Q: What was your experience with wine in Colombia?
A: I didn't drink wine growing up. Since Colombia is a tropical country, without wine cultivation, people usually drink juices with meals. I learned about wine and wine service in this country, while I was working to support my studies in medical technology.
Q: Patria has a nearly 600-bottle wine list. What do you look for when you are considering adding a new bottle to the list?
A: I'll tell you what I'm not looking for: I'm not looking for the big brands, the Kendall-Jackson, the Santa Margherita, the negociant wines. I'm looking for small-production, hand-crafted wines that are not found everywhere else. And I don't believe in using scores.
Q: Do you and your staff try to steer customers to wines that may be unfamiliar to them, or do you let them stay in their comfort zone?
A: About 90% of my customers do want advice. I talk to them and try to determine how open they are to trying something new. I am perhaps pushing Spain right now, because Spanish wines are very high quality, still bargains compared to French, and come in a tremendous range of styles to match with our food. But I want most of all for people to be happy with their wine.
Q: What proportion of wines ordered are white, versus red?
A: In the winter about 70 to 80% of wines ordered are red. In the summer that proportion drops, but still we sell more reds than whites. I'd like to see more people order white wines.
Q: What about sherry?
A: There is more interest in sherry lately, which I like to encourage. Normally, with our tasting menus, where I pair each course with a wine, I start off by pouring a sparkling wine as a prelude. If the customers seem open, however, I will often suggest a sherry instead.
Q: What are your basic food and wine matching principles?
A: We still use the protein in the dish as a basis for the match, but we also pay a lot of attention to the sauce. The question is, what element of the dish is going to coat the mouth the most, be the dominant impression? We go by that. With Patria's cuisine, food and wine matching is fun. Our tasting menus are not planned in advance; we work with the individual customer to tailor a meal that appeals to them, with wines that match. Every night is a new experience.
Q: Do you have any great pairings to let us in on?
A: Ceviche with dry riesling - a dry German kabinett or an Alsatian riesling. The acidity of the wine matches the acidity of the ceviche, and the low alcohol doesn't clash with the spiciness of the dish. Albariño is great with fish, especially in aioli, because it is both creamy and spicy. I like to match Argentine malbec with our Argentinian churrasco, especially since we add a little bone marrow for some fattiness, which marries beautifully with the malbec.
Q: Do you have any hot wine-buying tips for consumers?
A: South American wines offer the best value. Uruguayan wines are very good and little known so far, although they can be hard to find.
Q: You will be visiting Chile in March with a group of American sommeliers. Please tell us about that.
A: It is called Sommelier Summit 2000. A group of well-known American sommeliers and wine writers will be visiting the wineries, meeting the winemakers, holding tastings and seminars. I will be a panelist, and, because I am bilingual, and the only Latin sommelier, I will serve as a bridge between the Americans and Chileans - even though most of the Chileans speak English.