Sommelier Chris Angulo of Water Grill - Biography
Los Angeles, CA
Chris Angulo is not your typical sommelier, and that’s the way he likes it.
He grew up in rural Sonoma county spending summers in a cabin his grandfather built on the Russian River. Wine was a part of everyday life and that familiarity is the central theme in his approach to his work. “I think people talk way too much about wine. If you hang out with a winemaker in his cellar, there’s a lot of drinking and smiling going on and not many monologues. Put down the cork, stop swirling that glass and drink. It’s a beverage not a teleprompter.” Not that he is condemning the verbose wine lover, he just thinks “no matter what that guy has to say the wine can say it better.”
His father was a wine enthusiast and exposed Angulo to great wine at a young age. “I remember being eleven, eating at Nora’s in Georgetown with my brother and Dad, sipping great Cote-Rotie…You try going back to Shirley Temples.” Chris did a tour with the Marines after high school and then went into the service industry. “After six years crawling around with an M-16 you appreciate the concept of drinking for a living a lot more.”
After working at the Ritz-Carlton and Aqua in San Francisco, he took a job with Hawthorne Lane owner David Gingrass (formerly of Spago and Postrio). “I was hired because he liked my suits and I could think on my feet. Richard (Corraine) had just left to work with Danny Meyer in New York and David needed someone in the dining room and since Richard was also the wine guy, I just gravitated to that side of things.” He took the staff on regular trips to the wineries and vineyards of Sonoma and Napa bolstering an understanding of wine from the earth to the glass. “David’s an encyclopedia on food and the restaurant business so I had to really step it up. It really helped to have that vineyard experience. Those were great years, I never learned so much or had so much fun in my life.”
Angulo moved to Los Angeles and took over the sommelier position at Water Grill, a seafood mecca in downtown L.A. thanks to rising star chef Michael Cimarusti. He earned the restaurant the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence in 2002, his first year writing the list. He emphasizes small, eclectic producers from Sonoma and Napa though the 700 plus selections on the list pays due homage to France and Italy as well. “I want to give people wines they aren’t going find other places, otherwise, what’s the point?”
Chris doesn’t have his sights set on the Master Sommelier diploma. “I don’t know, people are so intimidated by wine that I try to present them in everyman terms. I knew this importer who walked the vineyards of Rhone and Bourgogne, he really knew his stuff and he still described this one Gigondas as ‘the kind of wine who waits for you after school and kicks your ass by the bike racks.’ I couldn’t use that description at every table but I knew what he meant. Anyway, it was funny and wine should be about enjoyment first and foremost. I want people to feel comfortable trying something different and I don’t need to recite the Grand Crus of Chablis to do it.”