On Friday, June 5, 2020, Allie Nault will be working a shift with VinePair to answer any and all of your wine questions. No question is too simple or too advanced. Text a Somm is a fundraiser in partnership with The United Sommeliers Foundation to benefit the thousands of wine professionals whose careers have been put on hold during the Covid-19 crisis. In addition to paying the sommelier for their shift, VinePair will be making a donation to the USF, and so can you by clicking here. Text your questions to Allie from 7-10 PM ET on Friday, June 5 at (914) 580-4540.
Allie Nault is a sommelier at The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va. The esteemed restaurant recently made headlines for its creative reopening strategy, but earlier headlines may have referred to its status as a Relais & Châteaux, Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond, and Michelin Three Star property.
At this upscale establishment, Nault tells us she is the youngest Michelin Three Star sommelier in the country. As the property’s sommelier, she presents guests with wines from some of Europe and California’s best producers. The award-winning wine list is carefully curated to accentuate the inn’s decadent dishes such as carpaccio of herb-crusted baby lamb loin and crispy Napoleon of chilled Maine lobster with caviar in coulis.
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Below, Nault discusses her own “serious” pairings — pizza makes several appearances — as well as what kind of cocktails she’s whipping up during quarantine. (Hint: Wine is involved.)
1. What are you drinking the most in quarantine?
My boyfriend is an incredible chef, so I always end up on wine duty (a pretty good gig). I try to pair our wines with what we are enjoying for dinner. Lately he has been making pizza as well as Asian cuisine. One of my pizza pairings was La Collina ‘Rosa Luna’ Rosato Lambrusco dell’Emilia. Lambrusco is a slightly sweet, slightly sparkling dynamic wine bursting with berry flavors. The salty Parmesan Reggiano complements this wine. A more serious pairing for our mushroom-covered pizza was the Piedrasassi Rim Rock Vineyard Syrah Arroyo Grande Valley which is one of my favorite American Syrahs. For Asian fare, either a German Riesling, or off-dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, or a Cru Beaujolais are always perfect pairings.
2. What is the most expensive bottle you’ve opened in quarantine?
I am furloughed, so currently I cannot afford to drink expensive wine. However, I make a very fancy cocktail that is wine-based: Combine 1 1/2 ounces Lustau amontillado sherry, 3/4 ounce Punt e Mes, 1/2 ounce Cocchi Americano, a dash of orange bitters, and a dash of Cointreau. Shake with ice, strain and serve in a coupe glass. Amontillado sherry is expressive, delicate and complex, so this cocktail is my “take” on a finessed Manhattan. I am not much of a cocktail queen, so it is no surprise that my preferred cocktails are wine-based.
3. How do you make guests feel comfortable if they seem intimidated by you (in a restaurant)?
I do not think I have ever intimidated a guest, and if I have, I am really sorry. When I walk over to the table as the sommelier, the response I usually receive is that people are surprised that a young lady with a smile on her face is a sommelier. Many people have even asked me as I recommend them a bottle of wine if I am old enough to drink. I am for sure not the stereotypical image of a sommelier, but that does not stop me — or you could say, intimidate me.
4. What’s the best wine you can get at the grocery or discount store?
I found a sensational value wine for $7 at Safeway (a grocery store chain here in Va.). It is the charming 2017 Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It is a soft and approachable red wine that is balanced beyond belief for the price. With forest-fruit-like blackberries and cherries accompanied by cedar smoke and dried flowers, it is a show stopper and is perfect with a takeout pizza or any red-sauce pasta dish. I usually chill the wine before I enjoy it.
5. What regions and styles of wines are you most interested in?
I usually drink what I am studying, so I am currently drinking sparkling wine and fortified wine for my next two exams. I am also most interested in a good deal. I get way too excited when I find a $15 bottle of wine that drinks like a $40 bottle.
6. What’s the best way to ask for a budget-friendly bottle at a restaurant?
Don’t be shy, just ask! I enjoy introducing people to wines that are magnificent and will not break the bank. After all, I also look for the best deals that I can find on a wine list.
7. Which regions offer the best value?
This is one of my favorite topics to talk about. I recommend Portuguese wine for Vinho Verde and robust red blends. Another favorite is Deutscher Sekt, which is a sparkling wine made in Germany. Riesling takes on a mysterious and smoky profile. I also recommend Austria’s Grüner Veltliner, which is perfect for all spring vegetables. If you like Burgundy, do not shy away from Oregon Pinot Noirs.
8. Where do you like to buy wine online (or which clubs do you recommend)?
I will be honest, I do not think I have ever purchased a bottle of wine online. I love going into a local wine shop and supporting my community.
Ed. note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.