Welcome to our newest series, The Somm Set. Each month we’ll be sitting down with a guest sommelier and uncovering their guilty pleasures, cellar staples, and everything in between! Follow as they hand-select their favorites from our warehouse, giving you the inside scoop on cellar must-haves!
This month on The Somm Set, we’re excited to feature Advanced Sommelier, Jodi Bronchtein, of Press Napa Valley. We took the time to ask her everything from her aha-moment sip of wine to her current adventures in the Napa Valley. Check it out! *Interview transcribed by BWG*
Tell us how this all began- what was your journey to being a Sommelier like?
Well, what led me to this journey was when I was working at McCrady’s in Charleston, SC. Sean Brock was the chef and had just won an award for James Beard Award Winner Best Chef Southeast. I have worked in restaurants my whole life, even starting in fine dining, but I had never seen the level of attention placed on every dish at McCrady’s.
I realized I needed to figure out how wine works with food, so I don’t mess up the fact that it took eight minutes to plate an appetizer with tweezers and flower petals. I realized that I needed to be a part of the reason that something tasted better (not worse) because I was not about to disrespect all of that hard work.
Leading up to that, I didn’t drink wine all that often. The year before that, I bought my very first bottle of wine (Rex Goliath Wine, which was 2 for $7 at Kroger at Myrtle Beach, SC), and I felt very fancy. And that’s it, that’s how my journey started. I didn’t want to mess up great food!
It’s safe to say we all have had them, was there ever that ah-ha moment with a bottle of wine along the way?
2001 Chateau Musar.
Here’s what happened- when I started working at McCrady’s, the week after I started, we did a lineup, which is where we’d learn about the dishes each day. At this particular lineup, the Sommelier did a blind tasting. Everyone knew how to do it, everyone knew the language, and they knew why the wines tasted a certain way. I remember being super jealous. I thought, what wizardry is this? How does everybody know this whole language? From the food runners to Sous Chef, they all knew the language. I realized this is a real thing I know absolutely nothing about, but I remember thinking- I will be good at this because this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
So, my wine was a 2001 Chateau Musar, which came right after that line of tastings. I tasted the wine, and I was trying to do what they told me. I began tasting and tried to think of three fruits (which I could do with ease for other wines), but when I picked up the 2001 Chateau Musar, all that my brain could think of was “other.” There was no fruit- it was everything else. The aromas immediately gave me a picture in my head of a room I used to study at the University of Virginia library that we called ‘the Harry Potter room’ because it was full of leather books and hand-written manuscripts from the 1800s. That place was magic to me, and that’s exactly what the wine smelled like.
Do you know off-hand how many napa wineries you’ve been to?
Well, funny you ask, I do happen to know precisely how many Napa wineries that I’ve been to. I am very confident, (plus or minus 4), that the number is 120.
Do you have a favorite out of those 120 wineries?
What! [laughs] How about I just say goodbye to my career! How about I share the wineries I moved out here for? On the East Coast, I was very familiar with Corison, Mayacamas, Dunn, and Spottswoode.
Do I have favorites now that are not on that list? 100%… they will be in my Somm Set emails, so stay tuned for that!
Tell us how you choose wines that you’re putting on a wine list that you’re curating.
I try to think about everybody’s style on a wine list. There should be wines that delight and don’t put people in the poor house for every palate style. From the driest of wines to the sweetest- you have to pick wines that fit everybody and are also a good value for the quality. Everyone should feel like they are gaining something from it.
I really love small producers as well; I am a sucker for a good story!
This perfectly leads to our next question: Are there any underrated producers that you think more people should be drinking?
Absolutely! I could give you those if you want, but they also happen to coincide with my Somm Set emails coming out soon.
How about this, let’s say this. I could probably think of at least 50 wineries just in Napa right now off the top of my head that would surprise people and delight them, but they don’t have the access like Sommeliers do- which is why a retailer such as BWG is helpful for customers.
Okay, let’s talk back-vintage wines. Are there any vintages, regions, or producers that you find are drinking exceptionally well right now?
Oh my God. The old Louis Martinis, the old Rutherford Hills, old Ravenswood, and the old Mondavi are so ridiculously good! Easily one of the best wines I’ve had since I’ve been in Napa would have to be a 1970 Louis Martini Barbera- it was unfreaking believable. 1980 Pinot Noir from Mayacamas? Unreal. 1971 Chappellet, 1974 Mondavi Reserve, 1981 Ravenswood Zinfandel, 1990 Dunn Howell Mountain- absolutely everything.
Old Caymus (pre-1992) and Frog’s Leap, that’s everything that you want in your life! Everyone knows that the 1974 Mondavi Reserve is it, it’s fantastic, but when I tasted it, my knees buckled.
But wait- A 1977 Mayacamas Chardonnay is the best wine that I’ve had so far in 2020. It was exceptional! The wine of the year so far, no doubt.
What about Napa, what are your favorite Napa AVAs?
Absolutely- Atlas Peak, Coombsville AVA, and wines that are coming from Angwin. Howell Mountain is the only one with an elevation requirement, 1400 feet, but what about right below it in Angwin? Those wines are the same soil type, so if you like Howell Mountain, try Angwin. I also love Atlas Peak wines- they’re structured, and they’re what everyone wants, but nobody knows it until they taste it.
If you could live in any wine-growing region, aside from Napa, what would it be?
Piedmont. And I haven’t even been there. No wait, there’s two. Piedmont or New Zealand. Those wines are ridiculous. They’re gorgeous!
Want to learn more? Jodi Bronchtein will be featured all throughout the month of September 2020. Subscribe to The Somm Set here.
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