The SOMM Journal

May 2014

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Page 21 of 107

22 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2014 { bottom line } AS A SOMM, FOLLOWING YOUR OWN PATH WILL TAKE YOU TO REWARDING PLACES by Randy Caparoso Go Your Own Way EVERYONE PROBABLY HAS A SEMINAL MOMENT—an epiph- any, or sudden clarity of vision. As a sommelier, mine came in 1989, after more than ten years of managing wine programs in classic French restaurants and table- side service steakhouses. I'd done the wine lists steeped in French crus and gobs of California wine—and man, I was bored. I had also just begun to work for a chef named Roy Yamaguchi, who infused Asian ingredients—and hot, sour, salty, sweet, bitter and umami- laced sensations—in every dish, even with French sauces and Latin vinaigrettes. I was being challenged, and needed inspiration. So I went to Provence and Italy, ostensibly to immerse myself in more mature culinary cultures. My first stops were Bandol and Cassis, because I loved the wines and longed to smell the air. This was followed by a harrowing drive to Tuscany, where one of my first meals was at one of those rustic country restaurants in Chianti. I was with a large host family, and they ordered the usual litany of Tuscan dishes—crostini with liver paté, white beans in olive oil, tortellini in broth, béchamel-laden lasagne, braised chard, rosemary boar, tripe with tomato, and at least a half dozen more—and we drank bottle after bottle of a deliciously light, edgy Chianti throughout the meal, which effortlessly matched each and every course. Needing a breather, I walked out onto the restaurant veranda, and turning my eyes away for a second from the spectacular view of rolling hills, I saw hundreds of empty bottles of the same Chianti, stacked in trays like Coca-Cola bottles against the wall. I asked my host standing next to me, "Say, is this the only wine they serve here?" "Of course," he said, "it's the local wine, it goes with everything . . . why drink anything else?" And it suddenly dawned upon me: what an ideal wine list! One wine, which goes with everything, has a great price, and is prob- ably as predictably profitable as it gets—why do we even bother with the big, convoluted wine lists we do at home, where most of the time guests don't even end up with the ideal wines for what they're eating? I was convinced I found the path, so I seized it upon my return home: strictly short wine lists (at first, never more than 75 selec- tions), chosen specifically for food, preferably in the $30–$60 range. "Classic" restaurant wines? I could never see the point in, say, Bordeaux (too leathery), Burgundy (too expensive) or Cabernet Sauvignon (too wannabe), but I would cross the oceans time and time again in search of more ideal wines for our purposes—finding wines like Biancolella in Ischia, Grechetto in Umbria, Rieslings in the Pfalz or Rolle in Corsica. A long, strange, satisfying trip. This was the 1990s, mind you, when consumers were still hung up on Chardonnay and White Zinfandel. But somehow we prevailed— our guests drank mostly Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris. We didn't give them much choice, but it was that first experience in Italy that gave us the courage to do the right thing for us. It must have worked, because we eventually opened more than 30 more Roy's restau- rants, from Tokyo to New York. What does this have to do with you? Maybe nothing, except for the fact that if you're looking to shine in your own light, the best pos- sible advice I can give you is to find your own path. You may have mentors, or colleagues you respect; but unless they have the exact same job as you, chances are they cannot determine the style of wine list that works best for you—for your cuisine, your sales objec- tives and your motivations as a wine professional. Don't do what I did, and don't do what anyone else tells you you're supposed to be doing. But unless you're going your own way, chances are you're not really achieving something special. Somm Journal June/July.indd 22 5/9/14 12:08 PM

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