I

n the native Kiswahili the word “safari” means “to journey.” In the native French, “sommelier” is the title bestowed upon a professionally trained wine steward.

At the May fundraiser Wild Wines benefiting the Little Rock Zoo, guests will be guided along a culinary journey carefully curated by sommelier Jonathan Looney, the event’s beverage sponsor.

Wild Wines is an annual event of the Arkansas Zoological Foundation, a non-profit raising funds for the growth and development of the Little Rock Zoo. This year’s Wild Wines kicks off with a special VIP Reserve Room party at the Zoo on Friday, May 5, in Café Africa. High-end wine hand selected by Looney will be featured and paired with food from the Capital Hotel and SO Restaurant.

On Saturday, May 6, the festivities continue at War Memorial Stadium, where more than 150 selections of wine will be offered as well as other beverage samples paired with food from more than 50 of the best restaurants in Little Rock.

“Pairing wine and food is both an art and a science,” Looney says. “There are so many levels and nuances to both wine and food to consider that you can easily lose yourself in the endless possibilities.”

Looney says he sticks to three basic rules of wine pairing:

1) If it grows together, it goes together. Having an Italian dish? Choose an Italian wine. Local cuisine and wine developed together over centuries, so trust the inherent local pairings.

2) You can go for a “parallel pairing” in which the flavors of the wine mirror those of the dish. For example, for a light salad with a lemon vinaigrette dressing, you would choose a light and crisp wine with fresh citrus flavors like Sauvignon Blanc.

3) You can do an opposite pairing, where your dish and wine contrast each other. An example would be lobster poached in butter, which is ultra creamy and smooth. A perfect pairing would be Champagne, which is sharp and acidic, with a tingly texture from the bubbles.

Looney recommends the following wine pairings for the Easter/Passover holiday that punctuate the various holiday meals many will be serving.

For those serving lamb he suggests Andre & Michel Quenard Chignin Mondeuse.


Looney notes that the mondeuse (mon-DUZE) grape has been growing in the Savoie region of France since before the Romans brought their winemaking techniques to the region thousands of years ago. Known for its striking pepper note, it is one of the parent grapes of Syrah. It’s deep purple in the glass, with strong tannins that are held in balance by a tight acidity. It has aromas of raspberry and strawberry that cushion the soft scent of autumn flowers that develops after decanting. This wine is delicious now, but could easily be aged for more than 10 years in the right conditions. It’s a sturdy and robust wine that will hold up well against lamb.

If you’re serving ham for your Easter meal, Looney picks Catherine & Pierre Breton “La Dilettante” Chenin Blanc.

The off-dry style of wine makes it perfect for pairing with this meat since it calls for a little spice. Though some people may not like the idea of a slightly sweet wine, when paired with spicy foods, the spice cancels out the sweetness and the wine can seem rather dry.

“As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, I’m not sure of anything else that I’d rather drink on my patio,” Looney says. “It opens up to reveal a host of spices and fruit: ginger, orange, tangerine, lemon and apple.”

Finally, chicken is a universal dish that can be dressed up for a special occasion – just as roasting with garlic & herbs – and paired with a nice wine, such as Catherine & Pierre Breton “Trinch” Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Franc is one of the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Looney says. Those who drink it will quickly notice the dark fruit notes of blackberry, raspberry and cassis that both grapes share. Cabernet Franc is known for its floral and herbaceous aromas, which make it a perfect pairing for chicken, Looney says.

“Grown near the French city of Bourgueil, “Trinch” actually is German for “cheers,” and this is a wine to be enjoyed with friends,” he says.

Regardless of where one’s wine journey takes them, one rule reigns supreme Looney says.

“In the end, I always tell people to drink what they like,” he says. “Wine shouldn’t be hard. As long as you like what you’re drinking, the pairing will work.”


By L. Lamor Williams :: Photography by Jamison Mosley :: Styling by Maura Montez. 

Andre & Michel Quenard Chignin Mondeuse :: Flowers Provided by The Good Earth Garden Center


 Main Picture : Chef Holly relaxes at the end of a long day at The Pantry Crest in Hillcrest with a little Crown Royal ‘neat.’


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