Interview with Jesse Rodriguez
Welcome to the holiday season, dear Brigade. In these stressful days of scarce mall parking, heightened family drama, and present-giving anxiety, even we Jews are not immune to overwhelming despair and general malaise. Maneuvering my way through the crowded aisles of Target, shuffling in time to the omnipresent, aural thud of "Little Drummer Boy" on the PA gives me a sour stomach. And so, friends, what better time to turn to alcohol than in this zeitgeist of desolation, social fatigue, and emotional strife? So this week, as inspiration to imbibe both at home and on the town, I give you our highly anticipated and supremely phenominal interview with San Diego's favorite celebrity sommelier:
JESSE RODRIGUEZ, Addison at the Grand Del Mar
Bruliam: Jesse, as Wine Director at the Grand Del Mar you wear many different hats. From stocking and organizing the cellar to seeking out great, new wines to promoting small volume, boutique winemakers to interacting with dinner patrons, you're in 100 places at once. Please describe for our readers a "typical day," if such a thing exists.
Jesse Rodriguez: There really is no typical day. There is so much going on that you can never really have things set. The only constant is that service starts at 5:30 p.m. Everything before that changes all the time.
Bruliam: Sometimes when you pair Chef's spectacular foods with amazing wines, magic happens. Jesse, what defines that ephemeral food-wine pairing that we're always striving to complete?
Jesse Rodriguez: The "perfect-pairing" is such an open loose term. I might think that a specific wine would pair well with a certain dish, however, the guest might then inform me that they only drink Cabernet. So the wine I would suggest or pour with the course might not pair as well. I do my best work when the guest gives me full reign to select the wine of my choice to pair with the dish of their choice. I think that the basic principle is to look at the protein. I consider how the protein is cooked and what sauce and accompaniments are served with it. From there I can set up a well-rounded pairing that would compliment the food best.
Bruliam: Newcomers to wine are easily intimidated. What advice can you give to a wine novice who sits down to dinner only to contend with a massive, 500 page wine list? Where can one begin (aside from asking the sommelier for help!)?
Jesse Rodriguez: I always suggest that the guest asks for assistance from a sommelier. We want to help you find the perfect wine for you and your guests. Let us know what style and price you are comfortable with and we select a wine to satisfy your taste and your budget.
Bruliam: Sometimes even we don't know where to start with the awesome wine list that you've complied at Addison Del Mar. Take us through your thought process when we sit down to eat, call you over, and say, "Jesse, help!??! We need some wine!"
Jesse Rodriguez: I look to what the needs of the guests are before I offer my input. It is important for me to not only understand what you like, but also know what you dislike. My goal is to exceed your expectations.
Bruliam: What aspects of your wine and food education do you draw on most strongly when you're advising diners?
Jesse Rodriguez: I try to think like a chef. I always try to envision what the course looks like, how it's prepared and how it's cooked. From there the wheels in my head start spinning and suddenly I have a plethora of suggestions.
Bruliam: What advice do you have for restaurant patrons looking for that "perfect" bottle of wine to compliment their meal?
Jesse Rodriguez: Ask a sommelier!
Bruliam: We all know that the dinner patron asking for "light to full bodied red or white wine smelling of smoke, burnt game, tar, flowers, berries and mango but tasting of earth, smelly gym socks, and ripe fruit- of all kinds " is just blowing smoke up your a@&&*#!!!! On the other hand, I'm guessing that you can guide us better if we're able to describe what we want or like or dislike in a wine. What can we do as wine lovers to help make your job easier? I'll rephrase this by asking what is the best way for us to come to dinner prepared to help you advise us on the best possible wine choice for our personal palate?
Jesse Rodriguez: Simply let the sommelier know what you like and what you want to spend. It makes our job 100% easier!
Bruliam: What are some ways that novice wine geeks can practice their tasting skills at home? Any games, tricks, or tips?
Jesse Rodriguez: I recommend to buy herbs and fruit from the store and do a component tasting and smelling. This will re-calibrate your sense of smell and allow you to develop an elevated sense of tasting and smelling.
Bruliam: We all know Wall Street is tanking, the Euro is still strong (albeit less so than a few months ago), and Richebourg will never be a bargain! Can wine consumers still find good values on a restaurant wine list? What tips do you have for landing a great tasting but moderately priced bottle?
Jesse Rodriguez: Ask the sommelier what they recommend. For example you like Super-Tuscan red's; they are expensive and can easily tax your wallet. Let the sommelier know what you like and ask if there is a Super-Tuscan they would recommend that is affordable. You may end up finding something you have never thought of trying.
Bruliam: Be honest, now. How does price range affect the wine advice you give restaurant patrons? Please assure our readers that you won't discriminate against them if they order the cheapest wine on the list!
Jesse Rodriguez: There are plenty of respectable wines that are not over priced. We offer 35 selections on our list for under $40 a bottle. As with everything, the price does not always determine the quality. Regarding service, we would never discriminate against a guest who chooses an affordable wine. Our main goal is satisfying the guest and we would never want anyone to feel they needed to spend top-dollar when they didn't have to.
Bruliam: I know you do a lot of wine education, both at the restaurant and behind the scenes. Tell us about that.
Jesse Rodriguez: I try not to think of it as teaching but rather exposing knowledge to individuals who may not have had interest in learning about wine before. The way I see it is the more educated and wine savvy our staff is, the more we can encourage people to push the envelope with food and wine.
Bruliam: We were lucky enough to attend the last winemakers dinner that you organized at Addison. What special, wine-related treats do you have coming down the pike, and how do we score invites?
Jesse Rodriguez: We have some special dinners still in the planning stages. Simply e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested and I will put you down on the invite list!
Jesse, once again, congratulations on passing your exam and qualifying as a Master Sommelier candidate. What an accomplishment! We also want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for our Bruliam Brigade. Wine is a huge, dynamic, ever-growing subject, and your insights are invaluable. We hope that we and our readers will be seeing you soon at the spectacular Addison at the Grand Del Mar.
Dear Brigade, this post was my holiday gift to you - a sweet, delicious confection. After a two week holiday hiatus, we return to the titillating biochemistry to malolactic fermentation.
Cheers and happy holidays to all.