As marijuana goes mainstream, the conversation around it has become increasingly sophisticated—with the kind of emphasis on producers, clones, terroir, and even tasting notes that one more typically associates with wine.
For those who reside in one of the twenty-three states (and the District of Columbia) that has laws legalizing marijuana in some form, it’s likely that you know at least one person with a medical marijuana card. If you’re lucky enough to live in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, or Alaska, you don’t even need one to get stoned.
In some ways, pot enthusiasts are starting to style themselves more like sommeliers—even taking on names like ganjiers and cannasseurs. According to Allison Edrington, Editor-in-Chief of cannabis website The Ganjier, the term ganjier was spawned by the site’s co-founder, Kevin Jodery, and "a couple of guys" who wanted to create a word to describe themselves, but that could also be applied to any cannabis expert.
"The word ganjier is a play off of sommelier and it means having that knowledge of cannabis at a high level that involves a lot of passion," says Edrington. "It’s a way of reclaiming status in a culture that has been, in a lot of ways, denied—so adopting words like cannasseur is taking it back—playfully adopting it." A cannasseur, Edrington explains, refers to someone who enjoys, and is very well versed in, the flavors and the experience of marijuana. One who can evaluate the drug, but may not be on the production side, like a ganjier.
As cannabis enthusiasts adopt a more serious approach to getting high, sommeliers are looking at wine in a newly relaxed and casual way. Thusly, both groups are working to transcend stereotypes fixed to their respective cultures for decades, and to appeal to a broader audience.
Consider, The Clever Root, a new magazine from those behind two very serious wine publications—The Tasting Panel and The Somm Journal. According to Meridith May, the publisher of all three, The Clever Root is about "everything that grows," including marijuana, and the site even employs Edrington as its Cannabis Editor.
It’s also an open secret among wine professionals that many California producers make weed-infused wines—popular varietals include syrah, cabernet, grenache, and viognier—for private consumption, or for sharing with friends. Making weed-wine involves co-fermenting wine with weed, and adding a portion of dried and ground marijuana to a barrel while the wine ferments, at which point THC is extracted and infuses into the wine over the course of about nine months.
Eamon Rockey, co-owner of Betony restaurant in New York City, recounts the first time he tasted weed-infused wine from the personal stash of a popular chef who was sharing the potion at a birthday bash:
"[The chef] poured some wine he was keeping behind the bar and challenged us to taste it and guess the varietal. I was with some serious somms and we were all swirling, and sniffing, and not getting it, until my friend started giggling, and eventually the bartender tells us it’s chronic. Apparently [the chef] kept it around for special occasions. It was robust and earthy."
For those residing in the states where marijuana is legal, it would seem that the wine and weed industries are in a kind of sweet spot that’s just rife for collaboration. But dig into the internet a little, and it quickly becomes evident that the topic hasn't been covered as much as one might expect.
In fact, finding sommeliers to go on the record for this story was challenging. While it may seem like pot is not really a big deal anymore, "There’s still a stigma," confirms Rockey. "At the end of the day, it’s still a controlled substance."
Regardless, below, seven sommeliers chime in on pairing weed with wine.
Whitney Adams, sommelier and wine blogger, Los Angeles, CA: When it comes to weed and wine, for me, it's all about the riesling. Mosel riesling, to be exact. That high acid/residual sugar tang makes your mouth water and keeps cottonmouth at bay. And since you're already toasty, too much alcohol is not a good thing, even though you always think it's a great idea to get drunk when you're stoned. It's not. A German riesling's residual sugar (think kabinett, feinherb or spätlese level) keeps the ABV low to moderate, and perfectly sessionable.
John Roenigk, The Austin Wine Merchant, Austin, TX: Personally, and seriously, as opposed to something too dry or too green, I would choose or recommend an obviously "wet wine" that can serve a multi-purpose foil for cannabis. Riesling spätlese from the middle Mosel comes first to mind. And to narrow it down a bit, I'd choose 2012 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese ($22) from Weingut Dr. Loosen. Spätlese is the sweet spot for riesling on the middle Mosel. Just beyond the ripeness level of kabinett, spätlese typically has a bit more weight and roundness on the mid-palate, and would serve as a balm for any dry mouth that may occur (even better than water, IMHO). And the gentle sweetness of a Mosel riesling spätlese might also well enough satisfy any craving for something sweet that may be induced.
Josh Nadel, beverage director for NoHo Hospitality Group, NY: It seems these days people find a platform to pair wine with just about anything. Honestly, I feel a lot of it it masturbatory. However, the fact that wine and grass go well together is unassailable. My first choice is Champagne. I like Cédric Bouchard Blanc de Noirs 'Les Ursules' ($75) from the Aube, a softer style of Champagne due to the cepage of pinot noir; Lilbert-Fils Blanc de Blancs 'Perle' from Cramant ($70), slightly lower atmospheric pressure than most other Champagnes; and Bérêche Campania Remensis Rosé ($73) from Ludes in the Montagne de Reims, savory and complex beyond the norm.
For a white, Château La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($37). It has the weight, complexity and flavors to stand up to such extracurriculars, and the varietals of the wine and terroir yield a rounder, lusher, more full-flavored wine. For a red, go with a wine that has lower to moderate tannin. Cru Beaujolais made in the traditional style using carbonic maceration is full of flavor, easy to drink, and it has savory and herbaceous notes, which are pretty apropos. Same story with partial whole cluster syrah from either California: Wind Gap ($34) makes a good one, Australia: try Jamsheed ($20), or France: Faury ($18).
Ashley Ragovin, sommelier and founder of Pour This, Los Angeles, CA: All I really know about weed is that every time I've smoked it, I've gotten INSANELY thirsty. So, all I can think to do is have something cold and crisp, but not too acidic on hand, so you can chug it when you wake up in the middle of the night, face down in a pizza?? Romain Chamiot 'Apremont' ($18) comes to mind from Savoie, France. The grape is jacquère and it has a few grams of RS, so it softens and rounds it a bit without being sweet. I guess it could be said to have kind of an herbal, alpine quality to it, too. Other than that, I once called 911 on MYSELF after eating edibles, soooo again, I’m probably not the expert here!
JD Plotnick, Lou Wine Shop, Los Angeles, CA: I prefer clean, mineral-driven rieslings (sweet or dry) that complement, but don't interfere with, the cannabis flavors. My ideal pairing would be the Ovum Off The Grid 2014 Riesling ($26) with the strain Key Lime Pie, though the more common Cherry Pie or Girl Scout Cookies strains would also work very well. This dry-ish riesling grown in the middle of nowhere in southern Oregon has Old World aromas of wet stones, and a complex guava-driven finish on the palate, perfectly complementing the lime candy, mint, and spice notes in the strain.
The pairing is made even more meaningful, knowing that the vineyard Ovum buys the fruit from was formerly an illegal pot farm that was busted and seized by the U.S. government in the early 90s. The current owner bought the land from the U.S. Marshals and, in 1995, planted riesling, pinot blanc, and muscat because he knew the area was best suited for white grape varieties. Taste Ovum's 2014 Off The Grid Riesling with some Key Lime Pie and you'll be inclined to agree.
Randy Clement, Silverlake Wine, Los Angeles, CA: If you are smoking weed (and not eating it) we recommend Massican "Annia" 2014 Napa Valley ($30) for a white. I learned about Massican drinking it by the glass at San Francisco's Bar Tartine. There is nothing more future and past at the same time than Bar Tartine, and the same can be said for the wines of Massican. Annia is a blend of chardonnay, tocai, and ribolla gialla. More exotic than a High Times centerfold viewed with 3-D movie glasses on.
For a red, try, 2013 Jérémy Quastana L'Insurgé, Loire Valley, France ($19)—light, fresh, easy. All gamay from organic vineyards, as if you aren't already greened enough. Young Jeremy is at the top of his game once again, showing that the Loire Valley red wine scene is as versatile as it gets.
Zach Zito, Biondivino Wine Boutique, San Francisco, CA: As the name suggests, Sour Diesel is a sativa strain has a sour/fruity flavor, reminiscent of Sour Patch Kids. The clear headed, active high makes it a good choice for daytime. Sour Diesel pairs well with sparkling sur lie whites like Prosecco made in the col fondo style, or the frizzante malvasia and pignoletto made in Emilia-Romagna. The yeasty, at times sour-tinged, finish on these wines compliments the bud's flavor, and the crisp acidity and bubbles make them deliciously refreshing.