Maria Bastasch from Maydan and Compass Rose in Washington, D.C., picks wines in the name of empathy.

By Oset Babür
April 29, 2020
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Chloe Mata Crane / Jennifer Chase

While most Wine Directors would be daunted by trying to build a list almost entirely from wine regions that are virtually unknown in American restaurants, Maria Bastasch took the opportunity and (figuratively) ran for the hills, all the way to Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, and Lebanon. With every glass she pours at Washington, D.C.’s Compass Rose and 2018 F&W Restaurant of the Year Maydan, she’s helping build relationships between guests and these countries, many of which are less traveled to due to political strife and social unrest.

Even so, she’s careful not to sermonize over dinner. “Especially in D.C., there are so many agendas and causes that it can be a little overwhelming. The term ‘activism’ becomes a little bit like white noise,” she says. At both Maydan and Compass Rose, Bastasch nudges guests to view everyday indulgences—like a glass of wine—as a chance to redefine what it means to expand their awareness. “Wine is a product derived from the land, and it’s one of the very few things that you can export that really encapsulates that,” she says. “Drinking it allows you to empathize with people that you may never meet, or a country where you may not ever physically set foot.”

To entice guests to try a skin-contact bottle from eastern Georgia or rosé from southwestern Turkey, Bastasch runs wine classes for her staff. For her, the onus is on restaurateurs and wine merchants to show people that buying wines from regions beyond just California, France, or Italy can have a critical impact on small countries that desperately need the revenue. “In the very beginning, there was a lot of skepticism coming from customers who were like, ‘Why would I want to spend money on a glass of Georgian wine?’ Now, we’ve seen a change of heart—a lot of people come in really interested and open and wanting to experience wines from these regions.”

Maria's Picks

2017 Palafox Mission Rosé ($21)

“Born in Ensenada, [Mexico], Lulú Martinez Ojeda studied in Bordeaux for more than a decade before making her way back to Valle de Guadalupe to make world-class wines. Think tart Greek yogurt and underripe strawberries with a punch of red currants and tarragon.”

2015 Domaine Neferis Selian Carignan ($25)

“This Tunisian red fills the glass with its intensely dark purple hue and has rich aromas of dried and fresh plums. It’s substantial enough to drink with a big piece of meat but dynamic enough for a tomato-based seafood dish, much like what you’d find from the region it calls home.”

2018 Gvantsa’s Aladasturi Pét-Nat ($28)

“Sisters Baia and Gvantsa Abuladze from Imereti, Georgia, have been taking the natural wine world by storm. I picked grapes with Gvantsa in 2018, and while I love their original skin-contact white wine, their pét-nat is my new favorite! Its fizzy, funky fruit is balanced by aromatic herbs.”

2018 Gentle Folk Rainbow Juice ($33)

“Originally from South Africa, this group of vintners is making incredible low-intervention wines in Australia’s Adelaide Hills. Rainbow Juice is a blend of 21 different grape varieties. This is like an orange wine and rosé combo or a ‘skin-contact rosé,’ as they call it.”