It’s not every day that a fellow peruano gets voted “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine. Lucky Angelenos are reminded how Lima-born Ricardo Zarate earned his 2011 title each time they dine at his two L.A. Peruvian restos, Picca and Mo-Chica. Chef Zarate stepped away from his busy kitchen to chat with Señorita Vino about his passion for vino and why every day is the perfect day for a special-occasion wine.
SENORITA VINO: What’s your favorite wine?
RICARDO ZARATE: I like ceviche, and Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best wines for this dish. I love Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It’s so aromatic. If I want something fancy, I’ll pick a Sancerre.
SV: Besides Malbec and Torrontés, which wines would you pair with the most popular Peruvian dishes?
RZ: In the U.S., Malbec and Torrontes are two of the most available South American wines. I like Argentine wines because they get good mileage when paired with Peruvian cuisine. Malbec is light-bodied and not too rich. South American cuisine is rich in flavor, so you don’t want a wine that’s too rich. I would add New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Chilean whites are good with Peruvian food.
SV: Will we ever see the day when Peruvian wines compete on the global stage?
RZ: Peru makes some great wines, but because they’re small-vineyard wines, you rarely–if ever–see them outside Peru. The majority of grapes grown in Peru are used in making Pisco. I think at one point wine will become bigger because Peruvian cuisine is moving toward fine dining, and fine dining needs a fine drink like wine. It may be 10 years before we see more quality wines coming out of Peru.
SV: What advice would you give someone who is not well-versed in wine and may feel intimidated by it?
RZ: I used to go to restaurants and I’d see a French wine and get instantly intimidated. I’d think, “My God, I don’t know what I’m doing!” When you order wine in a restaurant, you have the option to taste it first. The more you taste, the more you learn what grapes you like. California is a fantastic place to live. Go wine tasting in Napa Valley with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and make it a hobby or something you do just for fun.
SV: Do you have a favorite memory associated with wine?
RZ: When I was 20 I received a really expensive bottle of wine as a gift. Don’t ask me the name; all I know is that it was worth a couple thousand dollars. I decided to save it for a special occasion.
Soon after, I moved to London for work. One night I went out drinking with a good friend, and he overdid it and asked to stay on my couch. My wine collection was out in the living room where he [would be sleeping]. I had about 30 bottles, and I separated the expensive one from the others. My friend wanted to keep drinking, so I told him he could open any bottle except for that one, and then I said goodnight.
The next morning, I saw that he had opened the expensive bottle. I was furious! I figured it was ruined since it had been left open overnight. So I sat him down and said, “We’re going to finish this bottle.” The wine was perfect, and my anger disappeared.
A few years after I left London, I learned that my friend had died in an accident. The night we drank the wine was the last time I saw him, so it was all meant to happen. The special occasion was enjoying a great wine with a good friend.