How To Drink Wine Like A Somm: An Interview With Rafael Peterson
Rafael Peterson is currently the lead Sommelier of both the iconic Born & Raised restaurant, the seafood galore restaurant, Ironside Oyster & Bar, and also the host of HospitaliTV. With 12 years of experience in wine, working everywhere from, Rafael, or as I like to call him, Raff, likes to remove the pretension and snobbery that often comes with wine and wants to make wine more approachable for those who are just starting. Raff has such a friendly, easy-going, enthusiastic demeanor about him, and genuinely wants to educate people in a fun and approachable way.
I asked a few of our readers what I should ask him – here are a few of the top questions!
Q: What made you want to be a Sommelier?
Rafael: I will never forget one of the best wine pairings I’ve had and I was with my mother at Aqua, the Michelin-star restaurant. I had a Château d’Yquem with a seared foie gras and it completely blew my mind. From there, I decided I wanted to learn more.
Q: How did you pick the wines at Born & Raised and Ironside?
R: I respect classic grapes and set a good foundation for the customers, whether it’s a German dry Riesling or a Pinot Noir from the Russian River-it’s about understanding and building a good foundation for wine. From there, it’s easier to give some sort of direction when you have this palette. I didn’t want to go too experimental with the wines, not that I have anything against them, but it was important for me to build that base for the customer and understand what certain regions of wine taste like. The wines were also chosen, of course, based on the menu. With Born & Raised, I chose heavier and thicker varietals that go with the steaks as for Ironside, the wine list leans towards a lighter-skin grape. So my first step is to educate them with a bit of wine and build it from there.
Q: What’s the best pairing on the menu?
R: Try the dry white from Tokaji, Hungry and pair it with our uni spaghetti. The uni and the egg yolk with the rich, full-bodied minerality of the white wine texturally flow well together. This wine is very floral and shows a creamy taste that pairs well with the umami flavors of the uni.
Q: What’s an ideal pairing for a ribeye vs. a filet?
R: The ribeye has a fattier cut, so I would recommend wines that are rich with tannins such as any left bank Bordeaux blend such as Pauillac or the cab-driven blends from St. Estephe. The filet has a much leaner cut, so I would recommend a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or a Grenache-Mourvèdre blend that doesn’t overwhelm the steak.
Q: Do you have any tips on how to look like a wine expert?
R: It’s all about knowing a few varietals that you’ve liked and also knowing the person you’re with, might like as well. For example, you’d ask the sommelier “I had a dry Italian red last week that I loved, what do you recommend that is similar?” or ” I’m looking for a full-bodied Cabernet, what do you recommend?” You don’t need to pretend you know or like it all, it’s good to be humble and trust the Sommelier’s expertise.
Q: What are the three mistakes you wish people would stop making when they are selecting wine at a restaurant?
R: Don’t be afraid to talk to your Sommelier and tell him what you’ve enjoyed in the past and not liked. Trust your Sommelier and go from there. Secondly, I always ask how much they are willing to spend. Be honest with your Sommelier, and from there, you both can work from there. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for a taste of the wine.
Q: What are some underrated wines?
R: I would say the Southern-Rhone wines and also wines from Priorat, Spain.
Q: What affordable wines do you recommend?
R: For white wines- Chardonnays from Chile. They aren’t overwhelming oaky. I also recommend Italian whites, they are usually crisp, clean and minerally. As for reds, anything from the South of France such as Gérard Bertrand, anything from Côtes du Rhône, and Spanish Grenaches.
Q: Did wineries in California, Oregon, or Washington notice a difference in their wines due to the recent or past wildfires?
R: The wines haven’t been released yet, so it’s yet to be determined. From what I’ve heard, there have been studies that it’s hard for the smoke to penetrate the skins of the grapes and alter the flavor profile. Also, it was mostly the properties that were burnt down and most of the vineyards were not affected. On the other hand, there’s a romantical association that can’t be scientifically proven with grapes grown in different conditions and inherits certain characteristics. Like the grapes that are grown in Valpulucino Italy, are grown near cherry trees and have cheery qualities to them. So, would these grapes have a smokey-like characteristic to them? Who knows.
Photo By: Anne Watson
Q: Why did hospitality appeal to you?
R: It’s hard to have a bad time when you have great food and wine. For the most part, people are having a great and intense experience with it and I want to be a part of that. It’s usually an unforgettable experience you share with friends or a loved-one and I want to make the best experience for them.
It’s a rough job…but somebody has to do it!
Born & Raised and Ironside are two of our favorites – getting to learn from their wine pro is not a bad gig! I thoroughly enjoyed – thanks Raff!
For more on Rafael, follow him @WineRelatedRaff and @Hospitalitv!