Luma’s Resident Wine Expert

When Cara Cown was in college, the only glasses she was interested in were beakers and test tubes. After getting degrees in biology and chemistry in hometown Atlanta, she took a job waiting tables while studying for her master’s degree, and a love affair with wine was born. Now 31, Cown is the wine director of Winter Park’s Luma on Park, which has 4,500 bottles in its cellar. In an interview with dining critic Joseph Hayes, Cown shares some of her knowledge about wines.




Oenophile Cara Cown

Photo By Norma Lopez Molina

Does your background in science give you any advantages when it comes to wine?

“There’s an immense crossover of knowledge. When I come across a wine that has faults, I know what caused them. Champagne stored in the light gets bitter, and when a wine tastes or smells moldy, that’s cork taint, which is produced by a fungus. It’s all simple science.”

Casual wine drinkers like to stick to one grape. Is that wrong?

“It’s always a good thing to explore new wines. Spain’s climate is a lot like Florida—it has a lot of grapes that are perfect for what we eat here. And there are some fabulous Greek wines, like Agiorgitiko and Roditis, that are fantastic bargains.”

Can you recommend a food/wine pairing that might surprise people?

“Sure. The whole ‘white wine with fish’ rule doesn’t really work. Salmon with Pinot Noir is amazing; with Chardonnay, not so amazing.”

What are you drinking right now? Any favorites?

“The vineyard Descendientes de Jose Palacios in the north of Spain makes Petalos del Bierzo. It’s made from an obscure red grape called Mencia— that’s lighter than what most people are drinking. Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Sicily is a red blend that you can drink just about any time. Faiveley, from the Burgundy region of France, makes a very nice, crisp, inexpensive Chablis that I really like. Elk Cove is a pretty spectacular rosé made of Pinot Noir; you can’t dispute the beauty of rosé.”

And what do you see in your crystal ball that people will be drinking this coming season?

“The craze for Malbec will continue, I know that for sure. I’d like to see a throwback to Old World style of winemaking, where you can really taste the fruit. For example, Italian reds like Sangiovese are lovely and will be very hot. And there’s some wonderful Pinot Grigios coming out of Santa Barbara that everyone should be drinking.”

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