Kathy Lavelle


An interview with wine expert Kathy Lavelle

Red, white or bubbly? Lavelle’s Bistro in Fairbanks covers the bases for anyone’s taste. This restaurant may be thousands of miles from a thriving vineyard, but it’s known by many as the hub of wine education in the Interior. The bistro puts on numerous wine programs and even started a wine guild in 2002. Every Tuesday from September through March, Lavelle’s hosts wine tastings with an emphasis on education.

Before settling on a wine for your fall celebrations — or any occasion — read on to learn more from co-owner and wine expert Kathy Lavelle.

Alaska Home: What kind of wines do you enjoy?

Kathy Lavelle: It depends — upon the time of year, weather, temperature, mood, etc. Wine is made to be enjoyed in the company of others. During the summer, I seem to drink a lot more refreshing white wine; in the winter, I enjoy heavy red wine. As a rule, in Fairbanks, we sell a lot of heavy California red wine. So much for the movie Sideways — we haven’t seen an increase in sales of pinot noir yet!

AH: Do you have a favorite holiday wine (or a favorite one you’ll be breaking out this holiday season)?

KL: I love champagne and sparkling wine — I believe that Americans in general don’t drink enough champagne. It goes really well with many different types of food. Why save it for a special occasion? Drink it now!

AH: What other wines would you recommend for fall entertaining?

KL: Every year we do a tasting called “value wines for the entertaining season.” I am always amazed at the incredible value out there. When I’m entertaining, I want to offer a wine that all of my guests will appreciate — but I don’t want to go broke. There are many wine publications that list great value wines. Some of my favorites: King Estate, Ore. — pinot gris (incredibly refreshing white wine) Los Cardos, Argentina — malbec (dry red wine) Kaiken, Argentina — malbec Cono Sur, Chile — pinot noir Lorinon, Spain — rioja (a lighter wine than cabernet; wonderful paired with pork, sausage, duck) Carol Shelton, Calif. — monga zin (rich, full-bodied, high sugar and alcohol content) Oyster Bay, New Zealand — sauvignon blanc Kim Crawford, New Zealand — sauvignon blanc Cycles Gladiator, Calif. — pinot noir, merlot, cab, etc.

AH: Is it true what many of us have been taught — that white wine goes with fish and red wine with meat?

KL: My general rule: Light food goes with light wine; heavy food goes with heavy wine. It is a very good rule of thumb. By the way, pinot noir (red wine) goes very well with salmon.

AH: What would your dream meal (matching food and wine) be?

KL: At Lavelle’s, I want our guests to take a bite of food and take a sip of wine and not have anything conflict. After each sip of wine you should have the desire to take a bite of food and not have one overpower the other.

AH: How does one select wines to start a collection?

KL: The only way is to begin to learn about wine — jump in feet first. There are no special books to read — you must have the desire to learn. The only way to learn is through the effortless task of tasting. Once you begin to taste, don’t be afraid to ask questions — that’s when the fun begins. Learn what wines appeal to your taste and start attending wine tastings and seminars.

AH: Do you have any tips on storing wine?

KL: The ideal temperature to store wine is between 56 and 58 degrees. Not everyone has the luxury of a wine cellar. I store my personal wines in what was once a root cellar. It keeps the correct temperature all year long and I didn’t have to invest any money. Use caution — don’t store the wine in an area where the temperature fluctuates. Store wine bottles on their side.

AH: What does adding wine as an ingredient bring to food?

KL: When you cook with wine, you typically want to reduce it. Reducing it evaporates the liquid — what you’re left with is a really concentrated alcohol/fruit mixture. It’s great in lots of sauces, soup, stews and marinades — it adds an aromatic new flavor profile. We cook with wine (in the restaurant) all the time. We also cook with sherry, port, madeira, vermouth. When people take a bite of a dish and can’t put their finger on that subtle, distinct flavor, it’s usually the wine they’re tasting. As a rule of thumb, don’t cook with a wine that you wouldn’t want to drink. Don’t ever use wine that may have gone bad or appears to be flawed in any way.

AH: What do you recommend as a great gift for a wine lover (or that you’d like to receive)?

KL: A set of nice wine glasses. They break easily but I know people really appreciate drinking out of nice glasses. Riedel and Spiegelau are two of my favorite brands. They have specific glasses for burgundy, bordeaux, port. Every time I give a nice glassware set as a gift, (the recipient) is so grateful!