Seriously, what’s so special about the wine at Contra?
Quite a lot! Here’s how friendship, open-mindedness and all natural ingredients make for such a good pairing
Many restaurants have great wine lists. Many pair those wines with the courses. However, few actually change the food to suit what's in the bottle. Even less place the goods on the plates and the drinks in the glasses on equal billing.
Contra, the New York restaurant founded by the young chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske, is one of those rare restaurants.
Five or six years ago, as Stone and Von Hauske were dreaming up ideas for their restaurant, they met at The Ten Bells, a Lower East Side wine bar that specialises in natural or ‘low intervention’ wines, made by small producers, using as few artificial ingredients as possible.
Both the chefs had a pretty good take on wine, having worked in Europe for a few years. “Living and working in Paris, it became super important to me to have access to affordable wines that were also easy to drink (I was poor),” writes Jeremiah in A Very Serious Cookbook. “Meanwhile, in Denmark, Fabián was experiencing a similar awakening with the boom in Copenhagen of natural wines, which were becoming popular for their fair price point and ridiculous drinkability.”
The chefs liked the drinks on offer at The Ten Bells so much, they invited Jorge Riera – who ran the wine list there – to oversee their wine program. This became the first of many oenophile relationships that helped Contra and its sister restaurant Wildair establish themselves as the place where wine lovers go to eat.
“Our approach to wine is similar to our approach to food, which is to say it’s less about certifications and labels and more about relationships,” says Stone. “We work with people who share similar beliefs and treat their staff and products with respect. Most of the winemakers that make up our lists are people we know and love.”
Many of these newfound wine-maker buddies, such as René Mosse and Thierry Puzelat, are based in the traditional wine-producing regions of France, yet Contra and Wildair’s list extends to many lesser-explored appellations made in Georgia, Slovenia and elsewhere. In 2015, they even opened the equally great, Wildair, two doors down from Contra, as “a place to come drink wine and hang out before eating dinner at Contra,” says Stone.
All this intense wine knowledge might put off those less familiar with the terms on the back of a bottle, were Stone and Von Hauske not so open-minded.
“A lot of the flavor combinations break the rules of how you’re supposed to cook, so it’s only natural our wine pairings follow suit,” writes Stone. “White wine with lamb, red wine with fish, we do it all. When coming up with new pairings, we don’t like to limit ourselves with what is supposed to go with what, asking only, “Do I want to drink this wine with this dish?” If we do, we do.”
To find out just these chefs, those dishes and the wine that goes with them, order a copy of A Very Serious Cookbook here.