Sommelier Jack Hott of Castagna

Sommelier Jack Hott of Castagna
November 2011

1752 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97214

Wine Tips

Fueled by the works of Jack Kerouac, when Jack Hott started off on a trip from his native Ohio to Oregon, he was more interested in life discovery, meandering road trips, and deep thought than decanting wine or detecting flavanoids. When he arrived in Portland, weary from the road, he started waiting tables at restaurants, and eventually worked his way around to Castagna. His analytical mind (honed by a love of literature) turned out to be a great fit for the fine-dining temple, and he steadily worked his way from bussing tables and waiting tables to bartending, and finally, to serving as sommelier.

Hott made the job his education, hitting the books and learning about wine from his employers and local winemakers. When the staff sommelier left, Hott was handed the reins of the wine program until the restaurant could find a permanent replacement. He leapt at the challenge, and proved his mettle—so much so that Castagna stopped looking.

A fixture at Castagna for a decade, Hott pairs wines with complex dishes and locally foraged ingredients that most chefs, let alone sommeliers, haven’t heard of. As the chefs have changed at Castagna over the years, Hott has tweaked his approach from pairing with regional food to pairing with Matt Lightner’s modernist cuisine. Now that Lightner has left for New York, his replacement will present a new challenge. But it’s one that Hott is more than excited to live up to. His flexibility, affable tableside manner, and eloquent wine pairings make him a mainstay in the Portland wine scene, evidence once again of Portland’s power to draw talented dreamers into calling the city their home.

Interview with Portland Rising Star Sommelier Jack Hott of Castagna - Portland, OR

Francoise Villeneuve: How did you develop an interest in wine?
Jack Hott: In many ways by accident. I’ve been working here for almost 22 years; I started as a busser, and I'm often referred to as the utility server. When Kevin Gibson left, they needed someone to take over the wine program. As a waiter, I had done a lot of stuff, so it fit.

FV: Describe your fondest wine memory?
JH: You know it's hard to think of a specific one. I guess my fondest wine memory is actually my favorite pairing.

FV: Tell me about a perfect wine and food match
JH: Elias Cairo made this chorizo, and we were doing a wine pairing so I tried this Diventura Canero. We put them together, and the dish was as good as the wine.

FV: What is your philosophy on wine and food?
JH: I have different philosophies for different situations. When I'm working with regional cuisine, I go with the cliché that "if it grows together it goes together."

FV: What regions are you interested in at the moment?
JH: I've been collecting some Cru Beaujolais. I've been told they age very well. It refers to how it becomes Pinot Noir-like when it ages. I've been putting it away. I'm also aging Champagne because you don't get punished for opening it early; you get rewarded.

FV: What wine trends are you seeing in your city?
JH: I think a lot of people are starting to realize that aromatic white wines are really viable wines in Oregon. I'm seeing more and more Riesling and single vineyard Riesling and using it as a base to blend. It excites me because it gives Oregon a very fruit friendly wine.