When it comes to constructing a wine list, are five minds better than one? The upcoming Nopa Kitchen + Bar is banking on it, given its beverage selection is the product of teamwork between newly hired sommelier Jesse Hiney, and Knightsbridge's Christian Pendelton, Bibiana's Michael King, 701's Thierry Lisper, and Rasika's Paul Ruttimann.
Why all the creative input over one wine list? Some of it was circumstantial, explained Pendelton. It took restaurateur Ashok Bajaj longer than predicted to line up a sommlier for Nopa before going with Hiney, a veteran of D.C. Coast, among other gigs. In the meantime, the restaurant was inching closer to opening, and with several wine experts already present within the company, the restaurateur decided they each could lend their individual expertise towards designing drink pairings for Nopa's American and French-influenced menu.
Each has a different area of expertise. Ruttimann has gotten to know the Penn Quarter diner due to his work at Rasika, which he describes as many late 20s to mid 30s individuals who are excited, knowledgeable and adventurous about wine; he also knows Old World wines and Pacific Northwest boutique producers well. King's wheelhouse is France and Italy; Hiney knows New World producers best. "And my wheelhouse is playing referee to all those wheelhouses," said Pendelton.
Pendelton, a manager for the company, set the general parameters for the list, including number of labels (160) and price. All but 20 of the wines are $90 or less, and the majority are $65 or less, he explained. "To me, a brasserie indicates a lower price point than many of our other restaurants," he said.
The lower price point meant getting the opportunity to highlight smaller producers that each person was excited about, said King. For Pendelton, that was Thomas Tew rum, out of Rhode Island. Other favorites on the menu, developed over about a two and a half month time period, include Owen Roe out of Oregon, the Reynolds Family winery in Napa and Cadillac, where King spent six months working in Bordeaux.
Nopa's by-the-glass program distinguishes itself by having more sparkling and rose options than some of Knightsbridge's other restaurants; they're a great pairing for oysters, and there's even a muscadet by the glass, said Hiney. There's a Beaujolais, given that it's a classic pairing with steak frites. "I think it evolved into a list that's much better than we each would have made on our own," said King.
Nopa is scheduled to open to the public in early May, under the direction of chef Greg McCarty.
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