Sommelier Nadine Elizabeth Brown pairs wines with Caribbean dishes like cold salt donuts at Bammy’s. Photo courtesy of Bammy’s
There is a moment that torments Nadine Elizabeth Brown. A hospitality professional for more than 20 years—and director of wine at Charlie Palmer Steak for more than a decade—Brown knows a winery well. So when a A friend asked a master sommelier what were the best wines to pair with Indian cuisine, his reaction irritated her.
“He rolled his eyes and said, ‘Just have a beer.’ It stuck in my head,” Brown says.
The idea that some cuisines can’t be paired with wine or don’t deserve wine pairings is a myth Brown is eager to bust. Born and raised in Jamaica and Puerto Rico, Brown is as drawn to the sweetness and tang of her native Caribbean cuisine as she is to French Burgundy, and doesn’t see the two as mutually exclusive. During the pandemic, she launched At Your Service, a business offering (then virtual) tastings, personal education, wine advice for restaurants and sommelier services. Today, she’s taking the business one step further by launching Re-Imagining Wine, which she calls “a wine ‘club’ that isn’t a club in the traditional way.”
“It’s a series of events and tastings that celebrate different cuisines and chefs in the region,” says Brown, who organizes events around Caribbean, Laotian, Chinese and Korean cuisines. “In many ways we are reimagining wine and reimagining the type of food that goes with wine.”
Brown’s first in-person event is a collaborative dinner on Monday, August 15 with celebrity Trinidadian chef Peter Prime at Caribbean Restaurant Bammy’s at the shipyard. (Prime recently joined the team after go out Cane on Capitol Hill.) Prime will be showcasing pan-Caribbean dishes it plans to add to the new menu later this month — more on that to come — such as seared scallops on cou cou or roti de duck curry with mango, tamarind chutney, and cilantro-like beni relish chadon. Brown will pair wines and cider, ranging from a sparkling Greek rosé to a reserve Spanish Rioja, to Madeira to accompany Prime’s rum cake for dessert.
The default is often beer or rum drinks with Caribbean food – after all, both are made in the islands and are more common than wine. But Brown says the sweet and spicy flavors also pair well with offbeat bottles, which some owners, Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan, plan to add to Bammy’s permanent menu.
“I focus on wines with different profiles,” says Brown. “Wines from the Canary Islands, orange wines, slightly effervescent pet-nats, red wines like Beaujolais, you can chill a little. Brown says she also focuses on grape varieties from black-owned vineyards or produced by black winemakers for her company.
“I want to drink wine with foods that we eat all the time,” she says. “If you go into someone’s take-out drawer, it’s butter chicken and Jamaican patties – not a lot of truffles.”