Archive for January, 2020


A Quartet of Austrian Grüner Veltliner

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What is Grüner Veltliner? It is a top echelon grape variety that is capable of producing world-class white wine and most famously grown and produced in Austria.   We really don’t see too many on the local retail store shelves or on winelists of top restaurants here. Still, when one travels the world and big cities such as New York, top renditions are certainly included and often highlighted on their wine lists. As one top wine writer noted in her blog…

“Today, no self-respecting restaurant wine list, whether in New York or Hong Kong, can afford to be without at least one example of this, Austria’s signature white wine grape. I would submit that this is only partly because of Grüner Veltliner’s undoubted inherent character and quality. Another reason Grüner Veltliner has impinged on the consciousness of the wine world recently is that the quality of all Austrian wines has become so excitingly and consistently high that no fine wine enthusiast can afford to ignore them”.

This is your chance to taste and experience what all of the hoop-la is all about first hand.

In general Grüner Veltliner produces very refreshing, tangy wines with a certain white pepper, dill, even gherkin character. The wines are spicy and interesting and in general this is because of the grape’s own intrinsic qualities because the great majority of them, unlike Chardonnays, see no new oak. They are generally fermented in stainless steel and aged either in tanks or very old, large casks”.

Having said all of that, here are four really worth checking out. Their success certainly has something to do with soils, climate, terroir AND the respective, respectful champion who made it happen. Yes, wines like this just don’t happen. It really takes a champion.


2016 Nigl Grüner Veltliner “Freiheit”“Weingut Nigl is tucked deep in the Krems Valley. Martin Nigl’s Freheit is sourced from 4 different vineyards in the hills above the city of Krems. The soils here are primarily löss and the temperature is moderated by its steep elevation. The name Freiheit means “freedom” and is believed to be some of the first privately owned vineyard land in the valley not controlled by the Church or a feudal estate. Fermentation and elevage occur in stainless steel and is bottled at night when the cellars of the coolest has Martin feels this helps preserve the freshness of the wines”.


2017 Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner “Kamptal Terrassen”–One of the most revered wineries out of Austria. “Wine & Spirits Magazine–“the best Austrian winemaker of the last 25 years—says it all. ,” Willi Bründlmayer farms 75 hectares of an impressive collection of grand cru vineyards around Langenlois. Some of the most geologically diverse terroirs in Europe are here, in the heart of the Kamptal. The Danube and Kamp rivers and the wooded hills of the Waldviertel forest create a climate with large diurnal temperature swings, essential to a long growing season. These rocky, terraced vineyards are not the steep, jagged terraces of the Kremstal or the Wachau; these are larger wider terraces, each creating its own micro climate”.




2010 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Federspiel–Another of the most revered wine houses in Austria and actually one of the oldest wine estates in Austria, whose history goes back almost 2000 years to the Roman empire. Their wines epitomize the steep, rocky hillsides of the Wachau. Biodynamically farmed and obsessively fawned over to produce. “In some ways this gentle wonder is the essence of Nikolaihof”. – Terry Theise


2013 Hirsch Grüner Veltliner “Niederösterreich“Among my Kamptal producers, ‘Hannes Hirsch is the one with the least fixed identity. Or perhaps his identity is not to have an identity, his wine style is not to have a “style” and he doesn’t wish to be pigeonholed. He falls somewhere in the nexus among Bründlmayer’s and Gobelsburg’s glossy gleam and Hiedler’s juicy sensuality, but there’s no point you can affix him to. I suspect he likes it that way, as my friend is the best kind of lone wolf and contrarian.” writes Terry Theise”.


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An Interview with Emmanuel Kemiji MS

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Here is an interview we did with long time Master Sommelier Emmanuel Kemiji for Wine Speak 2020.

Emmanuel Kemiji M.S. hits the trifecta when it comes to wine: master sommelier, winemaker and winery owner.

We are thrilled to welcome him to Wine Speak 2020, where he will co-host our panel discussion on “Crazy Red Blends.” You will also experience his wines at our Wines of The World and BYOB Dinner events.

Born in the United States and raised in Spain and England, Emmanuel is a graduate of the University of California at Davis. In addition to his Economics and Spanish Literature degrees, he studied Viticulture and Oenology, expanding his interest in wine and eventually leading to the formation of Miura Vineyards in 1995. Soon to follow were Almvs in 2000, Antiqv2s in 2001, and two projects in Spain – Arrels in 2003 and Clos Pissarra in 2005.

Emmanuel acted as The Ritz-Carlton Director of Wine & Spirits from 1988 to 1999, first at Laguna Niguel and then at the renowned The Dining Room in San Francisco. In 1989 Emmanuel became the twelfth American to pass the Master Sommelier exam in London, England and one of only 10 to date to pass on his first attempt.

Wine Speak co-founder and master sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Emmanuel to talk about his journey and about what wines have made their mark on him along the way:

 What made you get into the wine business?

It was my uncle in Madrid (who is like a second father) and a wine fan with a nice cellar who introduced me to wine during the summer of my sophomore year in college. When I got back to start junior year, by fortuitous coincidence, I happened to be going to U.C. Davis. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a fermentation science department previously!

How did life change for you after getting the MS pin?
It opened up a host of opportunities starting at the very place I worked—The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. I got a call from the corporate food & beverage director who wanted me to assist him in selecting the Ritz-Carlton house wines and embark on a host of other projects for the company. I became the go-to wine person for the Ritz-Carlton, which expanded into many other opportunities including starting up my own winery.

How are you able to find balance in managing everything?
Mostly because I have a lot of other interests that have nothing to do with wine: scuba diving, golf, stamp collecting, art, antique royal documents…

We are so excited and thankful that you will be sharing your wines and insights on your Clos Pissarra project in Spain.  What drove you to take that on, in addition to all that you do in California?
After I got Miura going in California, I wanted to do a project in Spain to honor my heritage and my uncle.

What is Priorat at its best?
A bold wine that speaks of a singular place.

What is Montsant at its best?
A more modern version of the above at a more reasonable price.

What California wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

Stony Hill Chardonnay for its incredible longevity. Louis Martini Cabernets from the 1960s for how well balanced they were.

Which Spanish wine and why?

Vega Sicilia for its complexity and uniqueness.

How about a few wines from throughout the world and why?

Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo because wines aren’t made like that anymore. The Burgundies of Henri Jayer for how beautiful and profound they are. The Pouilly Fumes of Didier Dagueneau for their sense of place.

Lastly, what sommeliers have been inspiring to you and why?
Fred Dame for everything he has done for all master sommeliers. Rene Chazottes, because the old French guy taught me all about service.

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Here is an interview we did with Jordan Fiorentini for Wine Speak 2020.

Jordan Fiorentini is the winemaker extraordinaire for Epoch Estate Wines in Paso Robles —and she was also part of one of Wine Speak’s most defining moments, as you will see in the following interview.

Passionate, dedicated and not afraid to push the envelope, Jordan brings an enthusiastic and experienced spirit to Epoch Estate Wines. Her palate is the kind wine lovers dream of and one that speaks to Jordan through shapes—having an artistic side, Jordan now draws her tasting notes in addition to writing about each wine. Under her direction, Epoch Estate Wines has produced some of the most revered wines in Paso Robles.

Jordan holds an engineering degree from Dartmouth College and a masters degree in viticulture from UC Davis. Jordan earned her spurs working at her family’s winery in Georgia, Araujo Estate in Napa Valley, Antinori Winery in Italy, and as head winemaker at Chalk Hill in Sonoma.

Wine Speak co-founder and master sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Jordan to talk her experience at Wine Speak; her winemaking inspirations; and how she aims to keep it all in balance:

In 2019, Wine Speak featured a panel—“Wine from a different perspective”—featuring five top female wine professionals, and you were one of the panelists. Many, many participants have said it was so powerful and drew a lot of emotion out.  What made this happen?

It was a magical group of wine professionals – all with different panels. I think what made it so special was that Amanda, the moderator, started with a personal story about herself and her path in the wine industry, which made all the panelists feel like sharing about themselves. Amanda had asked us to share our stories. I also feel that the audience’s interested, smiling faces, and great engaged questions made the panel so meaningful. There was an energy that kept building with every question they had.

What was it like being a part of that?

I felt so humbled to be among a group of such accomplished, professional women in the wine industry. It showed me and hopefully everyone in the crowd that there’s not one recipe for success or becoming someone in the wine industry.

What will you take away from that experience?
I can still reflect on it now, and I am still wowed when I hear people mention the panel. I actually received several thank you notes from people in attendance who were moved by our stories. Now that doesn’t happen every day!

How do you keep it all managed/balanced—work, personal and family?

That’s a great question – do I keep a balance? It’s actually the eternal question, one I work on every day. Some days I feel I do and some days I feel I don’t. The key is having a great relationship with everyone at work so we all support each other and it’s the same at home.

Over the years who are some of the winemakers who have inspired you and why?

I gather inspiration from tasting people’s wines, hearing their stories and, most poignantly, from working or spending time with other winemakers. My first inspirations were the first winemakers I ever worked for, who continue to inspire me today: Michael Beaulac, Kim Nicholls and Franciose Pechon. They were the winemakers I worked for my first couple harvests I was in Napa. Then there is Steve Leveque from Hall (formerly Chalk Hill) who really taught me how to blend and make winemaking decisions in the vineyards and winery. More recently, I’ve traveled and been exposed to many Rhône winemakers, such as Ann Charlotte Bachas from Domaine della Font du Loup and Sara Perez from Mas Martinet, who are very different but leading the charge in their respective places.  Winemakers locally who help guide me through harvests, and who inspire and support me, are Vailia Esh of Desparada and Anthony Yount from Denner. There are others, too, but I talk to those two the most.

What were some “aha” moment wines for you and why?

In 2010, when visiting Paso to determine whether or not I wanted to move and work here, I tried L’Aventure’s 2007 Cote a Cote and thought it was so exciting with flavors I hadn’t experienced before. That wine helped me make the decision to move here. I have many other transcendent moments with wine, but the one described above actually helped me make a life decision!

What was an “aha” wine and food moment for you and why?

Randy Caparoso’s pairing of our 2017 Epoch White as the main course after several reds with an incredible duck pasta dish by Sean from the Range—this was at the last Wine Speak!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

That there isn’t one recipe to be successful in the wine industry. Now that I look back and see so many successful winemakers that came from different backgrounds, different approaches, I realize this industry is even more creative than I originally thought (and I got into it because I wanted a field that allowed creativity!).

What is it about Paso Robles that really intrigues you as a winemaker?

The community and sense that we’re in this together in winemaking and grape growing. Because you feel others have your back, you’re more willing to research, explore, take chances. And then you’ve got an audience to share those experiences with. It’s truly one of a kind.

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New on the Tablas Creek Blog: An Interview with Wine Speak Co-Founders Chuck Furuya, MS and Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins

We are blessed in the Paso Robles area with a remarkable number of world-class wine events. In addition to the three annual events put on by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, we’ve been the home to Hospice du Rhone for two decades. WiVi has in the past five years become the state’s second-largest trade show. And in the last three years, we’ve seen another amazing event come to our region. Wine Speak is a bit of a different take on a wine event, equal parts industry education and public showcase, celebration of the region and invitation to the world.

With the 2020 event just one week away, I had the chance to sit down with the event’s two founders. Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins is VP of Operations at Ancient Peaks Winery, as well as co-founder of Dream Big Darling, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering the success of women in the wine and spirits industry. She recently appeared on the cover of Wine Enthusiast’s “40 Under 40” issue. Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya was just the tenth American to pass the Master Sommelier exam, in 1988. He is a partner in and wine director for D.K. Restaurant Group, is a former Chairman of Education for the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, and writes a monthly wine column for the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

How did the two of you come to work together on this?

  • Amanda: In 2017 we were having a conversation about hospitality and the advancement of offering world class service.  Chuck is a big fan of Paso Robles (and many other places) so I asked if during one of his upcoming visits he could dedicate some time to sharing his wisdom with our local wine community.  Hawaii is after all a culture built on hospitality and tourism.  I would never imagine that this one small conversation could lead to so many incredible opportunities for our industry and community.
  • Chuck: From my point of view, I recall Amanda asking me to come to a talk/training on wines for a few people. I then asked can we do more? She said like what? I don’t think she realized what she was getting herself into. From that came Wine Speak!

What was the genesis of the idea behind Wine Speak?

  • Amanda: The idea was and still is to elevate our entire wine community by collaborating and sharing.  There is great power in joining forces and teaching the next generation.  We want to see the industry grow and flourish and to create a stage for producers and personalities who have something tremendous to
  • Chuck: Since I had been working with Amanda on a couple of projects previously, I kind of along the way understood that she would be key to the unfolding of the Paso Appellation. She has an innate gift of charm and is very articulate and really good at problem solving. I also think she has a lot of integrity and is very honest. In Hawaii, if it was not 12 chefs on all the islands, Hawaii regional cuisine never would’ve happened in my opinion   Because it was 12 chefs, it created synergy, camaraderie…… It really was a movement. That is what changed Hawaii culinarily. I believe in each wine region of the world needs a band of like minded winemakers that can create change.  Take for example, the gang of four in Morgon, Beaujolais. So with that in mind, Amanda would be the foundation in Paso, and I would look to source and invite winemakers/professionals from various parts of the New World — both inside & outside expertise — looking to share, talk story and learn. This would also bring new faces to the Paso Robles wine region to experience the climate, the soils, the wines and most importantly the people.

For you, what was the highlight of years 1 and 2?

  • Amanda: The highlight of year one was developing the confidence in our concept and seeing the profound need in our community.  Year two was magnificent, we partnered with a new non profit, Dream Big Darling, and offered scholarships to up and coming sommelier’s from around the country.  These young people have become ambassadors for not so many producers they met over the course of the experience.  Watching them light up and discover something new was magnificent.
  • Chuck: For me, year one — it was seeing Justin Smith of Saxum hanging out for two or three days with Adam Tolmach of Ojai. Two different growing regions, two different generations and two different winemaking approaches getting to know each other, hanging out and talking story. I thought that was magic and it made me proud. For year two — it was watching an assistant winemaker taste the 2015 Faury Condrieu and seeing that candid sense of wonderment on his face as he switched and switched the wine in his mouth. Seeing the lightbulb go on was something that really affected me.

What new things are in store for 2020?

  • Amanda: 2020 offers a more global perspective and we are excited to host producers from Spain, France and Argentina.  We also enriched our “Grand Tasting” event to include producers from around the globe.  We wanted to make sure that all events were dynamic for our local wine community.  Being from a rural area, many people drink wines they make. However, in order to really stretch and grow we need to expose ourselves to new concepts and ways of thinking.
  • Chuck: First of all, this is the first year that we will be including people from faraway places such as Spain, Argentina and France. It was previously New World-centric. We believe this will add new dimension to insights, the questions, and discussions. Secondly, rather than having panels of two or three all of the time on specifically three of the panels we look to do mano a mano — specifically with three wine Yodas: Bruce Neyers, long time master Madeline Triffon, and Lionel Faury from Cote Rotie. These three may not be commonplace names which many are familiar with. But for me they are three of the most incredible wine minds I have run across in my 40+ years of doing wines. For example, Madeline was the sixth American to pass the master sommelier examination. She was the first American woman. She was the second woman in the world. I believe that is saying a lot and will hopefully inspire young professionals that attend, whether they are female or male. She is the consummate professional and rose to the top of her field despite all of the challenges. She doesn’t typically do on stage interviews like this, but I think we all agree it is an important time for industry to have some of the long-timers with wisdom come and share their thoughts insights and experiences, so that we can all remember what the craft is.

What makes Wine Speak unique as a wine event?

  • Amanda: Wine Speak sets itself apart from other wine events in a number of ways.  For one, it’s small, there is enormous access to speakers, panelists and guest interaction.  In addition there aren’t many other events that are engaging; winemakers, distributors, growers, and trade.  We bring several parts of the industry together for a time of learning, and not just about one segment of the business.
  • Chuck: Back in the 1970s, I remember tasting a wine from Cote Rotie and wondering how the heck can man and God create a wine that’s beyond grapes, oak barrels or winemaking? And if that is true, why can’t we do this in the New World? I believe that through sharing insights, wisdom and experiences we can make a difference. So for the first year we had two Syrah panels. One was entitled “New World Syrah” and featured Bruce Neyers, Andy Peay (Sonoma Coast), Serge Carlei from Australia and Greg Harrington MS from Washington state. And the other was entitled “Central Coast Syrah” featuring Justin Smith (Paso Robles), Matt Dees (Jonata, Ballard Canyon) & Adam Tolmach (Ojai, Santa Maria Valley). It offered quite a scope of what Syrah can be. Year two featured Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Pax Mahle of Pax/Windgap Wines and Jason Drew of Drew Wines (Mendocino Ridge). For 2020, we are taking a whole new approach to Syrah and featuring Lionel Faury from the Rhône Valley of France. So that is a eleven very different perspectives on what the Syrah grape variety can be from eleven very well respected winemakers and from very different places!

If there was one thing that you hope people get out of coming to the event, what would it be?

  • Amanda: New ideas and friendships.  In life, ideas and friends are the most valuable assets.
  • Chuck: A few years back, when I was inducted to the Hawaii Restaurant Association Hall of Fame, it made me think of all of the people who have touched my life to allowing me to be where I am today. In almost all of the cases, they showed me a box. Then they said, “Chuck, look inside the box”. After that they then asked imagine the possibilities. That is what I’m hoping Wine Speak can offer. To make people think differently. How can we effect change. How can we nurture sharing, camaraderie and collaboration so that we can move forward and make a difference.

Do you have dreams for future Wine Speak events?

  • Amanda: It’s hard to think about that right now.  As long as there is a need we hope to continue to bring forth an event that helps move our industry forward.
  • Chuck: Right now, we are focused on getting this one up and running in the next two weeks. Every year, we typically wait a couple of months before deciding if we are going to do another. Having said that, of course I have already have some ideas.

Chuck, what was your “a ha” moment that got you excited about Paso Robles?

  • It was a 1988 Cabernet-based red I tasted in San Francisco at a tasting. To me the wine had much more than fruit. It had an underlying minerality that was captivating. I knew then that I had to go see the vineyard.

Amanda, what’s the coolest thing that’s happened to you as a result of being named to (or on the cover of) Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 40 under 40” list?

  • Being named as 40 under 40 and making the cover was really special to me.  It’s incredible that the publication noticed our collective work and choose to highlight it, I am forever grateful and humbled by my team and community which makes it all possible.  I’m blessed to be 4th generation in the Paso Robles region and cattle rancher, I’m glad to carry the spirit of our history with my rope and boots in the picture.

What’s your favorite under-the-radar fact about Paso Robles or the Central Coast?

  • Amanda: The spirit of rugged terrain, a story of the land and people that is still being written, and a community that stands together.
  • Chuck: The soils AND the people/community!

Although many of the seminars are sold out, there are still tickets available to the Wines of the World Grand Tasting and some of the industry events. If you haven’t checked out this event, you really owe it to yourself to do so. If you attend, I’ll see you there, since I’ll be speaking on one of the panels this year, as well as pouring wines at the Grand Tasting!



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Here is an interview we did with legendary Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon for Wine Speak 2020.

Madeline Triffon is a legend in the world of Master Sommeliers and an icon in the field of skilled wine service.


We are blessed to have Madeline join Wine Speak 2020 and helm our seminar titled “Dream Big—Wine from A Different Perspective.”

Dream Big Darling is really about inspiring others.  We therefore spend quite a bit of time finding professionals who will inspire.  In the world of sommeliers, one of the truly inspirational “Hall of Fame” icons is Madeline Triffon of Southgate, Michigan.  She passed the rigorous Master Sommelier exam in 1987, becoming the first female American Master (and becoming only the second female Master Sommelier in the world).  She persevered through all of the challenges (especially in a then very male dominated fine dining industry) and rose to the very  top of the profession through her hard work, true graciousness and genuine hospitality.  She is and has been a TRUE inspiration & exemplary to the profession and I only hope you take the opportunity to hear the insights, wisdom and experiences from this legend which I believe will greatly inspire & help you moving forward.

Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with her to talk about her journey—and what inspires her most:

What was it about wine that first attracted you?  It didn’t!  I was hired as a sommelier in a French dining room because I had a good French accent, and I did the best I could to educate myself with the resources available to me so I could do a credible job.

Can you please name a couple of people in wine who truly inspired you over the years and why?

Zelma Long and Jean-Pierre Moueix. I heard both of them speak, Zelma to a small room of trade people and Mr. Moueix at an early Wine Experience, to hundreds. They both did an extraordinary thing:  they touched everyone in the room and covered their subject, using inclusive simple language. Wow.

Professionally what advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t worry so much! Do your very best, and let it go, sleep peacefully. Don’t be quite so hard on yourself.

What values are important in our industry that need to be discussed more?

The joy of hard work, and how fulfilling service is! A lot of people speak “service”, and yet how often do you experience active eye contact and a responsive (not reactive) culture in restaurants? I see it more in humble places.

What Californian wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

  • Ridge Monte Bello at a vertical blind tasting against/with Chateau Latour. The winemaker and Robert Parker couldn’t pick them out 100%
  • Ramey Chardonnay, and hearing David Ramey speak at length to the subject of making Chardonnay, in the early days of Ramey Cellars.
  • Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet, 1984, 85, 86, 87.  Stunning fruit.

What were a few wines from throughout the world and why?

  • Recently, Il Palazzino Chianti Classico Riserva – perfect balance. This wine hides in plain sight.
  • Mt. Etna Rosso and Bianco, various cuvees – thrilled at the prospect of watching Nerello Mascalese and Carricante flower in the years to come
  • Prager Riesling, more than one cuvee – the nose alone was a revelation of Austrian Riesling.
  • Dominique Lafon’s wine in the Maconnais – the mouthfeel is satin.

Lastly, what sommeliers have been inspiring to you and why? 

The colleagues I grew up with in the business – at the risk of forgetting someone, Claudia Tyagi, Evan Goldstein, Fran Kysela, Nunzio Alioto, Chuck Furuya, Tim Gaiser, Wayne Belding, Peter Granoff, Sally Mohr, Larry Stone, Brian Julyan – all master sommeliers today. What touches me deeply is how very different we all were and are, and how honest we were with each other in serving the same purposes. They taught me how ego can be parked in the interest of the greater good.

And, great servers have always inspired me! I learned service working alongside terrific career service professionals, wine was just my specific specialty in the dining room. I love recognizing a great server, just experienced one at a new Detroit restaurant. Her decisions and actions were based on the pure intent of exceeding my expectations and making me happy and comfortable. Bliss.

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An Interview with Nunzio Alioto MS

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Here is an interview we did with legendary Master Sommelier Nunzio Alioto for Wine Speak 2020.

Nunzio has been like an older brother to me & by far, my biggest, most influential mentor.  I am so fortunate to have a life long friend like him.

Indeed, as a boy he helped out at his family’s Alioto’s Restaurant, a San Francisco landmark on Fisherman’s Wharf specializing in fresh seafood and Sicilian family recipes. Nunzio attended cooking schools both in the U.S. & in Lausanne, Switzerland and did apprenticeship stages in the kitchens of several esteemed restaurants including the Iron Horse, Ernie’s (both formerly top, fine dining restaurants in San Francisco) & Jacques Pic (a Michelin 3 star restaurant in Valence, France).   He then became the fourth generation of the Alioto family, to run Alioto’s, one of San Francisco’s oldest family-owned restaurant, until his retirement a couple of years ago.

But Nunzio’s fascination with food and wine did not stop with  his schooling & the family business. At an early age he was already traveling to Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Alsace, Italy & Germany & was therefore quite versed in each.  Furthermore, living in San Francisco, Nunzio was also very well informed & thoroughly first hand knowledgeable from his continuous visits to the blossoming Sonoma & Napa wine country back in the 1960’s/70’s until even today.

His curiosity, fascination and talent with wine led him to become a Master Sommelier in 1987.

In addition, Nunzio is a former, long time Chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers–worldwide & was so very instrumental in bringing the program to the prominence it has today.

Nunzio has been a key contributor to Wine Speak since day one. Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with him to talk about his journey—and about the wines and people who have inspired him along the way.

What was it about wine which first attracted you?

As I was born into the restaurant business, it was a natural attraction.

What drew you to the wines of the Rhône Valley, Italy, Germany and California in the old days, before it all was fashionable?

Our family restaurant is located in Northern California, and Napa and Sonoma were areas our family visited regularly. Also, Larry Romano, a San Francisco-based wine importer, was a major influence on me. We purchased many of his wine selections which were from around the world.  Because of Larry Romano I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Alexis Lichine, as Mr. Romano imported wine selections from him. It was these two gentlemen who drew me to these winegrowing regions. Larry Romano also distributed the Robert Mondavi wines in the very early years.

Can you please name a couple of people in wine who truly inspired you over the years and why?

Mr. Lichine, owner of Chateaux Prieure-Lichine, Bordeaux France, and author of the iconic Encyclopedia of Wine)—his general knowledge of French wines, in particular Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Remi Krug, of Champagne Krug—Remi’s attention to quality.

Gunter Künstler, Owner of Franz Künstler wines of Germany—His thoughtfulness and his attention to his soils and how they translate into wine.

Dr. Becker of Geisenheim in the Rheingau—His research into clones and rootstock was unparalleled and invigorating.

Chuck Furuya—for his relentless pursuit of knowledge. Keeps the fire burning in me.

Professionally. what advice would you give your younger self?

To immerse myself in Old World wines. In my estimation, that is the basis of understanding wine.

What California wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

1951 BV PR Cabernet: beautiful bouquet and balance

1968 BV PR Cabernet: intense flavor and a long finish

1975 Ridge Montebello Cabernet: intensity and great balance

1972 Mayacamas Chardonnay: Burgundian in style, a wine that opened my eyes to how good Chardonnay can be from here

Ojai Bien Nacido Chardonnay: Balanced and excellent winemaking

ABC Sanford and Benedict Pinot Noir: floral notes and great balance

What were a few memorable wines from throughout the world and why?

1978 Romanee-Conti: Perfume, silky, incredible balance, Breed and finesse

2000 Richebourg, DRC: outstanding finesse and balance incredible floral flavors

1990 Echezeaux, Henri Jayer: Explosive flavors of red fruits, perfume, balance of layers of complex flavors

1994 Domaine Tempier, “Cabassaou”: elegant, bouquet of flavors, balanced with a long finish, savory

1998 Hermitage, Chave “Cathelin”: power and explosive, spice, rustic, incredible bouquet and balanced

1989 Cote Rotie, Marius Gentaz-Dervieux “Cote Brune”: outstanding flavors of spice, earth, bouquet and balance, wow

1989 Montrachet, DRC: power and finesse, explosive

1968 Vega Sicilia UNICO: Tempranillo at its best, intense, rich, balanced with a great depth of complex flavors

1979 Brauneburger-Juffer Sonnenuhr, GK Auslese, Fritz Haag: bouquet, incredible spice, balance of fruit, sugar and acid

1983 Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese, Egon Muller: an incredible mind-boggling wine with intensity of mature flavors and a crisp acid balance for such an intense wine

Lastly, what sommeliers have been inspiring to you and why?

Brian Julyan (England): His dedication to wine service

Serge Dubs (Alsace, France): the ultimate sommelier, panache, style

Fred Dame (USA): his willingness to mentor

Gerard Basset (England, now deceased): A true gentleman of our profession

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Here is an interview we did with longtime sommelier/wine journalist Randy Caparoso for Wine Speak 2020.

Randy Caparoso is a multi-award winning wine journalist.  He was also named Santé’s first Wine & Spirits Professional of the Year and Restaurant Wine’s Wine Marketer of the Year.  Today, he is Wine Speak’s resident food-and-wine pairing expert.


Pairing wines & food is undoubtedly an art.  One of the big questions in the wine field is how do we nurture & provide insight for sommeliers & wine professionals on this art?  For Wine Speak 2019, we featured a Paso Robles paired luncheon with Caparoso, a local chef, Cheyne Jackson of The Range in Santa Margarita & superstar Master Sommelier Fred Dame color commentating.  This certainly featured some daring, “out of the box”, thought provoking pairings, which made participants think differently on what can be.  (for more information on that luncheon, please go to archives & browse through the Wine Speak 2019 posts).

To take the concept a step further we created this workshop, which will again be led by Randy Caparoso, Editor at Large of The SOMM Journal.  Earlier in his career Randy was one of the founding Managing Partners of Roy’s restaurants.   This group was an epicenter of some of the most progressive & imaginative wine and wine & food programs in the country, if not the world.  NO overstatement here.

We therefore asked Randy to help lead us through this much needed workshop & share his insights, knowledge & expertise at this art.  He truly has a gift & I really think he will inspire all those who attend, just as he has inspired me for all of these years.

Randy returns to Wine Speak 2020 with yet another extravaganza of wine-pairing insights, this time leading our “Wine & Food Workshop” featuring dishes by Chef Jeffery Scott paired with Paso Robles wines curated by Randy.

Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Randy to talk about the art of wine pairings and what you can expect to experience at his workshop:

What is it about the art of food and wine pairing that makes you so excited?

Basically, yes, a nicely done wine and food match turns me on. That’s because I have a hospitality and food service background, while also being a garden variety wine geek. In fact, I first got “into” wine (back in 1975) as a result of a restaurant manager telling me I had to learn every wine on a wine list in order to become a waiter, which I did — only, I didn’t stop, I went way beyond that wine list, and later transitioned to a sommelier position. Consequently, as much as I love every aspect of wine, my perspective is colored by the belief that the ultimate purpose of any wine is to enjoy at the table, with food. Therefore, unlike many (probably most) other wine professionals, I’m just not concerned with cellaring, collecting, reading about what wines are “best,” and certainly not about numerical ratings. All I’m concerned about is two things — 1) how well a wine expresses its sense of place or terroir, and 2) how good a wine is in the context of food and the social contexts in which it might be enjoyed.

What is your favorite or a tried-and-true pairing? Why is it special?

I guess if I had to choose one, I’d choose Picpoul de Pinet with oysters, although I do love a light, zesty Pinot Noir with oysters, too. The reason, of course, is that I love oysters, although it’s not something I eat at home or every day, so it’s something I always look forward to when I go out. But it’s a sensory thing. I love the lemony taste of whites made from Picpoul, and anything lemony is amazing with oysters. But when I’m enjoying my all-time favorite wine, Pinot Noir, with oysters, I’m enjoying the amazing taste of umami found in both oysters and a lighter, zestier, balanced style of Pinot (I don’t go for big, oaky Pinots).

In a world of “fast paced living,” how can pairings help accentuate a meal, a wine and an experience?

The concept of enjoying wine with food is simple, elemental and timeless. It simply enhances many foods, and enhances our lives. As a wine professional, of course, I am able to experience wine at an elevated level — I always have a huge variety of wines at my disposal, and so invariably, whatever I’m eating, I’m enjoying a pretty darned good “match.” Lucky me.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to learn more?

Like many things, the subject of wine can be different things to many different people. I think I certainly understand the average consumer because, like most of them, I actually don’t drink like a fish. I enjoy wine in extreme moderation. But I always say that if you want to learn more, do what you do with all things — start to pay attention to what you are enjoying, and how you enjoy it, and then make a concerted effort to try different things, the same way we learn about foods by enjoying the process of discovering new dishes. For burgeoning professionals, I recommend the same thing, but bolstered by reading the basics (starting with Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and Kermit Lynch). This is what I’ve always assigned to my staffs over the years. I also recommend learning the basic discipline of wine tasting and note taking, and, of course, taking wine courses and attending tastings (public tastings as well as your own private tastings) as much as possible.

You spoke at length about umami, can you explain what you mean?

Well, that short article on umami should summarize the basics. But if you want an even shorter explication, umami is a taste sensation, just like sweet, sour, tart, salty and bitter. Only, umami is the savory taste you get from components (basically glutamates) common to foods like a ripe tomato, parmesan, mushrooms, lots of seafoods, and even everyday stuff like ketchup and cheddar. When you understand or are conscious of umami, you have a better understanding of why we enjoy the taste of so many different foods, from a bag of corn chips to cheeseburgers, stews, oysters, ceviche or a nice, rich demiglace or sauce in a French restaurant. That’s why it also helps to understand how umami sensations are common to many wines (especially balanced red wines) and, even more importantly, how these wines taste great with foods or dishes with umami accents. The knowledge makes our life better simply because knowing about such things makes our culinary experiences, even in everyday situations, that much better.

In preparing for the upcoming Professional Development Day at Wine Speak, what do you think attendees will walk away learning?

I hope participants in the workshop will walk away with a better idea of how wines and foods go together by getting a better understanding the sensory reasons why things taste the way they do in combination with each other. Although wine and food matching may seem elusive to many people, even wine professionals, the concepts are really pretty simple once they’re pointed out. In other words, I hope people find an “aha” moment or two when they taste the wines and dishes we are putting together, which we’ll do to deliberately demonstrate different sensory interactions. Some of the interactions will be unsuspected or surprising (I hope), which is what an “aha” moment is all about.

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