How Sommeliers Select Their Region’s Best Wines
From Budapest to Santiago, wine reflects the local soil and spirit. Ritz-Carlton sommeliers share their tips for enjoying the best of a destination’s regional wines — and special experiences that wine lovers will cherish.
Of course you can get a feel for a destination by sampling its food. But to get an even closer look at the spirit of a place — its land, its climate, its people — nothing compares to sampling local wine. Ritz-Carlton sommeliers throughout the world cut through the noise of the endless vineyards and deliver the best of the best of bottles from their area.
Most people associate California wines with Napa and Sonoma but south of these meccas, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, lies a number of brilliant vineyards. “The area has such a great diversity of climate and terroir,” explains lead sommelier Todd Brinkman of The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. The soil tended by local winemakers is touched by rolling hills, ocean breezes, patches of fog and endless microclimates that lend the wines a palette of singular and sophisticated qualities you wouldn’t find in any other pocket of America. The other appeal of wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains? The value. “When I say value, I don’t just mean affordability,” Brinkman says. “I’m asking whether a wine exceeds expectations.” To best experience some of Brinkman’s favorites, order a tasting flight at Cork Wine Bar. The selection is regularly rotated. As part of the hotel’s Global Cuisine Series, the sommelier also works in collaboration with the property’s visiting chef. Recently, for example, when Chef Claudia Sandoval created a Mexican-inspired menu, Brinkman sourced a superb selection from the Baja Peninsula.
At The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner in northern Virginia, wine director Vincent Feraud is raising the flag for under-the-radar domestic wines in a similar way. “Years ago, Virginian wines were just average,” he says. “It was very fashionable to own a winery and horses but the product was not very well-made. Now we have great wineries run by serious winemakers, such as Linden and Lovingston.” Growers there have become smarter about how they operate in the often hot and unpredictable climate, finding cool nooks on the side of wind-swept cliffs to grow grapes and tending closely to the vines. It’s not unlike the conditions of Burgundy or Bordeaux, and winemakers are crafting chardonnays and merlots that are equally bold. The list at Brinkman’s Entyse, Wine Bar & Lounge includes 60 different by-the-glass pours that showcase the region’s best, and each are served at the perfect temperatures — even the reds.
In the heart of one of Europe’s most underrated wine regions, The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest offers an exceptional selection of bottles from Hungarian producers, all hand-picked by sommelier Daniel Varga. “Many people don’t know that, in Hungary, we have 22 different wine regions,” Varga says. “At Deák St. Kitchen, our aim is to introduce the local grapes and blends from the main traditional regions, such as Tokaj, Somló, Eger, Villány and Sopron.” Tokaj has won over more guests than any, specifically the Sauska Estate Furmint 2016. “This wine has a universal appeal and a refreshing, racy acidity that is so perfect to start off a dinner,” he says.
In the Southern Hemisphere at The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago, Marjorie Yanzon shows off the spoils of Chile’s valleys with an extensive list of local wines. “We only work with top valleys, which have such a complex terroir,” she says. “For example, the North region produces sauvignon blanc and chardonnay that pick up the limestone soils and granite. Meanwhile, the Central Valley’s terroir is widely exuberant with cold weather.” This produces fresh and rich reds, like merlot, pinot noir and carignan. It is also home to delicious carménère, one of her favorites. “It’s a wine full of stories and mystery,” Yanzon says. “But most people don’t even know it exists.”
All the more reason to make your next trip a wine-focused journey.