The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2015

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138  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2015 "Self-taught" isn't a term usually applied to certified sommeliers and wine directors, but Anthony Viloria isn't your usual sommelier. Viloria started working in restaurants as a busboy at age 15 and continued working as a server until age 20, when his sister convinced him to come work with her at Willi's Wine Bar in Santa Rosa, California. Viloria wasn't expecting much from the former biker bar off of Redwood Highway, until he discovered the space had been transformed into a popular upscale tapas roadhouse. (Willi's Wine Bar in Sonoma is not officially related to the famous Willi's Wine Bar in Paris, but the two establishments do maintain a friendly rapport.) "I started as a server's assistant, unable to pour wine since I wasn't even 21 yet," says Viloria. "But I was fascinated by wine, and later I began teaching myself about it, buying inexpensive wines and tast- ing them while taking notes." After a year, Viloria moved to attend school at the University of California, Davis and studied anthropology; instead, he found himself drawn to the school's viticulture classes, taking as many classes about wine as he could. It only took two years before he found him- self back at Willi's, this time as a bartender, armed with knowledge he had gained while working at Tuco's in Davis, tasting imports and higher-end wines, taking copious notes all the while. "I still didn't understand terroir," Viloria confesses, "but I was opening my mind about different regions, and I was learning how to sell wine and how to pair it with food." Six years later, both Viloria and his sister still work at Willi's, and Anthony has used his accumulated knowledge to build a carefully curated, expansive list of wines that has doubled in size since he started work- ing there. "I wanted a wine list that had well-known wineries mixed with lesser-knowns, so I can introduce our diners to something new, and help small wineries gain exposure," Viloria explains. TAKING INVENTORY WITH . . . Sonoma County's food and wine community. Figuring out what a guest wants and being able to bring it to them. The after-shift wind-down with the staff. Watching a staff member have an epiphany moment in identifying character- istics in the wine for the first time. It's a highlight of the job! The freedom and trust I have at Willi's to do what I want with the wine list with no restrictions. Servers who present wine for consid- eration and won't stop blathering on about how it tastes. When guests are disap- pointed we don't carry wines they are familiar with. That should be a positive! Diners who bring in bottom shelf grocery store wines and pay a corkage fee, when they could pay the same for a better bottle on the list. The wine snob, who thinks everyone else should have the same tastes as them. THE "5" LIST ANTHONY VILORIA'S TOP FIVE FAVES ANTHONY VILORIA'S TOP FIVE PET PEEVES ANTHONY VILORIA PHOTO COURTESY OF WILLI'S WINE BAR GENERAL MANAGER AND WINE DIRECTOR OF WILLI'S WINE BAR, SONOMA COUNTY by Jesse Hom-Dawson Why can't we sell red Burgundy sell by the glass here? We sell Saint-Veran and Chablis all day by the glass, we manage to sell Rossese and Blaufrankisch, but so far have not been able to successfully sell red Burgundy by the glass!

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