Interview with Sommelier Caroline Styne of Lucques and A.O.C., Los Angeles

October 2004

Jim Clarke: Where and when did you first develop an interest in wine?

Caroline Styne: I was working at Jones Hollywood, which had a small, California-oriented winelist. The General Manager was the wine buyer and he let me sit in on his wine appointments with him. I found that I had a good nose for aromas and really enjoyed the selection process. He let me make some of my own selections for the list as well. When we opened Lucques, we had someone help us put the list together, but once we opened, it was up to me.

JC: What qualities do you look for when buying wine for your restaurants?

CS: To begin with, I try to concentrate on small-production, boutique wineries. I think it’s really exciting to find a wine that few people have tasted and introduce it to a wider audience. Whether large or small production, I tend to like wines that have great acidity and structure – the wines that we serve need to have both. The food at Lucques and A.O.C. is very robust and flavorful, so the wines on the list need to be able to marry with those flavors as well as hold up to them.

JC: How much do you and Suzanne Goin collaborate when developing your menus and winelists?

CS: I think we collaborate most in terms of our understanding of one another. By this I mean that I feel very in tune with her food and her style of cooking, and that we have a similar aesthetic and palate. Because of this kinship with her and her cooking, I am able to buy wines that I know will pair well with her food and style. So, although the restaurant menus and winelists were created independently of each other, they share in a soulful way and work really well together.

JC: “A.O.C.” clearly has a strong wine-orientation; how is your second restaurant’s wine program different from that of Lucques?

CS: I would say that the wine program at AOC is far more dynamic than that of Lucques. This is a result of it’s being such a prominent part of the restaurant’s concept. When one walks into AOC, the first thing one sees is the cruvinet displaying the 50 dry wines that we serve by the glass. The sheer number of wines that we serve allows me to be creative in terms of the wines that I can serve by the glass. And similarly, it allows the guest to be adventurous in their wine selections. In most restaurants a guest chooses one, maybe two bottles of wine that the table will enjoy over the course of an evening. At AOC however, our guests can order carafes of wine and taste a multitude of wines with their meal. The restaurant is built around this kind of experimentation. I serve 20 wines by the glass at Lucques, but the overall wine program isn’t as aggressive.

JC: How do like to theme your wines-by-flight offerings?

CS: The wine flights are based on a few different criteria, and are really wide-ranging. Sometimes the flights are seasonally based, like the rosé flights we have been serving all summer. Other times the flights will feature three wines from a single producer (i.e. the pinot noirs from Tantara in central California). And still other flights feature one varietal, like the Grenache flight that we served in June that consisted of wines from Spain, France and California. I change the flight every two weeks or so, based on availability of the wines and their popularity. We also always offer a sparkling flight that changes quite frequently. Our current flight has a champagne, a sparkling vouvray and a prosecco.

JC: What wines do you favor for your cellar at home?

CS: My personal wine collection consists of a little of this and a little of that. I try to have a variety of wines on hand at home to satisfy whatever my mood may be. I love the wines of Burgundy, both red and white, for the combination of power and elegance. I adore the meaty, earthy Rhone wines of Côte-Rôtie and Cornas. I’m also quite fond of Austrian and German whites.

JC: Which wines or regions are most popular with your guests at the moment?

CS: This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but I’ve been finding that people’s interest in Spanish wines is on the rise. I have around six Spanish wines in the cruvinet at AOC, and I can barely keep them in stock. The wonderful thing is that people are being adventurous about tasting wines from all over Spain, including the lesser known regions, not merely Rioja.