Tableside with a Somm: Alden & Harlow
Bumblebee (Cafe ArtScience)
The Blueberry Buckle (Capo Restaurant)
Curious about restaurant wine lists? Each month, Boston Globe wine columnist Ellen Bhang chats with a sommelier about a couple of terrific bottles and recommends food pairings – you come away a savvier sipper.
When Jen Fields talks about Alden & Harlow’s wine program, she likens it to a playlist. “The overall theme is ‘delicious,’” enthuses the director of operations for both the Harvard Square restaurant and its nearby sister, Waypoint. “It’s a mixtape of wines I like.”
The 60-bottle list of mostly Old World pours—with a few New California wines to boot—reads like a collection of greatest hits from multiple genres. That means you’ll spy a classic white from Italy’s Alto Adige on the same page as an orange wine crafted in the San Francisco Bay Area. The music analogy makes even more sense when you learn that chef-owner Michael Scelfo chooses all the beats for the restaurant’s soundtrack. “Some of his favorites are Miguel, Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West,” chuckles Fields. “But I have also heard him playing Joe Jackson, Paul McCartney, and lot of Yacht Rock-type of stuff. All over the place!”
At both establishments, the wine pro keeps selections streamlined. “On some level, you’re a slave to the amount of space on the list,” she muses. But she insists on noting the kind of grapes found in each bottle. “A lot of restaurants don’t list the varietal. But for some people, it puts them in their comfort zone. They feel they can ask a question.”
Guests might be unfamiliar with xarel-lo or macabeo, but seeing those grapes associated with a sparkling wine piques their curiosity. They’re quick to ask about a 2007 Gramona “III Lustros” Gran Reserva Cava. Fields, who used to work for Toro in the South End, explains that the Spanish bubbly gets its effervescence from a second in-bottle fermentation, like Champagne. The dry sparkler, made from biodynamically grown fruit, ages 96 months (eight years!) on the lees, the fine yeast sediment that lends nuance and complexity to the finished product. Candied hazelnuts topping a creamy bundle of burrata, along with roasted plums and tarragon, echo the nutty aromas of the wine. “I’m a huge proponent of well-made cava,” enthuses the somm. “The acidity is always on point, and you get so much for your money.”
A different conversation ensues when diners recognize a varietal and ask a common question. They’ll spy a German riesling on the list and wonder aloud if it’s sweet. Chatting with them further, Fields learns that they like pours with a fruity profile, but want to avoid anything cloying. She confidently points them to a 2013 Weingut Peter Lauer “Kern,” crafted from grapes grown in a prestigious hillside vineyard in the Saar. Like clockwork, guests embrace the white for its precise, elegant acid that balances residual sugar. “They’ll say, ‘I do like riesling!’” she shares.
Fields watches as dining companions dunk crisp-fried hush puppies into a rich, smoky aioli whipped with bacon fat, then take a sip of the refreshing white. “Riesling is very palate cleansing,” she says with a knowing smile. “I really like the back and forth.”