The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2017

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1 14  /  the tasting panel  /  april 2017 Admittedly, I've never been to a ballet, but I'd imagine it's a lot like watching Rina Bussell work the floor at Spago in Beverly Hills. The Assistant Wine Director's refined elegance is polished by a quiet, fierce acumen. This sounds intimidating, but the exchange of a word or two or even a passing glance will reveal a great warmth and a genuine, patient kindness that melts away her otherwise striking presence. It's akin to mistaking a peacock for a phoenix—a paradoxical analogy as Bussell wears a quarter left arm sleeve of a colorful phoenix rising from the ocean. Although this professionalism appears to be second nature to Bussell, she's earned her position helping to run L.A.'s most illustrious wine program through an intense work ethic starting from square one. "I got into restau- rants to pay my way through school, and I really fell in love with wine then," she says, "but I didn't grow up with a culture of wine-drinking in my house- hold. What first got me into wine was the fact that I knew nothing about it. I was intrigued by the mystique awarded to wine by the old-school sommeliers and wine connoisseurs. It was this mystique, however, that became my drive. I know there's a lot that goes into wine, but I also wanted to make it fun, accessible and less intimidating." In Seattle, over the course of about seven years, Bussell transitioned from a server to a sommelier at Chef Thierry Rautureau's Rover's, then to a sommelier at Canlis to Wine & Spirits Director at Altura before Wine Director Phillip Dunn asked her to join the team at Spago. Bussell was part of Dunn's wine team at Canlis and felt she'd be of great benefit to his team in Beverly Hills. Says Bussell, "Phillip hired me because we think along the same lines. We're both very service-oriented. It's about the guest at the end of the day. It's never about what we want the guest to drink; it's about what the guest wants to drink. Both of us came into wine from ground zero, so we're both about hard work and mentoring people to learn the program from the ground up, building a stronger foundation." TAKING INVENTORY WITH . . . The glamorization of the industry that causes people to underestimate the amount of grunt work that is involved in being a good sommelier. People who aren't aware of their surroundings, whether it's on the street or in service—but especially in service. If you're service staff, you should be aware of your guests at all times. Inefficiency. For example, if you're polish- ing glassware, it should only take you a certain amount of time if you're using a clean serviette and the glass is cleaned properly. The terms "female sommelier" or "girl boss" that are meant to empower women. We are sommeliers and bosses; it doesn't matter our gender. People who don't check our corkage policy or get appalled when they find out we have one. Really? Passion. I experienced this with a woman who was working behind a wine bar the other day, and it made me realize how this doesn't happen often enough. I love it when guests are open and honest—when they're willing to have a conversation and you can build that trust with them. Restaurants that offer the whole package. They don't have to be the most cutting-edge, but they do consider ambiance, service, etc., in conjunction with the chef- driven food. A wine station that is completely set up, stocked with wine tools, serviettes and proofed wines, and "feng shuied" out. Wine lists that have character. I love looking at a list and being able to guess the personality of its creator. THE "5" LIST RINA BUSSELL'S TOP FIVE PET PEEVES RINA BUSSELL'S TOP FIVE FAVES RINA BUSSELL ADVANCED SOMMELIER, ASSISTANT WINE DIRECTOR, SPAGO, BEVERLY HILLS, CA by Jessie Birschbach

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