside the bird, tossed with a roasted garlic vinaigrette made with the chicken juices.