Why Attica’s Somm Jane Lopes Is Mixing Wine and Decanting Champagne
We’ve all been there —the waiter accidentally pours someone else’s Pinot Noir into your Barolo, ruining your perfectly good glass of wine. You smile and tell them it’s okay while silently seething, reminding yourself that we all make mistakes. And while it’s something that just happens sometimes, it’s not something you’d expect to happen at Melbourne’s Attica, one of the best restaurants in the world. That is, unless it’s being done on purpose.
Jane Lopes, Attica’s new sommelier, is used to guests freaking out when she tries to pour a Chikuma Nishiki "Kizan Sanban" sake into a half-full glass of 2011 Crawford River "Noble Dry” Riesling. “We've had people cover their glasses, try to move their glasses out of the way, yell, ‘What are you doing?!’,” she said of her mixed-in-the-glass wine pairing for the restaurant’s abalone with seaweed butter and black garlic cream course.
For Lopes, a perfect pairing isn’t always found in one wine alone, so the American expat keeps things interesting by mixing different wines in the same glass. “After people realize what's happening and that it's intentional, jaws are usually on the table,” she said. “Most people have never seen anything like it before. The feedback has been extraordinary, though. People are really into it.”
Beyond the power of waking up the guest, allowing yourself the freedom to mix and match wines that can get you a supremely harmonious pairing. “I just thought: I want the flavors of sake on the body of a dry Riesling,” she said. “It created an excellent pairing for the dish that couldn't have been achieved by any one element.”
But it’s not just wine on wine. Lopes has done quite a bit of experimenting between her time at Attica and Nashville’s The Catbird Seat, her previous stint. “One of my favorites at Catbird was Tokaji in a glass that had been rinsed with bourbon,” she said. “It was paired with a dessert of vanilla cake, charred-oak ice cream and cherry. Bourbon epitomizes these flavors, so I rinsed the glass of Tokaji with bourbon.” Other past Lopes pairings that sound amazing to us? Velvet Falernum with Pinot Gris, saison with a rinse of Aquavit, sake in rosé Champagne.
While Lopes had begun to make a name for herself for adventurous pairings inspired equally by her wine and cocktail background, Lopes is coming into her own at Attica. “At Catbird, it became ‘my thing’ and my regulars came to expect it,” she said. “It got to the point where it was a bit forced. I don't want to do that at Attica. I want the dish, the moment in the meal and the progression of the menu to create the necessity for the pairing. “
So what does that mean? Well, in the spirit of wine sacrilege: decanted sparkling wine, for starters.
Beginning with a 10-plus-year-old sparkling from Australia’s Yarra Valley, Lopes gets the flavor profile she’s looking for without the added element of the bubbles by decanting the sparkling in the afternoon and serving it in a wide Burgundy glass. “I wanted to emphasize the yeasty, brioched character, but I didn't want the wine to be that bubbly,” she said. “The bubbles are pretty much non-existent, and you're left with this crazy texture, razor sharp acidity and toasty flavor that match the intensity of both the marron and the dessert lime courses.”
Beyond pairings, Lopes is stocking up on “undisgorged” sparkling wine from local Victorian wineries and storing them on their heads to collect the lees in the neck of the bottle. “When a table orders one, they can choose whether they'd like to drink it ‘recently disgorged’, i.e. we disgorge it for them à la minute, or ‘undisgorged’ and cloudy, like a pet-nat.”
At the end of the day, whether she’s dealing with a straight ol’ reliable pairing or something more innovative, Lopes believes that the pairing motivations need to align with the spirit of the restaurant.
“I think each restaurant has its own unique set of conditions that demand a unique wine and pairing approach,” she said. “Ultimately, doing something a little unique allows for another level of engagement. Instead of going through the menu on auto-pilot, guest are jolted out of their expectations a bit and more deeply engage in the meal.”
Cheers to being jolted.