The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2013

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Page 146 of 148

Sommeliers, Benny's Chop House, Chicago C hicago is a steak-lover's mecca, and Benny's Chop House, veteran restaurateur Benny Siddu's latest American classic in the city's River North neighborhood, is there to meet the meat-eaters' cravings. The menu of USDA Prime steaks, succulent chops, fresh seafood and seasonal sides calls for a great wine list—and that's where Sommeliers Ervin Sandoval and Charles Schneider come in. THE "5" LIST Ervin Sandoval and Charles Schneider's Top Five Faves PHOTO: CINDY KURMAN Taking Inventory with. . . Ervin Sandoval and Charles Schneider 1 Compliments from guest when we introduce a new wine to them that blows them away. 2 When guests really appreciate our list and respect the amount of work it takes. 3 Winemakers who visit and are humble. 4 Guest who appreciate Benny's quality stemware and Riedel decanters. 5 When guests begin their dinner with sparkling wine—by-theglass, the half bottle or bottle. Sommeliers Ervin Sandoval and Charles Schneider. Sandoval came to the States from Guatemala at 15 and wound up at Chicago's iconic Charlie Trotter's, where he "worked almost every position you can think of," including managing the wine program, before coming on-board at Benny's in September of 2010. Schneider is a Kansas City native who was mentored in wine by writer and consultant Doug Frost. After opening a restaurant in KC and living in Colorado, he made his way to Chicago, working at top-notch destinations L2O and Spiaggia. Between them, Sandoval and Schneider manage the award-winning Benny's list, boasting more than 1,000 labels. There's also an extensive by-the-glass list, and the restaurant also offers temperature-controlled wine lockers for personal collections. "We don't force our opinions on the guest," says Schneider, "but we have an amazing ability to sell everything on the list." The standard "20/80"rule of thumb—selling 20 percent of your wines to 80 percent of your clientele—just doesn't apply here, Schneider says. Of course, Napa Cabernet looms large at Benny's, but the co-somms tend—gently—to steer the restaurant's customers away from this "subconscious choice" and toward more appropriate offerings. "American diners are afraid of acid," admits Schneider, "but you need that with marbled beef. Acidity helps in breaking down foods." Sandoval concurs that while some patrons like to peruse the whole list, others just want a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon—"I only drink Heitz." The bottom line for Sandoval and Schneider: "We don't care what you drink as long as you love what you drink." —David Gadd 146 / the tasting panel / may 2013 Ervin Sandoval and Charles Schneider's Five Pet Peeves 1 Corked bottles. They ruin someone's hard work and also make work for us. 2 Foil cuts! 3 The last bottle from a great vintage. We'll never see that bottle again. 4 When a guest feels too intimidated to speak to us or feels that we're here to upsell them. 5 When entrees are delivered and a wine selection is in progress. Timing is everything! • • • • • • F

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