Luis de Santos
WOLFGANG PUCK FINE DINING GROUP |
As a former engineering student, Luis de Santos’s
understanding of wine structure takes on a whole new meaning. He is the
wine director for Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, and in his role he
creates and develops the wine lists for many of Wolfgang Puck’s
restaurants and provides their staffs with a thorough working knowledge
of wine. De Santos, 33, is also the first American Master Sommelier of
Filipino descent, not to mention one of the youngest Master Sommeliers
in Las Vegas, having passed the rigorous exam in 2002 at the age of 30.
He calls wine master Steve Geddes of André Rochat’s restaurant
group as his mentor, transmitting wine knowledge that now, in turn, de
Santos feels compelled to share with his younger associates in the Las
Vegas sommelier circuit.
Amy Tarr: How old were you when you
tasted wine for the first time?
Luis de Santos: I was born and raised
in the Philippines and came to the US when I was 12. My father’s
a slot technician in the gaming business, so we moved to Las Vegas. I
was 18 or 19 years old when I tasted wine for the first time. I was a
busboy at the time.
AT: How did you develop an interest
LDS: I got introduced to wine at
Charlie Trotter’s in Las Vegas (it closed down in less than 1 year.)
Everything has to do with mentors. Steve Geddes was my mentor. He’s
a legend. He works with Andre Rochat’s restaurants. He gave me an
opportunity to be exposed to wine. It’s all about the knowledge.
AT: Where have you worked previously?
LDS: Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek
Kitchen and Charlie Palmer Steak at the Four Seasons. Then when Joachim
Splichal opened Pinot Brasserie at the Venetian I started working there.
I joined Puck in December of 2000.
AT: What courses have you taken?
LDS: I pursued engineering –
I got into UNLV for engineering and realized it wasn’t for me. The
spark wasn’t there. I’ve always enjoyed F&B. Something
is new every year.
AT: What is your philosophy on wine
LDS: It’s one thing to become
an MS. It’s another to teach. It’s all about passion. The
more we know about wine, the less we know. Food and wine is fun. Wine
is just a bridge between two forms of food – solid and liquid.
AT: Do you favor Old World or New
World wines? Why?
LDS: For Old World wines– Riesling
– you can drink it any time of day, with any food of the day. There’s
a misconception that it’s sweet - it’s not necessarily. I
also like New World wines, as long as there’s concentrated flavors
and balance. Zinfandel is the best barbecue wine.
AT: Tell me about a perfect match
that you discovered.
LDS: I remember this to the day –
it was at Gatsby’s (at MGM Grand) – seared foie gras with
sweetbreads, mango chutney and reduction of sauternes with poached mango.
It was paired with a TBA (Trockenbeerenauslese) #7 Grüner Veltliner
that was the highlight of food and wine pairings. The richness and acidity…by
far it was the best pairing.
AT: Why do you think you stand out
as a sommelier?
LDS: I am the first Filipino –American
Master Sommelier. I completed it in 2002 (at the age of 30). I’m
also one of the youngest MS’s in Las Vegas.
AT: What wines do you favor for
your cellar at home?
LDS: I have a cellar of at least
200 bottles, slowly maturing. Being Filipino, I got into sweet wines -
Hungarian Tokaji, German eisweins, etc.
AT: What’s the most expensive
bottle on the Group’s list?
LDS: A 1961 Chateau Pomerol for $2,800.
It deserves to be - wine becomes expensive because of supply and demand.
Petrus is $780 a bottle. Five years ago it was $16,000 a case.
AT: What are your ultimate career
goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
LDS: I love the [Wolfgang Puck Fine
Dining] Group. Growing old with this company is not a bad thing. Wolf
is one of the best chefs I have ever worked for. There’s ownership
in the company. Ultimately I’d like to take over all beverage for
Puck. Not just restaurants. I’d still be based in Las Vegas, but
I’d do more travel and import work.