Friday, March 1, 2019

The Mind Of A Sommelier: Jose Luis Betancur

(Check out my Introduction to the The Mind of a Sommelier series.)

Jose Luis Betancur is a Chilean native who immigrated to the United States at age 27 where he began working in the hospitality industry in Boston. When he relocated to New York City, he worked for the TAO Group where he was inspired by their commitment to hospitality. It was during his time working for TAO Group that he took a great interest in wine and spirits. Luis went on to take a program of wine studies at the Sommelier Society of America, and received his certification as a sommelier. He also work for Patina Restaurant Group where he established mentors with whom he also constantly communicates.

A few years ago, Betancur was relocated to Portsmouth, NH, with his wife. He worked as a Sommelier at Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in Boston, MA, for over three years. He was the head of beverage education for the staff at Babbo and regularly holds wine education classes for the public. For the past six months, he has served as Beverage Director at Tuscan Kitchen Seaport where he constantly develops and overseas the program there. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling and exploring wine regions around the world.

Now, onto the interview:

What term do you use to describe yourself: Sommelier, Wine Steward, Wine Director, something else?
Sommelier or “wine guy” when working the floor, but Beverage Director on my business card. 

Please give a brief description of the wine list at your restaurant. 
The wine list at Tuscan Kitchen is mainly focused on Italian wines with about 20% dedicated to wines from the rest of the world. 

What are your objectives with the wine list? 
My main objective is to have wines on the list that everyone can enjoy… this includes wines at every price point for every pocket and occasion. For example: wines with familiarity for business meetings and comfort dinners, as well as those that will make people excited to try new wines from different regions, grapes and unknown low production producers. 

How often does the wine list change? 
Understanding what is happening in the market and in the wine world is important in order to manage a profitable beverage program. The wine list changes seasonally and even more often than that if I find a wine with unique characteristics that I think would be a great addition to the program. 

Are there omissions on your wine list you would like to fill?
French wines are minimally represented since Tuscan Kitchen is more focused on Italian wines. I would like to add wine from some obscure and exciting appellations known for their food and wine pairing, such as Jura. 

How do you learn about new wines? 
I’m constantly learning from articles, colleagues, and distributors. I attend many seminars and wine tastings. I love working the floor where I also learn from my guests. 

What is your strategy on pricing the wines on your list?
The strategy is very simple: finding great quality wines in order to deliver great value, adventurous, and hard-to-find wines. 

What is the most common wine question asked by your guests? 
“What do you recommend from [a particular area] that will go great with my food?” Others will ask, “What’s your driest red or white wine?” I like when guests ask questions because this allows me to build conversation, making the experience memorable. 

What is the most common criticism you receive from guests about your list? 
I haven’t been criticized personally, but I do think that guests would like to see more classic well-known West Coast wines; we are always sourcing ideas from our guests. 

What is your greatest challenge as a sommelier? 
To continue learning and improve every day in order to deliver an extremely memorable experience not just to our guests, but also to our staff through team education. 

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the best value wines on your list? 
     Erbaluce Antoniolo: Erbaluce is an ancient grape native to Northern Piemonte. A grape that showcases floral aromas of ripe citrus fruit with a hint of white blossoms. Bone dry on the palate with ton of texture and electric nerves. A fun wine for those who like viogneir from France. The Antoniolo family owns over 14 hectares under the watchful eye of their pioneering mother, Rosanna.
     Mauro Molino Barbera d’Asti ‘Leradici’ (root of the family): This is an outstanding family-run estate producing only 12 hectares. This amazing medium-body red wine has great black, earthy and red juicy fruit with a hint of spice. This wine has a ton of character with a beautiful lingering bright finish. It’s a wine that can be enjoyed with pizza or charred steak. 

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the most unique wines on your list?
     Murgo Nerello Mascallese Rose traditional method: Nerello Mascallese is an ancient grape to Sicily, mainly vinified as a red still wine. In this case, The Scammacca del Murgo family has been producing this electric red fruity, yet crisp, bright traditional method sparkling wine for over a century. This wine is great to drink at any time but also pairs well with your favorite fresh seafood, fried calamari, or lamb.

Tell me about 1 or 2 of your favorite wines on your list?
     Cerretto Barolo ‘Brunatte’:  The Cerreto family is one of the largest landholders in the Piemonte region. Here, like with many other Langhe producers, identity speaks first. Brunatte is the name of the single Cru, where the grapes are coming from. This wine showcases innovation and the identity of the land. Red rustic cherries with a hint of sweetness mid-palate, with leathery round tannis of a classic Barolo and a great bright finish around the edges. A great wine to enjoy with your favorite truffle meal.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your wine list, your work as a sommelier, or wine service?
The wine list at Tuscan Kitchen Seaport is always evolving. I take into consideration all aspects of the wine market and trends. I always aim to give guests a great experience. I do my best to deliver what we all look for in a dining out experience: the beauty of wine, and food.

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