The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

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46 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2018 up Italian at home, it was easy for the enterprising Ljikovic to find work in other New York Italian es- tablishments. Everything changed, however, when he took a vacation to Florida. "I came to Naples and never left," quips Ljikovic. "I'm still on vacation!" He opened his first restau - rant there, Panevino, in 1995, followed by a wine shop. Two years later, he opened Amore Ristoran- te with his wife, Suzana. When it comes to wine, though, Ljikovic puts joking aside. "Angelo Gaja is the master of Italian wine," opines the restaurateur, who also serves as the wine buyer. "I've been a fan of GAJA since I opened my first restaurant and wine shop." Ljik - ovic still fondly recalls meeting Angelo Gaja several years ago: "He changed the way they make wine in Italy," he says. The heavily Italian list of 250-plus labels includes GAJA wines as diverse as the Ca' Marcanda Vistamare (a coastal Tuscan blend of Vermentino, Viognier, and Fiano) and ver tical vintages of Darmagi, the Piemontese Cabernet that broke the rules. (Darmagi, Italian for "what a pity," is what Angelo Gaja's father, Giovanni, said when Angelo told him he was planting Cabernet on sacred Nebbiolo terroir.) The GAJA Brand Ambassador for Florida, Francesco Balzano of Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, nominated Amore because of its com - mitment to these wines: "Thanks to Stefano and accounts like his in Florida, we are able to deliver to the highest expectations. It is a true pleasure working with them." Ljikovic is in turn quick to credit the Southern Glazer's team, with whom he has a longstanding working relationship. "I know their portfolio better than they do," he jokes. The restaurateur also says he knows 80 percent of his clientele by first name: "It's not a tourist destination; it's locals who hang out here." In wine as in the restaurant business, the bottom line for Ljikovic is, "You stay with one path—and you do it right." "The GAJA Darmagi delivers loads of varietal character with tangy aromas of wild sage and rosemary oil followed by extra dark color and saturation," says Stefano Ljikovic. "There's a deep sense of richness here that will carry this elegant wine forward through- out the years. Black cherry and chocolate fill the finish." Rosewood CordeValle, San Martin, California Lars Conrad, Food & Beverage Outlet Manager Sometimes expertise can't be measured in years. At just 25, Lars Conrad al- ready has an immense amount of training and experience under his belt. Born in Strasbourg, Alsace, to a German mother and French doctor father, Conrad ironically never drank wine at home. He fell into the hotel and restaurant business literally by accident when a knee injury prevented him from pursuing a career in the French military. Conrad instead opted for hospitality training, choosing a profession that (at least in Europe) runs on quasi-military disci - pline. "In Europe, restaurant work is a career," he notes. The budding front-of-house pro wound up at The Brando in the tropical paradise of French Polynesia, where he says he "got [his] first professional look into wine, opening $3,000 and $4,000 bottles for guests." "It was the best time of my life," Conrad adds. Moving from the South Pacific to the Rosewood CordeValle, a luxury golf resort in California's Santa Cruz Mountains south of Silicon Valley, was a change of climate—and a chance for new experience—for Conrad. The property is one of several golf destinations owned by Hasso Plattner, the German tech billionaire who co-founded software giant SAP. Plattner is a huge GAJA fan, and the hotel's cellar became a training ground for Conrad in the joys of Piedmont's most revered producer. "Coming to CordeValle was a great opportunity," he says. Since taking over the program last September, Conrad has enhanced the cellar's already extensive stock of GAJA wines, recently adding GAJA's Sito Mo - resco, for example. "I would say it's my favorite GAJA wine on the wine list right now," remarks Conrad. "It's an approachable bottle and therefore an excellent way to introduce people to the fantastic world of GAJA. This blend of Neb - biolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot is a very refined wine with a beautiful complexity. It's in line with everything GAJA is about." The collection continues to grow. "My aim is to bring in more vintages," Conrad says. "For the annual December truffle dinner with GAJA wines"—an annual event at the resort and one of its regular Wine Experience offerings— "we'll probably do GAJA's Ca' Marcanda wines." GAJA Brand Ambassador Joshua Mix, a Wine Manager with American Wine & Spirits (a division of Southern Glazer's), nominated Conrad for the award. "It's great to work with someone so passionate and eager to expand their wine experience," comments Julie Sundean, the Import Specialist with Ameri - can Wine & Spirits who works directly with Conrad at the account. "Lars has truly improved the wine program at CordeValle, including taking what was already a good GAJA program to the next level." PHOTO: CRAIG SHEROD Lars Conrad calls the GAJA Sito Moresco "an excellent way to introduce people to the fantastic world of GAJA."

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