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 in wine?
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 and food?
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.