There’s a moment that’s been nagging at Nadine Elizabeth Brown. A hospitality pro for 20-plus years—and Wine Director at Charlie Palmer Steak for more than a decade—Brown knows her way around a cellar. So when a friend asked a master sommelier about the best wines to pair with Indian food, his reaction irked her.
“He rolled his eyes and said: ‘Just have a beer.’ It stuck in my head,” says Brown.
The idea that some cuisines can’t be matched with wine—or aren’t deserving of pairings—is a myth that Brown is eager to bust. Born and raised in Jamaica and Puerto Rico, Brown is drawn to the sweetness and spice of her native Caribbean cuisine as much as a French Burgundy—and doesn’t see the two as mutually exclusive. During the pandemic, she started At Your Service, a company offering (then-virtual) tastings, personal education, wine consulting for restaurants, and sommelier services. Now, she’s taking the business further, launching Re-Imagining Wine, which she calls “a wine ‘club’ that’s not a club in a traditional way.”
“It’s a series of events and tastings that celebrate different cuisines and chefs in the region,” says Brown, who’s planning events around Caribbean, Laotian, Chinese, and Korean cuisines. “In a lot of ways, we are reimagining wine, and reimagining what kind of food goes with wine.”
Brown’s first in-person event is a collaborative dinner on Monday, August 15 with celebrated Trinidadian chef Peter Prime at Caribbean restaurant Bammy’s in Navy Yard. (Prime recently joined the team after exiting Cane on Capitol Hill.) Prime will showcase pan-Caribbean dishes he plans to add to the new menu later this month—more on that coming soon—such as seared scallops over cou cou, or curry duck roti with mango chow, tamarind chutney, and a cilantro-like chadon beni relish. Brown will pair wines and cider—anything from a sparkling Greek rosé to a reserve Spanish rioja, and madeira to match with 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 prevalent than wine. But Brown says the sweet, spicy flavors also play well with offbeat bottles, some of which owners Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan plan to add to Bammy’s permanent menu.
“I’m focusing on wines with different profiles,” says Brown. “Canary Island wines, orange wines, slightly effervescent pet-nats, red wines like Beaujolais you can chill a bit.” Brown says she’s also focusing on varietals from Black-owned wineries or produced by Black winemakers for her company.
“I’m about drinking wine with foods we eat all the time,” she says. “If you go in anyone’s takeout drawer, it’s butter chicken and Jamaican patties—there aren’t a lot of truffles.”