What is your favorite wine region to visit?
Alto Adige in northern Italy. The landscape is absolutely breathtaking. It'll be nice and sunny in the valley, with snow capped mountains on either side of you. Terlano's Vorberg Pinot Bianco vineyard is one of the most amazing vineyards I've ever seen. It lies halfway up a mountain, accessible only by a narrow single lane bridge, and the slope is greater than 45 degrees in some parts.
What is your favorite class to teach?
Blind tasting classes. I love breaking down the science behind the flavors and aromas in the glass, and helping people put what they're experiencing into words and deepening their understanding and enjoyment of wine.
What's your most memorable wine experience?
Setting up a wine dinner with Halter Ranch Winery of Paso Robles at my first sommelier job, Kai Restaurant in Chandler, AZ, and then being able to attend the dinner as a guest after I had accepted a position in Las Vegas. The food was so incredible, and the peppery reds matched the Native American inspired cuisine so well. Venison topped with foie gras with their Syrah was revelatory.
Why did you decide to become an instructor?
I have always taken a tremendous amount of joy in teaching the staff at my restaurants. I remember how incredibly intimidated I was by the world of wine when I started as a back server in fine dining, so now I truly enjoy attempting to make it as approachable as possible for newcomers.
What's your most memorable food and wine pairing?
2004 Hirtzberger Grüner Veltiner with abalone in miso broth. Absolutely spectacular. Hirtzberger's wines tend to show spicy ginger, saffron and honey notes from bortrytis, which melded so beautifully with the miso and mustard greens on the dish.
What's the biggest challenge in your job?
Creating a training curriculum and keeping the staff learning and growing at all times. Generally you're teaching staff at various levels of wine knowledge so keeping everyone's attention while not immediately excluding the novices is a large challenge.
What other passions beside wine do you have?
In the larger world of beverage I am a fanatic for both sake and mezcal. I enjoy finding the classic cocktails where mezcal does and does not work (it almost always works in my opinion). I also love hip-hop, and have been a funk-style dancer for about 10 years.
Name some recent wine discoveries that you find exciting.
Old Cru Beaujolais. I recently tasted some Morgon from 2000 and 2005 and they were both amazing. I don’t think Cru Beaujolais gets the recognition it deserves for aging gracefully, at least in terms of representation on wine lists. Also, lately I’ve been trying to introduce the magic of Clare Valley Riesling to as many people as possible since it still flies under the radar in the U.S. Jeffrey Grosset’s wines are incredible.
What do you think is the most unappreciated wine or region in the world?
I’ll go right back to Alto Adige. Often thought of as a sea of uninteresting Pinot Grigio, on the contrary I find the whites in particular to be amongst the most interesting wines to pair with food. They make some of the best Pinot Blanc in the world.