definition of Sommelier

Warner StrejanInterview with Warner Strejan
by StarChefs

StarChefs: What sparked your passion for wine?

Warner Strejan: I was always fascinated with wines. I lived in Central California's gold coast, where I was exposed to local wine makers once I was old enough to drink. At 22 years old, I was pouring sample tastes of wine for local wineries during the day and working as a waiter in town (Bob's Big Boy in Atascadero!) at night. When I moved to Los Angeles during the mid-eighties, I was able to bluff my way (Bob's was not the best of preparation for the demands of fine dining) into working as a waiter for Elka Gilmore at Brentwood's Chameleon. It was there that I was first inspired by 'food as art' and by the role that wine plays in the food world.

SC: What separates an outstanding sommelier from the rest?

WS: Knowledge tempered by service. The guest's experience is the only thing that matters. The greater the sommelier's knowledge, the greater the need for humility and caring.

SC: Using the I Ching to create categories for your wine list is such an innovative and entertaining method of presenting the wines. Are you partial to any one category, and why?

WS: I love the wines of Thunder. They're wines of experimentation. They're obscure little grapes, although there are some very fine wines among them.

SC: Do you feel like people are beginning to experiment with wines from lesser known regions and grape varietals in a sustained way, or is it just a fad?

WS: When you say "people", notice that you are expressing a cultural bias. I don't need to recommend a Refosco (an obscure Italian grape) to an Italian having lamb. If we narrow "people" to Americans, I would say that yes, we are experimenting. We are a young and curious nation. Wine as food is a movement that has yet to begin here, but I believe that this is the future. Look at the wine trade through a different lens for a moment. There are two sides to wine-collectors' wines and wines that are part of the meal, or part of life. Dual aspects of the same event. I love both. As we continue to discover what goes with what, our tastes in wine will evolve.

SC: Any unfortunate wine tasting incidents you'd like to share with us?

WS: I brought my wife with me to a tasting, and as we finished one floor, I turned to go upstairs for the Bordeaux, and I noticed that she was lagging behind. "There's another floor?" she slurred. "You have been spitting haven't you?" I said. She says - "You're supposed to spit?" with her most sheepish of grins.

SC: Do you own any indispensable wine books?

WS: The Oxford Companion to Wine by Robinson and Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Suzuki.

SC: How have you applied what you learned in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind to wines?

WS: This is a paraphrase, but on the first page of Suzuki's book it says something like, "In the expert's mind, the possibilities are few. But, in the beginner's mind, the possibilities are endless." I think it's important to maintain a "beginner's mind". We're in a constant state of not knowing. Every year, every wine is a new wine. I start over every year. That's one of the things I like about wine. There's always something new.


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