Not only is Kevin O'Connor the founder of Northern California's beloved LIOCO winery in Santa Rosa, but down south he's also proprietor and wine director of Santa Monica's year-old aestus restaurant. At his sleek beachside number, O'Connor oversees a slew of New American, California-styled plates (from a tangerine and fennel quinoa bowl to roasted chicken with hummus), plus a worldly wine list heavy on European and local Cali producers. Below, the wine wizard mulls game day-appropriate juice just in time for Sunday's Super Bowl.
Q: With the Super Bowl coming up, I am wondering, which wines pair best with snacks like wings and nachos?
O'Connor: When I'm gearing up for the long day of buffet-grazing on Super Bowl Sunday, I like to kick it off with some bubbles. With all those appetizers and snacks, you need something refreshing and clean to cut through the grease of items like chips and dips. Sparkling wine works with all iterations of those dips—from artichoke to white bean to hummus and, of course, the endless salsa variations, regardless of the spice level. And for those of you serving charcuterie and cheese boards, there's nothing better than bubbles.
With all those appetizers and snacks, you need something refreshing and clean to cut through the grease ...
These days I look no further than Domaine de la Bergerie and their delicious Crémant de Loire ($22). This mouth-coating non-vintage beauty delivers just the right everything to pair well with all the chips and dips you can toss at it. It's made from 100 percent chenin blanc and has very fine bubbles, with perfectly placed fruit notes of peach and pear ... finishes rich, yet clean.
If you're feeling flush and don't mind spending more, ask your wine retailers if they can get some Guy Larmandier Brut Rosé ($52) ... it's also a non-vintage wine.
I love riesling for the kickoff too, especially a dry one or perhaps one with just a touch of residual sugar. Ask your retailer to help you distinguish between a trocken (dry) riesling or a kabinett level wine that won't overly sweeten your palate. My choice would be 2014 Josef Leitz Rüdesheimer Trocken Riesling ($24). It's got the perfect balance of power, mouthfeel, dryness, with flavors of sweet lime, smoke, and spice.
For the chardonnay lovers I'd love to convert, a wine made with white Rhône varieties will deliver immense pleasure. Ask your retailer about wines made with any combination of grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne, clairette, or viognier, and you need not spend more than $20-$25 to enjoy an excellent example either from California or France. My choice on this day would be from the highly respected folks at Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles. This most ambitious project is completely dedicated to Rhône varieties and stands alone in what it has accomplished in its short history. Try your best to acquire a bottle of their 2014 Patelin de Tablas Blanc ($17). It's a blend of grenache blanc, viognier, roussanne and marsanne.
... I would stay away from delicate, brightly-fruited red wines ...
As you move into the bigger bites of spicy wings, pizza, ribs, burgers, and steak, I recommend switching to red wines. Generally speaking, I would stay away from delicate, brightly-fruited red wines, like pinot noir or gamay-based wines, or delicate reds. The red fruits and floral flavors don't pair well with spicy foods, barbecue sauce or the tomatoes that you'll find in salsas and on pizza. Look for more darkly fruited, fleshy red wines with some spice. Despite my own normal propensity for Old World red wine, this weekend I've got two wines in my carry case.
First up, Stolpman Estate Syrah ($27) from this family's venerable estate in Ballard Canyon, CA. This is the benchmark for Central Coast syrah. On the nose, gorgeous and subtle notes of cranberry, white pepper, and tangerine, and on the palate, a classic combination of blueberry/cherry fruit with a deeper meaty quality and pinpoint accents of clove and anise. You will not be able to put the bottle down.
And for a top-shelf big red to hold up to all the spicy, smoky, roasted, or grilled meats and sausages you'll be enjoying, look no further than Dave Ramey's 2012 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($45). This broad-shouldered wine has great power and focus, from the smoky aromas of black currants and cherries, to the broad mouthfeel abound with notes of dark fruits nuanced with tobacco, espresso and hints of cedar. If you want to score on Sunday, bring this winner to the party!
Lastly, the Italian varieties of barbera ($24) and dolcetto ($12) produce such easy drinking versatile wines, so I must also point you towards Palmina in Santa Barbara as the producer to buy. Alluring aromatics, polished mouthfeel, brightly fruited with soft tannins, their wines always capture the correct essence of these varieties, and they are priced so reasonably you cannot help yourself from grabbing multiple bottles. Your Super Bowl menu and guest list will be thrilled you did!
Have a wine-related question you'd like answered? Hit the comments.