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Ask a Somm: What's the Best Way to Navigate Restaurant Wine Pairings?

Is it kosher to order a half wine pairing during a tasting menu?

Shutterstock/ (Richard Semik)

Keen to know what pairs with pork belly spring rolls and Chinese spätzle? Fung Tu GM and Beverage Director Jason Wagner will hook you up. He's in charge of the hip New York restaurant's esoteric, small production and often "natural" wine list, which complements chef Jonathan Wu's remixed Chinese-American fare. Below, Wagner (who pours a pairing with the restaurant's six course tasting menu) demystifies wine pairing etiquette.

Q: I usually find wine pairings with tasting menus to be too much alcohol. What are my options? Is it better to ask about a half pairing? Or should I just order a few by the glass? I've started just ordering a bottle of bubbles at the beginning and then maybe adding a final glass if I want towards the end, but I'm not sure what somms think of that approach.

Wagner: I think the approach you are taking is pretty spot on. A bottle of bubbles is always a good idea. Always. For one, bubbles go with everything, or at least they don't get in the way of anything. I find this to be a good approach especially with the extremely lengthy tasting menus.

A bottle of bubbles is always a good idea. Always.

Still, if you're looking for the fully curated tasting menu experience, I have to recommend doing the wine pairings. Most sommeliers put tons of thought and effort into the pairings and often source wines that are off the beaten path or surprising combinations that you wouldn't normally think of. A half pairing is a great idea. You could share a pairing with one of your dining companions.

Often, the by-the-glass selections are offered because the sommelier is using them for the tasting menu. You could ask for a couple glasses that will pair nicely over a few courses.

With most interactions with sommeliers, it's best to just come right out and say what you're looking for and put yourself in their hands. This gives the sommelier the opportunity to be creative within your parameters. We love what we do (no one is in this for the money, that's for sure) and we love to share it with our guests. Whatever we need to do to share our passion with you and enhance your experience, we will do. You just have to ask.

Fung Tu

22 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002 (212) 219-8785 Visit Website