A fool-proof case from sommelier Jared Hooper that masterfully pairs with everything from pho to duck confit.
Wines that Pair with Everything Jared Hooper
Credit: © Laura Ford

"Our cuisine is from a chef who is half Chinese, half Filipino, from New Jersey, and classically French-trained in San Francisco," says sommelier Jared Hooper of Faith & Flower in L.A. "So, I spend my days searching for wines that can go with pretty much everything." That includes dishes as varied as pho and duck confit, including the restaurant's famous kimchi deviled eggs.

"In some ways it's challenging, but you have to let go a little and just shoot for wines that are versatile," he says, adding, "It's not going to be about perfect pairings all the time."

What qualities does Hooper look for in a wine that make it versatile? "Acidity, balance, and minerality for starters," he says. "I'm looking for wines that are not overtly oaky, because you can have something like a Napa Cab that turns into a steamroller and just flattens out the food." He also turns toward wines with bright, delicate fruit. "That's one of the reasons that Gamay is my go-to," he says. For whites? "I typically aim for something that has the weight of a Sauvignon Blanc," he says, "so I play around with a lot of Chenin, a lot of Grüner, and certain styles of white Burgundy. If it's crisp, then it can go with so many things."

Here, Hooper shares his top 12 picks for infinitely pairable wines:

"This is a great, approachable example of grower Champagne. It's priced really well, and I also have a sentimental attachment to it because I once sabered a bottle with a Katana – a samurai sword – at about 3:00 in the morning with a bunch of friends. The beauty of Champagne, and this one in particular, is that it's so versatile. It can handle something rich; fish in a butter sauce is just spectacular with it. But something light and elegant won't get lost under it, either. Bubbles, to me, always seem to behave in a way similar to acidity in pairing situations. They add this refreshing element, and they set up your food perfectly, like on a little golf tee."

"This is super Grüner defined. Martin and Anna Arndorfer are this young couple who studied in Italy for a little while before going back to their native Austria to start their winery. It's a small estate… They farm biodynamically... And Grüner is one of those little treats that I love to surprise people with. If someone is looking for something like a Sauvignon Blanc but are willing to go off-roading a little bit and try something new, this is what I pour. It's light, bright and has that verve, but it also has this sneaky back end on it that reminds me a little of lime soda."

"I absolutely love this wine, and I describe it as a Burgundy drinker's Riesling. It has a beautiful hidden weight, so it benefits from decanting – a little restrained when first poured, then it opens up to reveal all of this power. Because it's a dry style, it has a much broader range pairability. Unless the dish in question is something spicy – something that has some heat that wants the unctuousness of a Spätlese or Auslese – I really steer dry. With fish or anything that has citrus involved… any salads… This wine will just shine."

"People see that I have a whole section on my wine list dedicated to Marcel Deiss and ask me, 'what makes this guy so special?' There are a million things that make him special, but the best way to explain it is to just open a bottle. The philosophy there is that the wines should show off the vineyard site more than the grape variety. So, it's a field blend, and you're never really sure what grapes are involved, but you really get a sense of the personality of the vineyard. In the case of Mambourg, it brings a little bit of sweetness, and the aromatics are incredible. They remind me of walking into my childhood church, which was this old building from the 1800s… this backdrop of incense. It's sort of spicy, sort of exotic, but also very familiar at the same time."

"I usually have an instinct to start throwing punches when people refer to anything in California as 'Burgundian.' I just hate using the term for a wine if it's not from Burgundy, but this one is exactly that. It's cool-climate. Their vineyards are right next to Seasmoke but at higher elevation, and it's amazing the temperature difference between the bottom and the top of the slope, so the wines have this purity. They're not afraid of acidity. They have beautiful depth of fruit. There's some oak, but it's a nice use of it; they treat it as a complement to the fruit rather than addition or a main theme."

"James Rahn is a neat guy and a sommelier, and he also happens to make some killer small-lot Riesling and Gamay. People know the Willamette Valley for Pinot Noir, but this is a wine that proves there's more to the region than that grape. In my infinite love of Gamay, I refer to it as Pinot Noir's New Jersey cousin. It's little louder, a little more brash… It tells dirty jokes… But it's a whole lot of fun to hang out with. Its like a New World spin on the cheeky elegance of Beaujolais."

"This is another wine that I just sell through because I love it so much. And when I'm able to actually enjoy a bottle myself, I forget there's food on the table; I forget I'm with my friends. I just zone in on it and just want to sit there and smell it. It has this aroma that's so haunting: lilacs, violets… It's super elegant and sexy. I love all Beaujolais, but it doesn't get much better than this."

"This is a Zin that wins the ZAP Festival almost every year. It's pretty small lot stuff made by Ian Blackburn and Clay Mauritson, and they blend a little Petite Sirah into this bottling. It's game-changer Zin for me. It shows some restraint, so it's not that big, dark, over-the-top stuff. It has these really pretty floral notes, some nice complexity going on – just an overall stunner. It's great with red meats... Pastas… It works with game and even spicier dishes."

"So, Angela Osborne, the winemaker at A Tribute to Grace, is just a master of Grenache. She has a couple different single vineyards, various cuvées, and a rosé, but it's all Grenache, all the time. If you were to give me paper and a crayon and ask me to draw what this wine tastes like, I'd draw an upside down triangle, because that's the shape of it. It starts off really light and elegant and then gets broader and somehow gains in power as it finishes. It crescendos. With most wines, you get that big hit up front, and then it slowly fades into a memory. But this one is like those birthday candles that keep relighting, with this bright, red fruit."

"I'm a huge fan of all the wines that Russell From makes, but his Nuts and Bolts Syrah is just unapologetically good. It's big, it's rich – sort of everything that, as a sommelier, I'm not supposed to like. But he manages to balance that perfectly with these stunning Northern Rhone aromatics: smoke, meat, black pepper, garrigues... All the great savory stuff. Sometimes, when you get a really ripe wine, trying to pair it is like trying to get a powerlifter to do yoga, you know? It can't do it. The guy can't even touch his knees. But this one pulls it off. When guests come in that want a really big Napa Cab, I can pull out this Syrah instead and wow them. Every time, they whip out their smart phones, take a picture of the label, and jump on his mailing list."

"This Syrah is total counterpoint to the Herman Story bottle. These wines get really fun when they have some age on them: 6 or 7 years, and they're beautiful. Michael Bonaccorsi unfortunately passed away in 2004, and his wife Jenne took over for him. She's been doing a killer job with the Chardonnays, Pinots, and Syrahs, but for whatever reason she decided to discontinue the Syrah project. When I heard that, I immediately got in touch with her to what she had in the library and bought up everything I could. It's just so expressive. Where the Herman Story is louder, the Bonaccorsi is clearer."

"Malidea is Italian for 'bad idea,' and it's the historic name of the hill where these Nebbiolo grapes grow. Legend has it that the hill was so steep that it was a bad idea to plant on it, so naturally he was up for the challenge. The wine tastes almost like a Burgundy that's gone rogue, you know? It's spurned the family and taken off on a motorcycle. It's red fruited and vibrant but with a little bit more of an edge. That irony, mineral tone and more pronounced tannins. It's light enough for fish but can still stand up to osso buco or a big ribeye."