Tonight, Sweetbitter, a series based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Stephanie Danler, premiered on Starz. Like the novel, the series follows 22-year-old Tess (Ella Purnell) as she moves from her home in Ohio to New York and tries to survive in the big, bad city. After finding a room, selling her car, and setting out on a job search that only lasts around six minutes, Tess lands a job — or a trial, rather — as a back waiter at a upscale and well-respected restaurant. Throughout the series, our heroine becomes ever more enchanted by the restaurant industry. While learning all about food and wine and developing her own palate with the help of her new co-workers, Tess also gets sucked in to the darker sides of the business.
As food-lovers, we’re as intrigued by every new discovery Tess makes with her taste buds as we are with her scandalous new life and sexual exploits. For us, the food and wine lessons she receives are some of the best parts of the show. That’s why, with help from certified wine educator and founder of Wine Savvy NYC Sayle Milne, we’re suggesting a wine pairing for each episode. Each pairing is meant to compliment what Tess is dealing that week. Plus, if you also happen to be a 20-something hustling to make it in a new place you’ve chosen to call home, you'll might find yourself in need of a drink after watching this painfully accurate portrayal of how scary that particular journey can be.
Episode 101 — "Salt"
Sweetbitter's premiere episode is all about Tess' big move. It's full of both anxiety and exhilaration. Emotions are consistently rising and falling throughout the episode. Tess constantly vacillates between being excited and disappointed. She's thrilled to have escaped Ohio for New York City but quickly realizes how hard living there and finding job will be. The 22-year-old is relieved and elated when she finally gets a job as a back waiter, but her pride in the accomplishment is dampened when her dad is unsupportive and she finds out the the job offer is only on a trial basis. The work at the restaurant also turns out to be arduous and the learning curve steep. To pair with this episode full of wave after wave of intense emotions, Milne suggests a glass of Loimer Kamptal Grüner Veltliner.
"There are very few things I can think of that are as powerful, humbling, exciting, and terrifying as New York City. It is a lot like the ocean; standing next to it or navigating its currents, there is a palpable, unrelenting energy. That is why this episode should be paired with a Grüner Veltliner. I like to describe Grüner as 'the ocean in a glass" Milne tells Refinery29. "Grüner means 'green' much like Tess is to New York City."
It's not just metaphorically that this wine pairs well with these 28-minutes of Tess attempting to stay afloat. It's taste also reflects one key scene in Sweetbitter's pilot. Tess' first hands on food lesson comes when bad boy waiter Jake (Tom Sturridge) pulls her out of a first day on the job panic and sensually feeds her freshly-shucked oysters inside the huge walk-in freezer. It's the first time she has ever tasted oysters, and when Jake asks her what she tastes, Tess matter-of-factly remarks "Salt. I taste salt"
Milne says Grüner Veltliner compliments "anything from the ocean." She explains, "On the nose, it is salty and briny. On the palate, it has wonderful bright acidity that lifts your taste buds. Its endless minerality and famous white pepper component makes Grüner a perfect pairing with oysters."