Maria Bastasch is much more than a sommelier. She’s also a philanthropist and educator, and travels the world with wine as her guide. She visits relatively unknown wine producers to learn and purchase wine from them, helping fuel the regions and communities that need support most.
When she’s not advocating for underrepresented winemakers abroad, Bastasch is the wine director at Washington, D.C.’s Maydan, a James Beard Award semifinalist, and its sister restaurant, Compass Rose. Sharing the bottles and stories she collects around the world give her guests and co-workers a fresh perspective, which she says brings her joy.
Here, Bastasch teaches us about Champagne that’s “basically liquid cocaine,” what to do with lackluster bottles, and how to embrace wine polyamory.
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1. What’s the bottle that made you fall in love with wine?
Without a doubt, it was from Chateau Musar. Not one, but several bottles from the portfolio. I loved the respect for the land and grapes — it’s, practically speaking, a natural winery — but also speaking with Mark Hochar and seeing his love for each wine as though it was a person, each with its own personality. That helped give me a voice to talk about wine. I was just getting to know wine and didn’t yet have a vocabulary to describe wine, but I knew people.
2. FMK three varieties: Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay?
Seeing as I work with these varieties sparingly, maybe we could FMK: Georgian Kisi, [Greek] Xinomavro, and Mexican Mission? Georgian Kisi is for sure my wifey; I know it too well. The Mexican Mission is wild and sexy, a.k.a. my side hustle. And, sadly, that leaves Xinomavro to die, but not before enjoying a spontaneous ferment rosé.
If I must answer the original question, I would kill Cabernet. I love Chardonnay and Pinot equally, especially in Champagne. That would make me a polyamorist.
3. You’re on death row. What’s your last-supper wine?
It’s a wine from badass female winemaker Lulu Martinez at Henri Lurton in Baja, Mexico. She makes a delicious skin-contact Chardonnay that’s full of sweet citrus and stone fruit. We drank the 2017 from the bottle with her and tasted the 2018 out of [the] tank during malolactic fermentation. Let’s just say the 2017 for now, but I have high hopes for 2018.
4. You can only drink one wine for the rest of your life. What is it?
I’m going to drink Champagne, since it’s hypothetical. Otherwise, it would be a bit costly. That Champagne would be Perseval-Farge’s Les Goulats. … It has zero dosage, which means no sweetness added, making it razor sharp. It’s basically liquid cocaine without all the bad effects.
5. You can only drink at one bar for the rest of your life. What is it?
Compass Rose is my favorite bar. Despite years of employment, some of which included me living in the apartment on the third story, I don’t get sick of it. It’s home to me. And still plays the best music on any given night of the week thanks to Mo (senior bartender and jams jockey extraordinaire). If you want a classic cocktail, a funky glass of wine, or just some love, this space has it all.
6. What’s the best and worst wine on your rack (or in your fridge) right now?
At any given time, there’s an array of interesting beverages in our fridge. Currently, I’m all about Dar Richi, a Lebanese wine made by a Syrian winemaker. He’s using the proceeds to move his operation back to his country. It’s a great wine that helps economic development in a region that is typically depicted as war-torn. That’s the kind of wine that I love, one that tastes good and helps people.
The worst is a $7 bottle of rosé that’s going to be turned into a wine spritzer, ice and soda water. Not everything you drink has to be fancy or even good. Sometimes, refreshing is enough.
7. If you could no longer drink wine, what would be your beverage of choice?
I love gin Martinis. And, although my partner in crime, Derek Brown (owner of the Columbia Room), is well known for making the best ones in D.C., hasn’t made me one yet, I continue to hope. This is a call out, in fact. Make me one!