Sommelier Michael Garcia
XYZ at the W San Francisco | San Francisco
Sommelier Michael Garcia got the wine bug while in graduate school at Fordham University studying philosophy and economics. There he met Don DePaoli, an undergraduate professor who loved the pleasures of the table and travel – specifically Burgundy. It was not a formal education but Garcia put in hours of learning at the table and embarked on a Grand Tour through the great restaurants of San Francisco, New York and Paris, while enjoying the great Burgundian wines. Inspired to learn more, Garcia took a position at San Francisco’s Campton Place with Laurent Manrique.
Though he never went to culinary school, Garcia’s stage in the kitchen at San Francisco bistro Chapeau! with Philippe and Ellen Gardelle gave him a true appreciation for back-of-house. Now pairing wine at XYZ, Garcia builds flavor with the wines as the menu progresses, often starting the meal with something sparkling and finishing with complex and complimentary cocktails that echo the desserts’ flavor profile.
TR: Describe your fondest wine memory.
MG: I don’t know if I have a single fondest wine memory. I can say, though, that all of my memories include sharing wine with friends and family and hearing what others have to say about wine. I find these situations to be very instructive. Although I do remember a bottle of 1983 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg shared with friends while enjoying a trio of rabbit at Rubicon Restaurant in San Francisco quite fondly.
TR: Where have you worked previously?
MG: I worked at Campton Place with Laurent Manrique.
TR: What courses have you taken? Certifications? Awards won?
MG: I recently audited the advanced course from the Court of Master Sommeliers and I hope to take the exam in 2008. Our wine list at the hotel has received Wine Spectator’s “Best of Award of Excellence” for the last three years.
TR: What is your favorite wine right now?
MG: I can’t say that I have a favorite wine…although I recently had an opportunity to taste a 1966 Karthauserhof “Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg” Sang Spätlese from the Ruwer and that bottle certainly ranks as one of my top wine experiences.
TR: Do you prefer reds or whites?
MG: I wouldn’t give a preference toward either. What I look for and enjoy are wines with an excellent balance of flavor, acidity, and alcohol. These wines can be found in the both the new and old world…although we certainly find more examples in the old.
I tend to drink more white than red wine simply because I find that many foods pair better with white wines than reds.
TR: What are your favorite wine resource books?
MG: The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia from Tom Stevenson and The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson.
TR: Tell me about a perfect wine and food match that you discovered.
MG: One of my favorites is 1999 Cappezzana “Riserva” Vin Santo di Carmignano with Pastry Chef Ryan Wells’ Chocolate Caramel Bar with Salted Marcona Almonds and Coffee Sabayon.
TR: What wines do you favor for your cellar at home?
MG: I tend to favor Champagne, German Riesling, Loire Valley whites, and red Burgundy at home.
TR: What year did you begin your culinary career?
MG: In the year 2000.
TR: What organizations do you belong to?
MG: The Court of Master Sommeliers.
TR: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
MG: Don DePaoli. I learned from him the pleasures of great food and wine, and to try and give as much thought to food and wine as the person who produced it has…a necessary impossibility.
TR: Which person in history would you most like to share a bottle of wine with?
MG: Louis-Francois de Bourbon, the Prince of Conti. I would pour for him a Romanée Conti from a recent vintage. It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on a wine from a specific place that is now made differently than it was in his era. In his time, red Burgundies were made with the addition of roughly 20% white grapes, a much shorter cuvaison, and more time in barrel. It would give us a completely different perspective on what is “the best.”
TR: What is your philosophy on wine and food?
MG: In pairing wine with Chef Paul Piscopo’s food, I try to slowly build flavor with the wines as the menu progresses. I usually like to start the meal with something sparkling but often if the chef has great oysters to start a meal, I might pair a Spanish Txacoli. This way you get a hint of sparkle with a crisp and bracing wine that primes the palate for the courses to come. I might follow with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Grüner Veltliner to pair with a salad course or raw fish appetizer and then a more full-bodied white with the fish course although I sometimes pair a lighter red wine with the fish course and then move onto a more full bodied red for the meat course. In general, I try to find wines that complement without overpowering any of the subtle flavors of the Chef’s food without overpowering.
TR: If you weren’t a sommelier what do you think you’d be doing?
MG: Teaching philosophy.
TR: What are your ultimate career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
MG: I hope do be doing the same thing with the same energy and passion and hopefully a bit more knowledge. In ten years I would like to dabble in distilling spirits. I would like to produce a gin using 100% biodynamically grown botanicals.
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