Hands-down the most buzz-worthy new restaurant — and hence, hardest reservation — in the New York City dining scene is Cosme, where saying that chef Enrique Olvera is making Mexican food is like saying that Elon Musk makes cars. Technically, it’s “Mexican food” and flavors you might associate with it, only light-years beyond what you’re accustomed to in approach and execution. You don’t earn a glowing 3-Star review from The New York Times as a Mexican restaurant by slinging burritos. Cosme and Olvera are groundbreakers game for big risks, bold choices and a heavy hand when it comes to innovation.
So naturally, out of just five white wines served by-the-glass, the restaurant opened with a Verdejo from Rueda on the menu. Wait, back up a second … pairing wine with Mexican food? You bet.
A lot of what Verdejo offers is concentration … There’s tropical notes, there’s creaminess, there’s hints of oxidation. I find it works really well with a lot of our first courses.
“In the beginning,” Cosme’s sommelier and beverage director Yana Volfson tells us, “I’d overhear people saying ‘Are we supposed to be drinking wine with Mexican food?’ I think that’s interesting!” Not at all complacent to stick with tequila and mararitas like most Mexican restaurants, “Cosme tends to encompass a wonderful dining experience where wine can be a part, too,” Volfson says. “When I started to spend time with Enrique’s food, it’s really wonderful to just see what works wine-wise.”
Cheese-bombed enchiladas? Torpedo-sized burritos? Nope, no chance at Cosme under Chef Olvera’s watch. Think more along the lines of duck carnitas, uni tostadas with avocado and bone marrow salsa (“a tostada of the Gods” according to the New York Magazine review) and crispy octopus in hazelnut molé sauce. If lighter seafood is your thing, Volfson tells us that Verdejo is a magical pairing with the restaurant’s kampachi crudo with fermented serrano chile threads.
“A lot of what Verdejo offers is concentration,” Volfson says. “It has thick skin so I like the texture of the wine with our food. There tends to be an acceptance to absorbing flavor as opposed to cutting through it. We’re looking for Verdejo that has a creaminess to it so it expresses itself differently. There’s tropical notes, there’s creaminess, there’s hints of oxidation. I find it works really well with a lot of our first courses.”
Not to disrespect the classics, but I tend to sometimes organize things in color. Like ‘What does the color purple taste like?’ ‘What does green taste like?’
So how did a Rueda wind up on the list to begin with? “The wine list is definitely inspired by the food,” Volfson explains, saying that there’s a “focus on Spain with our wine list” because of the food pairing options, but “also there’s a geeky underlay to the wine list — which isn’t something we’re really advertising.” Not up on your wine geek speak? Ultimately that means Volfson and Cosme go out of their way to find interesting, diverse and funky wines to pair with food that’s got exactly the same creds. Bonus nerd alert: Volfson approached some wines for the list by thinking about agave, the base of the aforementioned tequila and mezcals most common in Mexican restaurants … except there’s a twist.
“So I took the fact that agave is grown in red soil and regions with high iron and somewhat aerated soils. I then thought about wines that have red soil as well — plucking from places like that while not having 100% focus, but Verdejos definitely have that red soil quality.”
That logic continues in Volfson’s general philosophy of wine pairings. Sure, there’s the tried-and-true pairings that have been around for decades, but then she gets a little Willy Wonka on us.
“Not to disrespect the classics, but I tend to sometimes organize things in color. Like ‘What does the color purple taste like?’ ‘What does green taste like?’ and ‘Why would purple and green work well together?’ if they were a food and wine pairing.” Similarly, Volfson says that wine pairings and their efficacy isn’t just about what you’re eating, but how you’re eating it.
“You can have all of these theories of what goes well together, but what kind of eater are you? Are you the person who takes a bite and gulps your wine while the food is still in your mouth? Do you swallow your food and then take a sip with just the aftertaste of the food? All of that changes how certain things pair — you just hope you can help enhance the experience either way.”
For more information on Cosme, visit www.cosmenyc.com … and good luck snagging a reservation.