Top Pair: Breaking Tradition with Emilie Perrier of Ai Fiori
- Ai Fiori
- 400 Fifth Avenue
- New York, NY 10018
- (212) 613-8660
Originally from Roanne, France, Emilie Perrier came to New York City in 2003, starting her stateside career at Murray’s Cheese Shop. Developing a passion for wine, Perrier passed the American Sommelier certification in 2004, while working at Asiate at the Mandarin Hotel. She then joined the wine team at The Modern as assistant wine director until 2007. Perrier moved on to become wine director at Joel Robuchon’s L’Atelier in New York City, where she fulfilled every sommelier’s dream: developing her own wine program instead of running an existing one.
In 2009, Perrier opened Sho Shaun Hergatt in New York’s Financial District (receiving one Michelin star for outstanding wine list) and was honored as a 2010 “Top Ten Best Sommelier North America” from Food and Wine magazine. She is a founding contributor of PBS’s “Vine Talk,” and is currently chef sommelier at Michael White’s three-star Ai Fiori in the Setai Hotel, which she helped open in 2010.
The trouble with perfectly balanced dishes is they don’t always need a wine’s acidity or earth notes to complete them. Hence the challenge for the sommelier—to complement the dish without overwhelming it. But a seasoned pro like Emilie Perrier is full of surprises, and up to the challenge. She first poured Knez Winery Pinot Noir. (We’re open to the idea of red wine with seafood, but a Frenchwoman serving American Pinot? Sacre bleu!)
The combination of fish, bone marrow, and brown butter is meaty and sweet, making red wine an ideal choice. “Some rich whites could work, but I like to surprise people and also show something they wouldn't expect,” explains Perrier. She considers the lightly fruity and aromatic Pinot as somewhat Burgundian (notes of truffles and roses), as well as fragrant and generous in flavor. Perrier likes the juicy cherry-like acidity in the Knez Pinot and further describes it as “feminine—a light red wine with a light seafood composition is elegant and different.” We love the faintly sweet notes in the wine that enhance the natural sugars in the scallops while the earthy tones play well with the root vegetables and anchor the dish in the savory world.
Perrier’s pairing this time around was more conventional but surprising nonetheless. She balances a dish rooted in tradition with a modern-style Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese. She explains that the wine’s smooth and dry notes of oak and fresh black currants focus the gamey flavor of the duck, and it “pairs softly with the lemony ricotta, and overall, brings a nice herbal spice to the duck jus.”