Interview with Sommelier Chris Angulo of Water Grill - Los Angeles, CA

November 2011

Cyd Klein: You seem to be attempting to break wine lovers out of an old fashioned mold – Where would you like to see wine culture go?

Chris Angulo: I just want everyone to remember that we are talking about eating, drinking and having a good time. If your idea of that is dissecting the true relevance of having gravelly soil and traditional trellising in your Cabernet Franc, then we probably aren’t going to party. I know, it’s great to know all there is to know on a subject, or at least talk like you do, but that’s not the point I hope, unless you are a winemaker. If not and you’re not writing an article for Wine Aristocracy, then pull some corks, tell some stories and if you need to swirl your glass freestyle, knock yourself out.

CK: What does wine say to you that a good sommelier can’t?

CA: It’s so subjective. The wine will taste differently to me then it will to anyone else, so I just want them to rough it out for me. Tell me the story about how this wine helped you get back together with your girlfriend before you start in on the phone book of nuances and otherworldly flavor references, please, for all that is holy. All I really want from a sommelier is honesty and attention.

CK: How do you evaluate the importance of the Master Sommelier test? Why?

CA: The Master Sommelier test is an extremely intense and thorough exam (I’m told by those who know, I’ve never taken it myself), but I just don’t think it’s the Holy Grail. My job is to put together an interesting, diverse list of top quality wines that I can describe to guests of all levels of knowledge and experience, and that’s what I do. I have regular guests who are big collectors, eat at every top restaurant here and in Europe and I find them things they haven’t had and make great pairings that they enjoy. That’s the only exam I’m required to pass. I’m a pilot; I don’t need to build the plane. Some people are traditional and follow the path the way they’re expected to, but my heroes are those that make their own way led by truth and passion.

CK: As far as rules for wine – knowing vintners and vintages – what are the exceptions?

CA: Every wine is a possible exception, that’s why before we bury a wine or rush out with a U-Haul we should give it a shot. I had a guest who told me that he got the last twenty cases of Charles Shaw Cabernet from TJ’s with a proud nod and a wink. I asked him if had tried it, he said no. A couple of weeks later, he told me that he was a hero to his friends because he sold them his stash, minus one bottle, with a proud nod and a wink. The point is you’re either a fan of critics or a fan of wine.

CK: What strategy do you use to pair wines with Chef Michael Cimarusti’s dishes?

CA: Michael is amazing. The guy is incredibly talented and a triple threat. He’s versed in the traditional techniques and he’s incredibly creative. The biggest challenge is that he creates on the fly with tasting menus. I try to get him to verbalize while he’s doing something totally new without screwing up the vibe. It’s less about the main ingredient and more about the preparation and the finished dish. I need to match the body and personality of the plate with the wine and maybe more importantly, understand the guest’s palate. I can pair duck with Syrah or Rose Champagne and think it’s brilliant, but I’m not paying the bill.

CK: What still undiscovered wines should be introduced to the public?

CA: I don’t think anything’s left. I want to hit those wines that someone put some passion into, those wines that move me. I want to drink wines that I taste and immediately decide that I’m getting as much as I can and I’m not telling anyone about, ever.

CK: What characteristics make you particularly proud of the wines on your wine list?

CA: Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, you know? I try to have as many wines on my list are unavailable to the average guy. I steer clear of the wines that everybody has on their list, you just had that last week. Try something else, for Pete’s sake.