San Diego recently hosted SommCon, the annual conference that brings together the most awarded and knowledgeable wine professionals in the country to discuss, develop, and lead conversations about the business of wine. I took part as a speaker on Italian wines and wine regions, and between sessions, I had the chance to meet some of the best sommeliers in San Diego and ask them about their ideal wine lists and their favorite places in the county to enjoy a glass of wine when they get off-duty.
Meet Rafael Sanchez, Director of Wine & Beverage at Addison
While working as a server assistant at The Raymond Restaurant in Pasadena, a taste of a 1945 Cheval Blanc led him to pursue a career in wine, and he eventually worked his way up to become a certified sommelier and beverage director at the young age of 23. Continuing to cultivate his passion for wine & spirits, Sanchez moved to POP Champagne Bar as manager and sommelier, where he curated a list of over 100 different labels of Grower Champagne and later worked with acclaimed wine critic James Suckling.
Rafael Sanchez is now the Director of Wine & Beverage at Addison Restaurant, which is currently San Diego’s first and only Michelin-starred restaurant, as well as Southern California’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond restaurant.
Drinking in San Diego
I enjoy a wine list where the sommelier/wine buyer puts their personality into it. There are plenty of wine lists that have a “cookie-cutter” feel. So, I appreciate when someone takes a chance and offers wines that have a unique story.
At the highest level, a great wine list is full of great options that are from new and exciting regions or producers as well as a wide selection of vintages and producers from all of the classic regions.
I don’t get out very much, but I really like Vino Carta. They have great grower champagne and Rhone reds, which are my favorite. It’s also walking distance to a number of great restaurants and bars in Little Italy.
Go to spot: Vino Carta, Little Italy
Meet Lindsay Pomeroy, Master of Wine and Chief Wine Educator and founder of Wine Smarties
Lindsay Pomeroy started on her path towards a career in wine when she moved to Italy, where she attempted to teach English to Italians. Instead, she ended up making lasting friends with Italians who taught her to appreciate the art of espresso-drinking, chocolate-tasting, and midday wine drinking. Lindsay went on to successfully earn her WSET Diploma, FWS certificate and Certified Wine Educator (CWE).
Her time in Italy planted the seed, but her passion for wine truly blossomed back home in San Diego. Historically more of a beach-and-beer town than a wine-drinker's mecca, Lindsay has helped foster a community of knowledge-thirsty wine drinkers over her 13-year tenure as the Chief Wine Educator and founder of Wine Smarties, a wine education school that provides WSET and French Wine Scholar (FWS) courses.
Drinking in San Diego
My ideal wine list would include an amazing selection of older vintages of German whites (Sylvaner, Riesling, Gruner Veltliners) from Germany and Austria, some affordable Burgundies, both red and white (hey, it's a dream list!), Northern Rhones, and some old school Cabernet Sauvignons built for age (lighter, less extracted, complex aromas that remind you why Cabernet Sauvignon is so popular).
I'd also love to see some aged Australian Shiraz and Margaret River blends, and of course Stellenbosch reds. Also, some domestic newbies on the block to explore not just from California, Oregon and Washington, but also Virginia, New York to explore where the domestic market is going. That would be a fun list!
In reality, a great wine list is one that caters to its customers needs. You need to serve wines that people know, trust and love, while also taking them on a journey to expand their comfort zones as they try new things. So, a combination of domestic well-known producers, top European wines, and some good-valued underdogs would make a solid list.
I teach wine classes at Wine Sellar and Brasserie, and you will definitely find me there fraternizing with my students at the award-winning restaurant and wine bar. If I'm feeling like tasting some cool trendy wines or wines from hard-to-find regions you'd find me at Vino Carta downtown. If I'm looking for some food with my wine, then I love the home-made stuff that they serve at The Rose Wine Bar. It’s a bonus that my friends also happen to work there.
Go to spot: The Rose Wine Bar, South Park
Meet Rafael Peterson, Wine Director for Born and Raised in Little Italy
Before becoming the Wine Director for Born and Raised in Little Italy, Rafael Peterson was the wine director of Bracero Cocina. There he worked with General Manager Woody van Horn to introduce guests to the up-and-coming wine growing region of Valle de Guadalupe. His collaboration in curating the wine list at Bracero Cocina earned them an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator and placement in Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 New Restaurants.