On Thursday, May 28, 2020, Clara Klein will be working a shift with VinePair to answer any and all of your wine questions. No question is too simple or too advanced. Text a Somm is a fundraiser in partnership with The United Sommeliers Foundation to benefit the thousands of wine professionals whose careers have been put on hold during the Covid-19 crisis. In addition to paying the sommelier for their shift, VinePair will be making a donation to the USF, and so can you by clicking here. Text your questions to Clara from 7-10 PM ET on Thursday, May 28 at (914) 580-4540.
Clara Klein serves as sommelier at Sunday Vinyl in Denver. Sunday Vinyl is Frasca Hospitality Group’s newest restaurant, serving wine-friendly food classics and wine alongside a soundtrack of curated tunes.
The Sunday Vinyl catalogue of wine includes a foundation of Old World wines with a smattering of options from California, Oregon, and the Southern Hemisphere. To Klein, wine necessarily includes a sense of joy, quality, and authenticity of place. She says the diverse wine selection at Sunday Vinyl is a point of pride, allowing her to serve energetic and exciting labels across a spectrum of price points. Below, she discusses the importance of a genuine smile, how “sommeliers are like detectives,” and why we should all be drinking more sherry.
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1. What are you drinking the most in quarantine?
There have been many phases in my quarantine beverage journey. First, I started off with drinking wines that were left after we shut our doors, one of my all-time favorites being the Bordelet Cider “Poire l’Authentique” from Normandy, France. Then came a bit of a detox, so think lots of Spindrift sparkling waters (pineapple and grapefruit are my go-to flavors). Currently, I am in a bit of an educational wine Zoom phase and am drinking wines of those winemakers that I have a chance to meet via webinar. Some of my favorites have been Ar. Pe. Pe. with Isabella and Pedro Parra.
2. What is the most expensive/ridiculous/memorable bottle you’ve opened in quarantine?
I haven’t opened any unicorn bottles during quarantine, as my budget is pretty humble these days. However, I find more often than not, it’s all about who you share it with. My folks live in my neighborhood, and it has been such a silver lining to share time and wine with my family. We made Thai Curry Mussels the other night (by “we” I actually mean my husband, who is a chef) and crushed a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet by Gerard Bertrand. Wow! That was a fantastic pairing surrounded by great conversation and, of course, company.
3. How do you make guests feel comfortable if they seem intimidated by you (in a restaurant)?
As cheesy as it sounds, a large warm smile goes so far. I find it best to offer help in the kindest way possible and hope that a genuine conversation is to follow! There is this old-school stigma that a sommelier is very akin to a used car salesman and that their purpose is to talk you into buying more. This could not be further from the truth. I love seeing guests become regulars and, honestly, friends. That way, I become familiar with your palate and can keep an eye out for new wines that would be a perfect fit. Think of this like a favorite librarian, reliable and always on the hunt for a great recommendation.
4. What’s the best wine you can get at the grocery or discount store?
Anything that is yummy and gulpable! When I was growing up, there was always a bottle of Sutter Home hidden in the depths of the fridge. So I am very well acquainted with quite a range within the wine world. I find refreshing styles of rosé or a crisp white always handy to have in the fridge and make for an easy glass anytime!
5. What regions and styles of wines are you most interested in?
Portugal has just started to gain some traction within the states and I am so thrilled! This is a region that has a plethora of varietals that can seem foreign at first, but can offer such value and quality. Frasca, our mother restaurant, is all about Friuli-Venezia Giulia and anytime I grab a bottle of wine from this region, it feels like coming home. Friuli is all about that great confluence of sunshine with hints of the mountains and the sea. You can never go wrong with a glass with some salty prosciutto!
6. What’s the best way to ask for a budget friendly bottle at a restaurant?
Just ask! As simple as it sounds, the key is just in broaching the topic. Sommeliers are like detectives. When you lay out the facts, we can start thinking of the solution right away. Stating a price range is key so that we can find the best fit, for of course the best price, within the range.
7. Which regions offer the best value?
Spain is such a gem and offers fantastic value when you look outside of the major players. Also, I am always so puzzled as to how sherry is consistently overlooked. It is mind boggling how much history, sense of place, and technique is packed into each bottle. We should all drink more sherry!
8. Where do you like to buy wine online (or which clubs do you recommend)?
Currently, as times are tough during Covid-19, I try to buy wine from a local small wine shop whenever possible. In terms of clubs, I have nothing but admiration for the Viticole Wine Club. Master Sommelier Brian McClintic is always on the hunt for excellence and it shows. The emphasis in organics and their eco-friendly approach is a huge added bonus.
Ed. note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.