“Heart” Your Sommelier
An oversized, glossy, local magazine recently published its restaurant issue. Nestled among write ups of San Diego's newest foodie havens was a cryptic shout out to one Jesse Rodriguez, marked by a blurb espousing, "We heart you Jesse." What is this - a line from Tiger Beat magazine (by the way, did you know this mag still exists?)? Is some San Diego teeny bopper plastering her bright, pink wall with a poster of "Jesse" right next to the Jonas Brothers? Is Jesse in a rock band? Nope. Is he a Padre or a Charger? Nope. Is he a ripped, shirtless surfer type or model? Not even close- well, the surfer part, I mean. Jesse is the Wine Director at The Grand Del Mar and a Master Sommelier candidate. On top of that, I haven't actually seen Jesse in months. He's been holed up in the resort's cavernous wine cellar stocking and organizing wines and drinking his way though Europe (lucky bastard!). So how did those ingratiating magazine wine groupies get a grip on San Diego's latest and greatest thing? Folks, I think we have we entered the era of the celebrity sommelier! If the hunky chef-cum-US Magazine celebrity is passé, then your sommelier may be your new BFF. (In fact wine could be the next, great, untapped frontier of reality television. Wouldn't you rather see a handful of blindfolded sommeliers duke it out over unmarked vintages of Latour instead of petty, camera hungry line cooks making Padma breakfast sandwiches?). If I sound snarky, it's only because I thought Jesse was my secret, but it looks like the word's out. I cannot emphasize enough the ways you should love your sommelier. Not only are these men and women on staff to provide you with a free education in the global world of wine but also they are your ticket to an infinitely more exciting meal. They love wine, and they love their job, which is to get you to love wine, too. Personally, I have only experienced a few uninspired, passionless, or uninterested sommeliers. But if you're lucky, the best are warm, down to earth, unintimidating individuals who will take your hand and guide you through a 155 page tome of a wine list with grace and ease. They shouldn't make you feel bad about ordering the cheapest bottle in the book or uncomfortable and self conscious if you're a Vitis neophyte. Instead they should make you look smart and confident, so you dazzle your future father-in-law with your erudite and thoughtful selection. Here's a fortune cookie secret: if you dare to order outside of your comfort zone or are bold enough to ask for help, you will be richly rewarded. Really, who else has tasted 15 different wines from Estonia or knows the ins and outs of Israeli cabs? Plus, if they even suspect you're a geeky wino, well then there's no telling what you'll be treated to next. You may even be shocked.
Here I innumerate some of the highlight of the free (yes, I said free) glasses of wine Brian and I have received from kind and generous sommeliers over the years: Chateau d'Yquem, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, killer small production Hermitage, aged Barolos that weren't even listed on the menu, and innumerable, delectable glasses of sparkly Champagne. Years ago, at Picasso in Las Vegas, an eager sommelier even sketched a map of Spain on a cloth napkin when I inquired after a Rioja we'd been served. In fact, his off the cuff lecture on Spanish wine was infinitely more detailed than my UCD syllabus. Even small eateries are not immune. Today, we waltz into our neighborhood Italian joint, Lupi, and query the owner, "What's not on the wine menu tonight?" A few years back, Raffo excitedly introduced us to a grape we'd never tried, Nero d'Avola, which makes an iconic, dark, rich Sicilian wine. Then last summer, in discussion with the Italian wine gurus at A16, I confidently told the sommelier, "Nero d'Avola? We drink that all the time at home. Show me something I've never tasted before..." And she did.
In the coming months we'll interview some of San Diego's finest sommeliers to answer all of the questions you've ever been afraid to ask about ordering restaurant wine. If you have any specific questions, just drop us a line, and we'll add them to our list. If you're lucky, we'll even capture the elusive "Jesse" on film!