Water for Chefs—Sarah Grueneberg, Monteverde, CHICAGO

A pasta whisperer considers rusticity in a bottle.

August 12, 2016 ● 4 min read

Get your frizzante on at Monteverde, the newly minted altar at which you may join Spiaggia alum and pasta whisperer Sarah Grueneberg in full worship of Italian culture and cuisine. The multi-award-winning Top Chef runner-up credits travel, travel, travel for her mastery and authenticity in the kitchen, but what we really want to say? Thank you, thank you, thank you for invoking the shakerato gods. We totally owe you one.

Would you call yourself a wine drinker? Why or why not?

Definitely. Food and wine are linked closely together, especially with regard to a culture and their own specialties. "What grows together goes together!" is something I've heard over and over from my friends in the industry, and I can't help but agree. 

Paint the whole picture of your bangin'-est wine experience REAL or IMAGINED.

I love really great wine, but what I love more is sharing time at the table with friends and family. I don't think deeply about each sip the way a sommelier might or care as much about technically "perfect" wine – I want wine that expresses something. That said, my most bangin'-est wine experience would be more about the people and the place than the wine itself. 

It'd be in Italy – more specifically, in Sicily. Next to a fish market, eating just-caught gamberi rossi, then whatever the local version of caponata is (there are a few different interpretations, and I love them all), then a super simple pasta with bottarga and breadcrumbs, maybe some sardines. My family, my fiancé and my friends are with me. The wine will be something simple – maybe a grillo, or an inzolia, or catarratto. If I wanted to get fancy, maybe something super stellar like COS ‘Rami’ Bianco. That's a wine that speaks of soul and of reviving Sicily's great wine tradition. I’ve been to Sicily before, but it’s been a while and I think about this often.

Bubbles or Burgundy?

Bubbles. With food, without food, during the day, late at night, with a lot of caviar… there’s an appropriate time to ball out on bubbles, whether it’s Champagne, Franciacorta, or even Lambrusco. That's what's great about sparkling wine – there's one for every occasion.  I can get into the pét-nat thing, too – doesn't have to be fancy. Agnès & René Mosse’s ‘Moussamousettes’ is so good, and Tavignano's ‘Pestifero’ is a fun new one for the US; sparkling verdicchio/malvasia/sangiovese from the Marche! We’re all about the spritz at Monteverde with a few different variations. Bubbles elevate whatever they touch – they can either be ultra luxe, or just simple and fun.

Have you experienced a wine pairing that you felt truly elevated your food?

I think simple is better.  Wine and food can't fight with each other; you're looking for symbiosis. Sometimes it's the simplest wine that’s the most amazing with the food. As a chef, the food is first for me, and I've had some amazing Chablis that just sings with food. You can drink Chablis with anything, but I actually really like them with truffles and brown butter.  I wouldn't turn down an aged Barolo with tartufi bianci (a classic pairing), but ‘Les Clos’ with truffles is amazing. Raveneau and Dauvissat are the easy ones, but there are some newer ones I love: Pattes Loup, Samuel Billaud, Patrick Piuze. The thing is, Chablis doesn't fight with the food. It's all mineral and acid, and then comes in with this rich umami note that just really kicks up anything mushroom-y/cheese-y/funky. I love it.

What makes you like a wine?

Balanced. Rustic. Like I like my pasta.

What makes you not like a wine?

When a wine is taken out of its element and manipulated too much. I want to taste its essence, be able to get a sense of place and true character. Wine has its own story. It doesn’t need to wear a mask of oak or added acidity – that’s just someone who’s embarrassed by their own carelessness covering up with more carelessness. 

If you could drink one wine RIGHT AT THIS VERY MOMENT, what would you want?

I like the funk (also a favorite genre of music). I just tried Tavignano’s vermentino pét-nat, and it was TASTY.  Unfined, unfiltered, and full of flavor. Juicy, ripe vermentino from Southern Italy.



COS ‘Rami,’ Sicily, Italy  

Unfiltered, uncensored, uncut. This wine is a bottled love letter to Sicilian heritage, and it is straight up racy. But first, you need to speak the language: let’s talk about skin contact, baby.  

Go way back to a time and a place (a thousand years ago in Sicily, say) when all folks really knew was that if you left grapes in a clay pot long enough, they’d turn into something that gets you drunk. White grapes, red grapes, all the same. As the grapes break down, micro-particles of grape skin lend structure, power and earth to the wines; they were primal, wild and natural – a potable connection to the land.  

Fast-forward to now, and conventional wisdom dictates that you crush those white grapes and get ‘em off the skins STAT so your wine stays crystal clear. Not so at COS, where that slow and ancient winemaking practice is in full force and the white wines are still treated like reds, resulting in what the truly hip now refer to as “orange wines." ‘Rami’ is true to this tradition – a blend of native Sicilian grapes Grecanico and Inzolia (per Grueneberg’s request) left in contact with the juice for ten days. It’s exactly the kind of sultry, rustic, citrus-and-herb vino we’d be happy to savor beachside with a pile of bottarga-laden pasta. Or in Chicago. Whatevs. 

Lauren Friel | Photo via Chicago Tribune | Illustration by Amanda Lanzone