Kimber Stonehouse of LGO Hospitality on Merlot Bashing and Why You Should Drink More Champagne

Kimber Stonehouse of LGO Hospitality on Merlot Bashing and Why You Should Drink More ChampagneEXPAND
Courtesy of Kimber Stonehouse

From now until we publish the 2016 edition of Best of Phoenix, New Times is naming 100 Tastemakers — members of our local culinary community who help shape the way we eat, drink, and think about food in Phoenix. Some you'll know, and for others, it'll be a first introduction, but each person on our list deserves a nod for helping make our city so delicious. Oh, and while you're here, be sure to check out our list of 100 Creatives.

57. Kimber Stonehouse of LGO Hospitality

As wine curator for LGO Hospitality, Kimber Stonehouse makes behind-the-scenes decisions for all seven of the restaurant group's dining concepts, including LGO Pizzeria, Chelsea's Kitchen, Ingo's Tasty Food, and Buck &Rider. Her professional interest in beverages started somewhat by accident — after finishing her studies in classical piano, she went looking for a job and found a calling with a job at Sportman's Fine Wine & Spirits. 

During her eight years with Sportsman's, Stonehouse honed her wine knowledge and palate by seeking every opportunity to taste, analyze, and discuss wine. She started her career with LGO Hospitality in 2013, using her palate to match the right beverages with each restaurant and location's profile.

Besides being a wine and spirit expert, Stonehouse is a certified SCUBA diver and avid hiker whose ultimate dream is to someday relocate permanently to a vineyard in Bologna, Italy, or Australia via catamaran.

Today, she dishes on the three best wine books to read and why she's over merlot-bashing. 

My go-to place for Thai food in Phoenix is Sala Thai at 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard. It’s a quaint little place with dynamite food, and they let you BYOB! I can have my spicy Thai Coconut Milk Soup and Pad Thai with my dry, crisp white-wine faves: Tramin Gewurtztraminer or Zind Humbrecht Muscat. I’m either dining in with friends or ordering takeout at least once a week!

The best kept secret in Phoenix is ... I’m an avid hiker, and one of the things I love about metro Phoenix is that everything’s right here in the city limits! My secret trail (maybe I shouldn’t divulge this one…) is on the back side of Shaw Butte. Everyone hikes up North Mountain or Shaw Butte on the more popular side, but park your car at the North Mountain Visitors Center, and hike out and back following the trails and complex terrain up past the former Cloud Nine restaurant. It’s a great five-mile hike with less foot traffic right here in the middle of Phoenix.

My fail-safe wine and food pairing is ... good bubbles or a European-style dry rosé are not only two of my favorite varietals, they’re foolproof food enhancers because they are fantastic with everything. Tomato-based gazpacho: dry rosé. Artichoke and salmon dip (are you kidding me?): bubbles every time. Sparkling is the most food-friendly wine out there; it doesn’t have to be expensive (too many times we relegate it to special occasions). I enjoy it with (or without) food for all kinds of reasons: I took out the trash, I did the dishes, I’m hanging by the pool or at the lake. My favorite reason ever is that I’ve had "a day" and need to be cheered up! From Prosecco and sparkling Vouvray to vintage Champagne and Tête de Cuvée: I love them all!!

The three books every wine lover should read are ... My love affair with wine, much like music, began with the traditions; then, I became enthralled by the innovations and progress. These books reflect my love of its traditions followed by the innovations that continually drive us forward in our thinking and creating.

1. Wine & War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure by Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup. It’s a book about people and their passion for their vineyards and their wine. It’s how a history book should always be written: from people that lived it and their families, friends, and neighbors.

2. Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch. I love this book; it’s an easy read about a great adventure. Kermit Lynch is one of the premier boutique, estate-fruit wine importers, and he fell into his career by noticing a gap in the industry. For me, this book is about innovation, and creating your own path. We learn and grow from our mentors; then we succeed and honor them by taking their foundation to the next level and accomplishing our dreams.

3. The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. It’s a tried-and-true reference book. Some wine peeps read it cover to cover, but I use it as a starting point reference book. I search the index, which is an awesome resource, then read the section on my topic. The next step in my research is to buy a bottle and learn from my palate.

I’m totally obsessed with single-malt scotch! I love them, and I have for many years — even before drinking whisky became cool. I love their nuances, flavor profiles, and complex distinctive characteristics from Lowland to Highland, Islay to Skye! One of my dreams is to spend at least two weeks working in a Scotch distillery one summer, preferably on Islay with lots of smoke and attitude. Sign me up! 

I’m totally over merlot (or any grape/vintage/style) bashing. I hear it all the time: "I don’t drink merlot"; "I don’t like Champagne"; "the 1998/2011 vintage in California was terrible," etc. It makes me crazy. There’s amazing merlot out there (and it’s from California in spite of "that movie"); you just need to taste what you can when you can. Know your wineries and wine makers. Or trust the knowledge of the person who assists you with your selections. I try to taste everything new to the market, and revisit every vintage — even the supposed bad ones. What I’ve learned over the years is that good wine makers make good wine even in the rough vintages. Good wine makers/wineries make great merlot, great Champagne, great shiraz, great pinot noir, etc., depending upon their passions, traditions, and innovations.

The 2016 Tastemakers so far: 

100. Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis and Phoenix Public Market Cafe
99. Ross Simon of Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour 
98. Debby Wolvos of DW Photography
97. Anibal and Salem Beyene of Café Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant 
96. Bo Mostow of Uptown Farmers Market
95. Julian Wright of Pedal Haus Brewery
94. Stephen Jones of The Larder + The Delta
93. Eric Glomski of Page Spring Cellars
92. Richard Bock of Giuseppe's on 28th
91. Walter Sterling of Ocotillo 
90. Daniel Sevilla of Angry Crab Shack
89. Doug Robson of Gallo Blanco and Otro Cafe
88. LaDawn Driscoll of Liberty Market
87. Jason Calhoon of The Shop Beer Co. and Side Kick Cold Brew
86. Tim and Kim Cobb of United Lunchadores Street Gourmet
85. Micah Olson of Bar Crudo and Okra Cookhouse and Cocktails 
84. Paola Embry of Christopher's + Crush and The Wrigley Mansion
83. Jared Porter of The Clever Koi
82. Diane Corieri of Evening Entertainment Group
81. Erich Schultz of Steadfast Farm Shares His Go-To Place For Beer That Tastes "Like Arizona"
80. Jeff and Leah Huss of Huss Brewing Company
79. Aaron Pool of Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup
78. Diana Santospago of The Maine Lobster Lady food truck
77. Gio Osso of Virtu Honest Craft and Nico Heirloom Kitchen
76. Lauren Bailey of Upward Projects
75. Rodney Hu of Arizona Distilling Company and Yucca Tap Room 
74. Jacob Cutino of Homeboy's Hot Sauce
73. Country and Sergio Velador of Super Chunk Sweets and Treats
72. Dean Thomas of Cornish Pasty Co.
71. Jennifer Caraway of The Joy Bus
70. Scott Holmes of Little Miss BBQ
69. Jared Allen of Proof Artisan Breads
68. Steve McFate of McFate Brewing Company  
67. Mel Mecinas of Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
66. Jessa and Dan Koppenhofer of Gilbert Farmers Market
65. Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks
64. Ryan Probst of Odelay Bagel Co.
63. Diana Brandt of AZFoodie
62. Benjamin Butler of Hayden Flour Mills
61. Jim and Maureen Elitzak of Zak's Chocolate
60. Michael Babcock of Welcome Diner and Welcome Chicken + Donuts
59. Nick Ambeliotis of Mediterra Bakehouse
58. Peter Kasperski of Cowboy Ciao and Kazimierz World Wine Bar


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