Friends, today marks the beginning of Interview Week here at Washington Wine Blog as we will focus on some very exciting new wine industry interviews. A few weeks back I had the great opportunity to try some of the great Michael Mina restaurants, Stripsteak and Pizza & Burger in Miami. Set at the vibrant Fountainbleu hotel, the restaurant has a house DJ and Vegas style atmosphere. Stripsteak, like the name suggests, focuses on fantastic aged beef and also boasts a very deep wine cellar, manned by Chris Zarcadoolas. Chris has an advanced sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently working towards his Master Somm. He had the chance to pour me some truly outstanding wines including a 2006 Veuve Cliquot ‘La Grand Dame’ Champagne and the epic 2007 Chave Hermitage. I recently sat down with him and talked wine. I think you are going to very much enjoy hearing about his story. Here is my interview with Chris Zarcadoolas, Head Sommelier at Stripsteak, Miami.
WWB: How did you decide to become a sommelier?
CZ: Deciding to become a sommelier was fairly organic. I worked as a bartender in college. I became restless and moved to San Francisco in my early 20s. I was terrified at the prospect of learning wine, but found a nurturing environment in the Bay Area. I slowly gained confidence and alternated between operating my own business and working in hospitality as a server and bartender. Even when I was self-employed, I found myself sourcing and shipping some of the more popular California wines over to business associates in Japan. Gradually as I grew in the hospitality industry, my passion for geology, meteorology, history, and food truly made wine a fated occupation.
WWB: Who were your first inspirations in wine?
CZ: There are two gentlemen who really recognized some kind of fire in me and helped give me that nudge. I met them both working in Atlanta. Sam Governale, who I believe has a restaurant in his hometown of Houston, and Skip Williams, who last I heard had a wine and crystal shop in Atlanta. I have not spoken to them in years, but remain grateful. I am fortunate enough to have had some amazing mentors/bosses throughout the years; Barb Werley MS at Pappas Bros Dallas (whom I adore), David Mokha (former boss and general wine gangster in Miami), and beverage director of Wolfgang Puck Tim Wilson (one of the all-time best).
WWB: You have achieved the coveted advanced sommelier certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers. Can you talk about the most challenging part of passing the exam for you?
CZ: I’ve always found the most challenging part of the Court exams the “conquering of self”. It seems like all of the garbage that we are holding onto, all of our insecurities, and personality defects come bubbling to the surface as we prepare and test for these already challenging exams. I think once we conquer that aspect, we are ready to know our shortcomings and prepare adequately.
WWB: How difficult was the tasting portion of the exam for you?
CZ: The first time I took the Advanced, my tasting was a disaster. I simply was not in command of the grid enough to flow through the process. The deductive tasting grid is a proven method for discerning wine. We need to be “all-in” with the process for it to work. Once I understood that, I focused on two things; mastering the grid, and theory. If we know the theory, and we are comfortable with the grid, the wine will speak to us.
WWB: As the lead sommelier at one of Miami’s hottest restaurants, Michael Mina’s Stripsteak, you have carefully crafted a fantastic glass pour selection, including several top selections on Coravin. What are some of your favorite top wines and value selections on your list?
CZ: It’s hard to choose, but as far as top wines, I love the 2013 de Montille Vosne Romanee aux Malconsorts Christiane. Christiane is a block that is literally embraced by La Tache. It is transcendent and has a special history within my own life. If I had to choose just one more, it would be the 2006 Conterno Monfortino. I love 06 Barolo, and I love them when everyone else says that they are too young. Give me austere and tannic wine, and I am happy. As far as value wine, I could stay in Iberia. I have a 2002 Bierzo from Alejandro Luna which sees new French oak and is just mind bendingly beautiful. It has freshness, old world sensibility, and a cleanliness that just shines. It is $205, but for a wine with that age and rarity, I consider it a value. We also have a Ribera del Duero from Arrocal for $50. It is everything you want from a Ribera; power, fruit, oak, acid and tannis, but at that price. The family that produces it is amazing as well. A wine I sold in the past that I currently do not have, merits a place on the list; Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional 2003 from the Dao in Portugal. A true stunner for approximately $75.
WWB: Do you have any atypical pairings that you like for cuts of steak?
CZ: Absolutely, I think “steak whites” are lost on a lot of consumers. I have sold a Soave Classico with 10 years of age with a Filet Oscar and it sung. A Chateaunuef du Pape Blanc with age and a hearty amount of Grenache Blanc and/or Roussane can take on the likes of Ribeye or even A5, due to the alcohol and glycerol levels. For Red, give me a young Xinomavro with a strip and I’m good.
WWB: What are some of your favorite new wines of the world that you’ve enjoyed in 2018?
CZ: The wines from Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico are wines that both inspire my intellect and awaken my inner child. They are so curious, yet make so much sense. When you look at a bottle, and the blend is 50% Nebbiolo and 50% Tempranillo, your inner child can’t help but dance with curiosity. When you experience the wine, it makes absolute sense why it is fantastic.