This month I sat down with Kate Leeder: A St. Louis native, closeted Bud Lite fan and co-owner of Aperitivo — a cheese, charcuterie, wine and beer shop at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market (435 Ionia Ave., SW). Bonus: The shop is paired with a bar featuring a sampling of its select stock.
If you’re looking for someone to geek out with over cheese, or for the best wine to pair with Pringles (yes, Pringles), perhaps you should pay Leeder and her staff a visit. You’ll never look at wine the same way again.
Opening a wine bar in GR must have taken some guts, huh?
We figured we could draw in some people with the cheese, and part of the beauty of the business is that the cheese mongers also sell the bar. It works nicely because our counter staff can say, “I can give you a sample of this cheese but if you really want to sit down and enjoy it with a glass of wine or a cool beer, head around the back and it’ll be worth it.”
Who’s your typical customer?
Some people will just come in for a glass of wine and some chips — which is my favorite snack in the whole world. Or they’ll come in and spend an afternoon with a bottle and a few different plates, maybe some oysters from Fish Lads. They’ll make an event of it. Even for people who find it’s a new idea, once they wrap their heads around it, it makes sense.
Back up for a second — did you say wine and potato chips? How do those pair?
Sparkling wine in particular. Champagne and potato chips are my absolute favorite. I totally give credit to my grandmother who used to drink bottles of Chablis and eat Pringles every happy hour. So for me, it’s nostalgic, but it’s also decadent.
Wine isn’t just for a steak or a fancy dinner. You can pair it with pizza or fried chicken.
Aperitivo Food & Beverage-Based Trivia Night
Upcoming Dates: April 13, May 11, July 13 More at aperitivogr.com
Inside the Downtown Market, 435 Ionia Ave., Grand Rapids
Right. Fried chicken with Champagne is fabulous, too — or with a sour beer. As far as pairings go: Is Aperitivo a wine bar? Yes. But if I’m having a cheese plate, I’ll most likely be having a beer with it because beer is so much more forgiving than wine when it comes to pairing. Beer and cheese is it for me, hands down.
The other thing that’s nice about Aperitivo is that there’s not a bajillion bottles to choose from. Was that on purpose?
Our number one goal is to make what we do approachable. Wine can be intimidating. We have a lot of wine by the glass that a number of people are unfamiliar with. It’s our job to ask, ‘What do you usually like?’ and then offer two or three things that are similar but different. We’re constantly teaching people new things about wine and cheese every chance we can get.
What’s your advice for those looking to educate themselves?
You’ve got to learn about it while tasting it. Buy a few single-varietal wines — Google the grape. As you’re drinking, read up. Do you agree with what others are describing? Do you disagree? It’s OK if you don’t taste everything that you’re ‘supposed to.’ Developing your palate is something you work towards. It should be fun. A group is a great way of learning. If you have six people and everyone brings a bottle of wine and a little fact sheet, you’ve got six new wines in your repertoire and it’s one-sixth the cost.
If you had to choose a region to live in based on the wine and that’s all you’ve got to drink for the rest of your days — where are you living?
This is going to surprise no one who knows me: the Basque region of France and Spain, mostly Spain, because not only is the wine Txakoli [CHA-ko-lee] delicious and refreshing, but there are red versions of it that are so food-friendly it’s unbelievable. It’s also my favorite region for cheese. They do a lot of cider there, too. I’m a huge fan of cider. It’s just my favorite place on earth.
Who selects what wines you carry at Aperitivo?
Amy Rice [co-owner of Aperitivo and owner of Art of the Table] does most of the wine selection but there are certain bottles that I insist upon. Actually, we had a Txakoli event last year — we’ll do it again this month or May — where we did all these pintxos, which are the Basque version of tapas. It was a riot. We even had the porron, where you drink out of the jug.
Oh, I’m familiar. Somewhere there’s a video of me, dripping with wine and making a total fool of myself. Don’t wear white.
Exactly. Not only will it get all over the floor, but it’s going to get all over your clothes, all over the rug and on the table cloth. Only white wine with the porron, that’s a rule to live by.