2014 Los Angeles Rising Star Sommelier Taylor Parsons of République

2014 Los Angeles Rising Star Sommelier Taylor Parsons of République
May 2014

Sommelier Taylor Parsons is also a piano player and a scholar. He has a degree in Africana studies from Brown University and lived abroad while pursuing a career as a jazz musician. While working as a server, bartender, and cellar assistant (aka cellar rat), to earn extra cash, it was the wine that preoccupied Parsons’s mind. Back in his native Los Angeles in 2007—after some time in Lake Tahoe in retail wine buying and ski bummery—Parsons  decided to commit whole-heartedly to wine, with his mind, palate, and soul.

He approached his professional pursuits with newfound zeal as wine director at Mark Peel’s trailblazing Campanile, and he followed that up with a gig at another L.A. icon, Wolfgang Puck's Spago. In 2010, he joined the Mozza Restaurant Group—led by luminaries Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Nancy Silverton—as the beverage director. Parsons oversaw the beverage programs at Osteria Mozza, Spacca, and two Pizzeria Mozzas in Southern California.       

In 2013, he returned to the old Campanile space where he got his start, now transformed by Walter and Magarita Manzke into French, modern République. There he pairs with the spirit and spontaneity of a jazz musician, more concerned with the guest in front of him than with discussing esoteric fruit-basket notes in the bouquet. Parsons just wants his guests to drink and enjoy. He saves the note pulling for the piano in his living room.  

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Interview with Los Angeles Rising Star Sommelier Taylor Parsons of République

Antoinette Bruno: So, why did you pair this wine with the beef tartare [Grüner Veltliner Kreutles, Veyder-Malberg, Wachau, Austria, 2012]?
Taylor Parsons: It needed something intense because raw beef is always intense and delicate simultaneously. There are always subtle things happening but it's all simultaneous. The really cool thing about working [at République] is today Walter [Manzke] came back at 3:00pm from the market and he had stuff in his hand that was still warm from the stall. Walter makes food in such an intuitive way. He gives me the menu changes and I write the wine changes. Every day the wine and food menu changes 10 to 40 percent. Walter is one of the most wine-respectful chefs around.

This wine is intensely flavorful with a combination of citrus, vegetal, and mineral notes. It fits the profile of the dish. Vegetal from the herbs, mineral from the red meat, and it has an intense salt from the chips. Salt intensifies flavors. It's a white wine dish even though most people disagree.

AB: You chose a [Bianco 'Ante' Carricante/Minnella,/Grecanico, I Custodi delle Vigne dell’ Etna, Sicily, Italy, 2010] for this smoked Steelhead Crostini. Why do you think this pair works?
TP: Volcanic wines always have a smoky signature. There's always just a bit of a lingering finish that's always smoked—great with smoked fish. As for the grapes themselves, the only way to grow [volcanic] wines of elegance is where it's windy. For me, the best place to grow wines where it's windy is Etna, because it's so hot consistently. To be so high up and windy, gives the grapes a lot of freshness. And with a lot of green stuff on this plate, I wanted a wine with a little greeness. A lot of what Walter wanted to present had a lot of green to it. I like complimentary pairs. There are rules people forget—acid cancels acid and sweet cancels sweet. Canceling rules, play within that box. Contrasting people go off the rails, they’ll serve wines that are too opposing, that totally deaden a dish and cancel out the other flavors. 

AB: Tell me about this pairing with the wild arugula risotto [Le Soula Blanc, Domaine Le Soula, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, France, 2007]. 
TP: This is a very green dish: arugula, pistachio, a very green fresh streak, but it also has some richness. It’s a similar structure to tartare, an interplay of greenness and a vegetal quality. There’s a rich stock and the parmesan and artichokes are sort of meaty. It's a yin-yang dish. I wanted a wine with enough richness to stand up to that. I don't want a wine that's a foil for everything, I want them to be partners. This winemaker decided to do this project, it's a wine that's poking at something—Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Macabeo, Vermentino—a bunch of grapes. It’s not really a varietal wine, it’s more about texture which is perfect with the risotto.

AB: This salad has endive, cauliflower, fennel, parmesan, lemon, and hazelnut. What wine did this dish lead you to? [Sauvignon Blanc, François Crochet, Le Chêne Marchand, Sancerre, Loire Valley, France, 2012]
TP: The dish is all sweet and bitter and green, so fresh tasting. There are only a few wines that go with that. The pre-eminent one is Sauvignon Blanc. For a salad that's so vital and fresh and bracing, you need a wine that's also bracing. It's a great wine for me. Sancerre makes me feel like I just took a shower, it's beautiful. It's a single vineyard Sancerre. The vintner, he's the guy that everyone's talking about right now. Everyone in the wineries is drinking him right now.