What is it about this work draws you in? Explain for our readers — and for me — so we get a sense of the complexities you experience on a daily basis.
Probably just the different disciplines that get involved in wine, beer and spirits. It’s not just, about like, tasting and drinking wine or anything like that. You’re learning about history. You’re learning about language. You’re learning about economies, trade, biology and chemistry. I mean, that’s kind of a nerdy answer to the question, but that’s one of the cooler parts that people don’t usually think about. It’s a lot more than, ‘Oh, let me taste this wine and tell you about it.’ You really have to understand a lot about what’s happened throughout the history of mankind and why it’s important.
ARIA is one of the coolest new properties and it has a sort of singular feel and experience. What about ARIA stands out to you?
There are a lot of properties on the strip which make sure that customer service is No. 1 and we do that as well. But it’s hard to compartmentalize — we have a really young staff that is the best group of sommeliers that I’ve ever worked with in my life, who are hungry, driven, interesting and really focused on the same thing, which is making sure that everyone can have the best possible experience in their restaurant. So it’s not about a demographic, or a region or style, it’s just the people who are focused on service, bottom line. For me — and not that other places don’t do that — to also be able to make people feel comfortable, it’s a really fine line to walk. I think our staff does an amazing job.
Somehow, the jugs of table wine and brands like Sutter Home and more commercial wines will make their way onto the tables of our readers all over the country, but can you recommend a few wines to look out for that you’ve come to appreciate?
What makes Thanksgiving so hard in terms of pairing is that you’re doing poultry and a lot of rich sides that may or may not have sugar in them. My family’s classic Thanksgiving meal always has turkey, macaroni and cheese, sweet yams with marshmallows, cranberry sauce, some sort of stuffing — it’s a lot of different texture and flavor which makes it a difficult meal to pair. With complicated pairings, a lot of times the simplest solutions are the best.
Turkey as a main course doesn’t really happen a lot, I like Alsace wines that can have a little bit of sugar to them for turkey. Pinot Gris especially because well done it has that balancing quality. The Domaine Bott-Geyl, from the Grand Cru Sonneglanz vineyard is a good wine. There’s sweetness to it, but that wine for me works with a number of dishes. If I was thinking something red, which a lot of people go towards during the holidays, I tend to focus on Grenache, which I think is a step up from Pinot Noir. An example is the Cayuse God Only Knows. It’s 100 percent Grenache from Washington that’s done in a style that gives it good balance. You’re going to get acidity and minerality there, good balance with smoky and meaty notes to it. The wine has power.
There’s another that’s called A Tribute to Grace. It’s a super small Grenache vineyard, super small company. The owner has an interesting story, and for me that’s one of the best Grenache’s you can find.
What’s your favorite dish and favorite pairing at Jean Georges?
That’s hard because there’s so much good stuff on the list. The tuna tartare is classic raw, fresh tuna, it has a little bit of avocado and a puff rice wheel that comes along with it, soy ginger dressing, a little bit of radish — it just has great balance and great texture. We do that with the Lucien Albrecht Riesling Reserve from 2009, and it’s phenomenal. I also like the Colorado Lamb Chop that we do as well. It’s classic with a second label Bordeaux from Margaux. It’s a great pairing.
You’re a young 34 at the top of your game, so what’s next for you?
My most immediate goal is to pass the Master Sommelier exam. I’ve sat for it three times and passed the tasting portion. If I get invited next year I’ll sit for the service and theory portion. It has about a one percent pass rate. There’s only about 180 masters since the late sixties that have passed the exam. So that’s my most immediate goal. After that, I really don’t have any others — the job I have now is rewarding. I enjoy working with the chefs and the cuisine that I work with now. I love the wine industry — and the subject itself is so diverse, that I can see myself in a lot of places. But that’s also why I have no idea what I’ll gravitate to in the next three to five years.