On Friday, June 12, 2020, Jenna Isaacs 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 Jenna from 7-10 PM ET on Friday, June 12 at (914) 580-4540.
Jenna Isaacs is a sommelier in San Luis Obispo, Calif. At the forthcoming Park 1039, Isaacs has curated a list for wine collectors and enthusiasts — and natural wine geeks.
“From Chianti to Napa Valley, every unique producer I choose has to meet certain requirements for sustainable viticulture and minimal-intervention vinification,” Isaacs tells VinePair. “That means the wines you will find on our shelves are a mix of (practicing) organic, biodynamic, and or sulphur-free. I can tell you about all of these incredible winemakers and their stories.”
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Isaacs also plans to run a Contemporary Wine Club “featuring some of the best natural wines in the world,” she says. At the same time, the list is “studded with deep vintage and region variation, from grand cru Burgundy to 1998 Chateau Musar from Lebanon.”
Below, Isaacs tells us about the bottles she’s popping in quarantine, her favorite Georgian wine, and why a simple smile and a “relaxed, normal pace” can go a long way when serving guests.
1. What are you drinking the most in quarantine?
If I’m being completely honest, the thing I’m drinking the most of is Champagne. I just can’t stop popping bottles for even the slightest reason. “Top Chef” is coming on? Hold on, let me get my saber.
2. What is the most expensive/ridiculous/memorable bottle you’ve opened in quarantine?
I think the most expensive bottle I’ve opened has to be the 1984 Vieux Château Certan from Pomerol. It was showing beautifully, and I’d say the wine is at its peak now.
3. How do you make guests feel comfortable if they seem intimidated by you (in a restaurant)?
When I’m working the floor in a restaurant, I make sure to smile often. I always try to seem relaxed, walk at a normal pace, and take my time with guests. It’s a lot more intimidating to ask a somm for help if they’re running around, seem stressed, or unhappy. I make sure when I come over to radiate happiness and calm — so that the guests feel comfortable enough to start a dialogue about the wine list. I make sure they know I’m there for them, and that I’m going to make sure they have a great time. I also make sure not to be around too much.
4. What’s the best wine you can get at the grocery or discount store?
The best wine to get consistently at a grocery store is Champagne. Laurent Perrier, Henriot, Billecart… But if you want to be impressed, go to California Fresh Market or Whole Foods. They carry some fantastic Central Coast producers like Stolpman, Dragonette, and Story of Soil, to name a few. I would personally choose the Liquid Farm White Hills Chardonnay, a biodynamically farmed Chablis-esque style of Chardonnay that embodies richness and minerality.
5. What regions and styles of wines are you most interested in?
I am most interested in energetic, low-alcohol wines. I want a wine that has it all: structure, fruit, balance, and acidity. And then I’d like to be able to drink three bottles and not be sloshed! I can’t say that I’m most interested in any specific region, because I think the world of so many. With that being said, I am currently exploring the wines of Turkey, Hungary, and Georgia. One of the wines from Georgia I’m most impressed with right now is Shakarashvili Kisi 2010, from Kakheti. It’s one of the most fabulous amber wines I have ever tasted.
6. What’s the best way to ask for a budget-friendly bottle at a restaurant?
The best way to ask for a budget-friendly wine at a restaurant is to know what you’re comfortable spending before you get there. Feeling confident knowing what your ideal budget is will take the pressure off of you to decide when you get the menu. Asking your somm for the best bottle of wine “under $50” or “under $100” is a fun way to get your somm talking.
7. Which regions offer the best value?
When it comes to value, I have to give my No. 1 spot to the Loire Valley. There is such incredible diversity within one region, and you can’t beat the price. Look for crisp, refreshing whites like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and my favorite briny white, Melon de Bourgogne for under $25. Some other amazing wines from the Loire are made with Grolleau (please go forth and try some), Cabernet Franc, and Gamay. If you haven’t already, try J. Mourat O.V.N.I. Rosé of Grolleau Gris.
8. Where do you like to buy wine online (or which clubs do you recommend)?
Shopping online for classic wines with some age, I like Benchmark. They have competitive prices and excellent customer service. For my more natural or value wines, I head to Primal Wine or domaineLA. The only wine club I’m currently subscribed to is Viticole Wine Club, created by Master Sommelier Brian McClintic. It’s a mind-blowing, incredible club — but just know that you’re going to stare longingly at most of your bottles for five to 10 years before opening them.