We’re excited for the holiday weekend, so we couldn’t think of a better way to start it off than with Food & Wine’s executive wine editor, Ray Isle. Isle is the notorious expert on everything wine, also serving as the wine expert on Stanley Tucci’s show, Vinetalk. Isle truly has the last say when it comes to anything grape – and has a way of surprising even the most experienced wine connoisseurs with his unquestioned taste, and incredible sensibility. In this, his palate truly is absolute, which is why we couldn’t help but sit down for a truly perfect pairing: The New Potato and Food & Wine’s Ray Isle.
Could you take us through your ideal food day? Where would you go? What would your ideal pairings be?
I’d start out with a banana and coffee. Not very exciting, but that’s my usual breakfast. Sometimes, just to get crazy, I might have a pear or a mango instead. For lunch, the roast chicken at Barbuto always makes me absurdly happy. I’d pair it with a terrific Cru Beaujolais, chilled down just a bit. The ’09 Marcel Lapierre Morgon comes to mind. For dinner, if fanciness is an option, then there’s nothing in the world better than that lavender-honey-lacquered duck that Daniel Humm does at Eleven Madison Park – at least as far as I’m concerned. It probably ought to go with a great Burgundy, but what the hell, I’d just as soon drink Champagne with it. If not fancy, I’m happy just eating at home with my wife and daughter (I cook a lot). Wild mushroom risotto, for instance, and an older Italian red, maybe a good Barbaresco.
What’s the wine that never goes out of style?
Riesling. Even when it’s out of style, it’s still in style. Whether or not people realize that.
What’s the restaurant that never goes out of style?
Le Bernardin. Year in, year out, unbeatably, unbelievably great.
Are there certain chefs/restaurateurs that truly understand the importance of wine, and involve themselves in the pairings that go on at their restaurants? Who are they?
Sure, there are plenty of them. In terms of restaurateurs, Danny Meyer, definitely; he does a wine seminar at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen every year. Chefs, Jonathan Waxman here in NYC, Chris Shepard down in Houston, Ken Frank at La Toque in Napa, without a doubt. Jason Wilson at Crush in Seattle; the list goes on.
What’s your favorite place to travel for wine? Where do you go there?
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, but I have a sentimental attachment to the Douro Valley in Portugal, because when I was first getting into the wine business, I worked in sales for a port importer. It’s just stunningly beautiful.
What’s the farthest you’ve travelled for wine?
Probably Patagonia, for a story I did about Piero Incisa della Rocchetta (the heir apparent to Sassicaia, more or less) and his brilliant Pinot Noir project down there. Fly eleven hours to Buenos Aires; fly two hours from there to Neuquen; get in a car and drive an hour and a half into the middle of nowhere. It’s pretty darn remote.
The first thing you look for in a wine…
What’s the wine that will usually win you over? Why?
Vintage port from 1963. Because it’s transcendent, and I can’t afford it.
What’s the one that doesn’t usually work for you?
Pinotage. Horrible grape. Tastes like you licked a horse.