Austin’s 8 best sommeliers keep the wine scene flowing

This story was originally written for and published by CultureMap

It’s a pretty fine time to be a sommelier, and Austin’s wine pros are ready for the spotlight. Ahead of the annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, we introduce you to the nominees for Sommelier of the Year.

These eight professionals have what it takes to satisfy Austin’s thirst for fine wine and food pairings.

Devon Broglie, global beverage buyer, Whole Foods Market
Devon Broglie became one of Austin’s first master sommeliers in 2011 when he earned the title alongside wine study partner Craig Collins. Broglie has been recognized as an outstanding wine professional, winning the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition in 2006. He worked harvest for the Costers del Siurana winery in Priorat, Spain before beginning his career in the wine shop of Whole Foods Market in Austin and working his way up.

As a global beverage buyer, Broglie coordinates the wine, beer, and spirits programming in 300 stores — no small task. Broglie says it’s easy to find a great bottle of wine at Whole Foods. “People can trust that if it’s on the shelf on the store, it’s great value for the money.”

Devon Broglie
Devon Broglie

 

Craig Collins, beverage director, Elm Restaurant Group
An active member of the local sommelier community, Master Sommelier Craig Collins has been immersed in the wine industry since working at a winery while attending Texas A&M University. He worked at Glazer’s D&E Fine Wine Group, Prestige Wine Cellars, and Dalla Terra Winery Direct before assuming the role of beverage director for Elm, where he oversees the programs at 24 Diner, Easy Tiger, Italic, and soon-to-open Irene’s.

He develops each concept’s wine list, focusing on the guests and, of course, wines that will pair best with the menu. When dining out, Collins recommends asking a sommelier for assistance when selecting a bottle of wine. “They are there to make you happy. Let them take you on an adventure.”

Craig and April Collins
Craig and April Collins

 

Nathan Fausti, sales representative, Dionysus Imports and Rosenthal Wine Merchant
Certified Sommelier Nathan Fausti is a rising star in the Austin wine community. He won the title of 2015 Texas’ Best Sommelier, tested his skills in the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Young Sommelier Competition, and is preparing to take the Advanced Sommelier exam. Fausti has dazzled guests with food and wine pairings at some of the best restaurants in Austin, including Perla’s, Arro, Olive & June, and Bullfight, and now he uses his skills as a sales representative with Dionysus Imports and Rosenthal Wine Merchant.

Nathan Fausti
Nathan Fausti

 

Paul Ozbirn, beverage director, Parkside Projects
Advanced Sommelier Paul Ozbirn has had a mark on Austin’s wine scene since 2006 when he began waiting tables at Vin Bistro, sparking his passion for wine. He held various positions at Vin, Botticelli’s, Wink, and Paggi House before joining Parkside Projects as beverage director. Here, he guides the selection of all drinks served, from a Spanish wine list at Bullfight to predominately Italian wine lists at Olive & June and The Backspace.

In developing wine menus, Ozbirn strikes a balance by complementing wines guests will recognize with more adventurous selections from places like Greece, Austria, and Portugal. His advice for selecting a great bottle of wine is simply to inquire. “You can’t get what you want if you don’t ask.”

Paul Ozbirn
Paul Ozbirn

 

Nathan Prater, director of outlets, AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center
Advanced Sommelier Nathan Prater is a serious student of wine and an integral part of the strong, professional sommelier community that trains together in Austin. Currently, Prater oversees the beverage program at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, including the hotel, The Carillon, and Gabriel’s Cafe. His goal is to maintain a list featuring the best value wines available, noting that the entire room service wine list is $30 or less per bottle.

His advice for selecting a great bottle of wine? “Shed your diffidence and try the never tried. Forget the scores, and do not be afraid to ask questions.”

Nathan Prater Tastemaker Nominee
Nathan Prater, Photo by Jessica Pages

Paula Rester, wine director, La Corsha Hospitality Group
Certified Sommelier Paula Rester has honed her wine skills at prestigious Austin restaurants like Uchi, Vino Vino, and Restaurant Congress. She recently returned to Austin to assume the wine director role at La Corsha Hospitality Group after working as a sommelier at Danny Meyer’s Maialino in New York. At La Corsha, she is responsible for staff education and maintaining wine programs at Second Bar + Kitchen, long-awaited Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, and the soon-to-be renovated Green Pastures. She relishes the opportunity to create wine lists that represent a broad range of classics mixed with emerging regions and producers.

To find a great bottle of wine, just do what Rester does. “I always think about what I want to spend and then take into consideration the dishes being served. From there it becomes the fun journey of what elements of the wine might enhance or detract from the evening’s menu. I’m never afraid to ask for help from the somm or server, who might be willing to introduce me to something entirely new.”

Paula Rester
Paula Rester

 

June Rodil, wine and beverage director, McGuire Moorman Hospitality
One of only three master sommeliers in Austin — and seven in Texas — Rodil has a long list of honors, including being named one of Food & Wine’s Sommeliers of the Year in 2014. She wields significant influence in the Austin wine community as the wine and beverage director at McGuire Moorman Hospitality. You won’t find a boring corporate list on Rodil’s watch, but fun lists loaded with South American and Italian wines at Lambert’s, affordable French selections at Elizabeth Street Cafe, and rare allocations at Jeffrey’s.

To find the best bottle of wine, Rodil recommends you let a sommelier help you discover “the lexicon to figure out how to describe what you like accurately enough to get the bottle of wine that’s best for your palate. Ninety percent of my job with guests is translating what they are asking for into a bottle of wine.”

June Rodil
June Rodil

 

Mark Devin Sayre, service director, Elm Restaurant Group
Advanced Sommelier Mark Sayre won the 2013 CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Best Sommelier while leading the wine program at Trio at the Four Seasons. Now as the service director for Elm, Sayre’s wine philosophy puts a twist on the city’s motto: “Keep Austin Fresh.” His approach to developing wine lists for each of the restaurant’s is focus. Whether it’s 24 Diner, Italic, or Easy Tiger, Sayre builds the wine list to match the theme of the restaurant.

When selecting a bottle of wine at an Elm restaurant, Sayre says guests can trust that each selection is great. “Close your eyes and point. We have well-trained beverage professionals who can find something you will love.”

Mark Sayre
Mark Sayre

Buy tickets now to the Tastemaker Awards on May 17 at Bullock Texas State History Museum. Learn more about the event here.

Meet the Austin wine pros competing to become Texas’ best sommelier

Sommelier decanting wine

On August 10, eight Austin wine experts will test their mettle against elite wine professionals from around the state in the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition. The competition will be held at the 10th anniversary of TEXSOM, one of the world’s largest gathering of wine professionals taking place in Dallas. The winner of the annual competition presented by Texas Monthly will will take home a scholarship for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ certification program.

The competition will test 25 participants’ knowledge of wine business and is a great way for wine pros prepare for higher level exams like Court of Master Sommelier’s Advanced Exam and the Society of Wine Educations CWE exam. According to James Tidwell, co-founder of TEXSOM and Master Sommelier, the competition exam changes a little every year to reflect new information relevant to somm.

“Sommeliers have to adapt on a nightly basis, says Tidwell. It’s hard to mimic that in an exam setting, but we test their broad knowledge to simulate that. We assess sommeliers ability to answer questions about wine, analyze wine in blind tasting and provide cordial service while adapting to the situation. There is a lot expected of them, and somms are ready for it. The level of preparation of Sommeliers competing is a lot higher than in the past. Having good wine information available online along with the explosion of the food and beverage community has made it possible for sommeliers to increase their knowledge.”

That preparation is evident with Austin sommelier competitors. The city has a tight-knit community of sommeliers that study together, which has put Austin on the map as a city with sophisticated tastes in wine.

Edward Morgan, food and beverage manager, sommelier, Travaasa agrees saying, “There was a time when we would go to Houston or Dallas and see wines that we could never buy in Austin. With a strong, family-like community of somms, we have been able to show the industry that we are serious about wine. Now the tables have turned and we have top restaurants that get wines that are not available in other the cities.”

The study groups have paid off for Austin somms in the competition. In the past nine years, five sommeliers from Austin — Devon Broglie, Mark Sayre, June Rodil, Bill Elsey and Scott Ota — have won the coveted prize. The city is fielding a strong group of competitors again this year.

Houston sommeliers think they have a shot at winning the title this year. Texas Wine Lover profiles the seven participants from Houston.

Whether Austin brings home another title or not, local wine lovers win with more knowledgeable sommeliers and better wine.

Meet Austin’s participants in the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition.

Bryn Lewis, sommelier, The Red Room Lounge

Bryn Lewis, Red Room Lounge

Lewis has spent the last 22 years working with wine in various positions in the restaurant industry. His affable personality, British accent and dedication to impeccable service make him a natural for meeting the discerning palates of wine aficionados at the Red Room Lounge. His serious pursuit of the sommelier profession started when he met fellow sommeliers Scott Ota and Nathan Prater while working at the Driskill Grill. Ota led a study group at the Grill every Saturday for the staff to sharpen their knowledge of various wines and growing regions. All of the flash cards and quizzes paid off when Lewis earned the top score of the class in his Level II Certified Sommelier Exam in February 2013. His study regimen has him ready for this competition.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

This is an incredible competition. It is really well done. I want to test my skills against other somms in a competitive environment. I can learn a lot from the other competitors. I’ve learned a lot from past winners like Scott Ota and Bill Elsey and value the relationships built in preparing to compete.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

I am fortunate enough to work at night so I get to study in the day. I’m better prepared to answer questions from customers because of the rigorous study for the exam. Some people want to know the ins and outs of various wine regions, why a wine tastes a particular way and what the best vintages are. Knowledge is key to meeting their needs.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

I think winning the Texas Best Sommelier Competition would show that I have passion and dedication for what I do. I work hard to take it to a higher level. I don’t rest on my laurels and strive to learn about wine every day.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

If I win, I’ll drink champagne of course. I’ll pick a nice grower-producer like Marc Hébrart Champagne or maybe Krug.

Joelle Cousins, general manager and sommelier, The Red Room Lounge
Joelle Cousins

Cousins was exposed to really great wine while working at III Forks as a server during college. She considered wine as a hobby, but that changed when III Forks paid for her to take the Certified Specialist of Wine Exam after she graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in biology. She realized how much science was involved in wine. She fell in love with wine and the opportunity to a life-long student be of wine. In the next year Cousins took her Introductory and Certified Sommelier Exams, receiving the top score in her Certified class. That experience spurred her to continue to pursue a career in wine and keep studying. She was a regional participant in the Guild of Sommeliers Top New Somm completion in Fort Lauderdale this year.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

I entered the competition as an opportunity to cultivate my knowledge and refine my sommelier skills under pressure. It will be a great trial run for the Advance Exam that I’m taking in September in Philadelphia. Above all, I am going to learn some things, which is what life is all about. I try to take any opportunity to sharpen my skills and challenge myself.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

It is very well integrated with what we do at the Red Room Lounge. The ability to practice services is invaluable in real world settings. Having Bryn, a fellow competitor, as my colleague and study partner couldn’t be better. Our job is unique because it’s not a restaurant. It’s all wine. The Austin community is smart about wine and our customers ask intricate questions. Having the knowledge to gain their trust is important.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

Winning will provide momentum to reach my goals for higher level certification with the Court of Master Sommeliers and to promote the Red Room Lounge. More importantly, it would be a great representation of the Austin sommelier community and the incredible talent we have in this city.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

Krug Brut Rosé Champagne. I love rosé and I drink Champagne any chance I get.

Rania Zayyat, sommelier, laV

Rania Zayyat

Zayyat’s passion for the wine industry started four years ago when she began working as a server at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner. She took her Intro exam in New York 2012, and that year won a wine contest that sent her to California wine country. She passed the Certified Sommelier Exam six months later. While working in the Pappas wine department, Zayyat became acquainted with the owner of laV Restaurant, who was a repeat guest of hers. She served him a bottle of 1988 La Tâche that cost about $1,600 the first time she waited on him.

“It was the most expensive bottle of wine I’d ever seen,” says Zayyat. “He asked for me to be his server every visit after that. In 2014 he asked if I would be a part of the team at laV Restaurant and Wine Bar and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was a good opportunity, so I went for it. It’s been awesome.”

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

I decided to compete at TEXSOM for multiple reasons. I really want to bring attention to laV and our wine program. We have a lot to offer the community with a wide range of wines for every palette and budget.

It also has been a great way for me to meet somms in Austin. A lot of us study together. There is competition, but friendly competition. I’d be happy for someone else to win, as long as they are from Austin.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

I find that a lot of the information that I study is somehow relevant to bottles on our list and if anything, it gives me more confidence on the floor. Preparing for this competition also coincides with studying for the Advanced Exam which I plan on taking later this year.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

Winning would be very validating for my career and would lead to more opportunities, not only advancement, but also to help others just getting started. The boost of confidence would allow me to realize how far I have come in this industry.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

Maybe 2001 Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru and bubbles of course! Alfred Gratien Brut Millésime Champagne 1996 would do the trick.

Paul Ozbirn, Wine and Beverage Director, Olive & June  

Paul Ozbirn, Olive & June

Ozbirn has had a go as a professional skateboarder and as a rock band roadie, but a trip to Greece and Italy after college sparked a fascination with wine. After that trip he moved to Austin in 2006 and started in the restaurant industry at Vin Bistro. That position and a stint as bartender at Botticelli’s South Congress further ignited his enthusiasm for wine. Ozbirn passed the sommelier’s Introductory Exam which led to opportunity to work at Wink Restaurant, where he immersed himself in wine.

After working as the sommelier at Paggi House, Ozbirn was hired by Chef Shawn Cirkiel as beverage director at Olive & June where he worked to hone the predominately Italian wine list. He was recently promoted to serve as beverage director for all of restaurants owned by Parkside Projects, including Olive & June, Backspace, Chavez and Parkside. Ozbirn is currently a Certified Sommelier and hopes to take the Advanced Exam in the next year.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

Competing is a great thing for so many reasons. It pushes me to find time to study harder. It helps prepare me for taking the Advanced Sommelier exam sometime soon. It also gets me in front of more Master Sommeliers, which helps develop those relationships.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

Our study group meets every Thursday morning so I can always count on that. I was recently promoted from managing Olive & June to managing all of the properties. I was focused on studying Italian wine for work, but my wine responsibilities are now a lot broader. It’s been a joy to go back and revisit other regions that I haven’t worked with lately like France for Parkside Southern Hemisphere wines for Chavez. Studying for the competition completely helps.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

It’d be great to win of course, but giving it my all is just as rewarding. We’re all part of a community and competing shows we’re totally dedicated to that craft. I’m sure Shawn would be stoked if I won. I just want Austin to show well in general, and I think we will!

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

Well I’m sure there will be bubbles involved, but a well-made negroni with Sipsmith gin would be nice too. That cocktail just never lets me down!

 

Nathan Fausti, lead server, Arro

Nathan Fausti, Arro

Fausti grew up in Wisconsin (so yes he loves cheese and beer), and has been in the restaurant industry in many roles since he started washing dishes in high school. A mentor at Parkside brought him into the world of wine. “Seeing him talk about wine and making the guest experience great inspired me,” said Fausti. “I wanted to be that guy walking around with a bottle making people happy.”

He recently joined Arro Restaurant to work for and learn from master sommelier Craig Collins, last year’s Texas Best Sommelier, Scott Ota and Chef Andrew Curren. Fausti is passionate about food, beverage and providing guests with a great experience, so naturally he gravitated to the wine certification programs. In the last year he has gained Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine diplomas.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

This competition will be a great way to challenge my skills and prepare me for taking the Advanced Sommelier exam. It is also a valuable resource for networking and expanding the sommelier community. I can’t imagine any other city having a friendlier and more committed class of sommeliers than we have in Austin.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

Work and study complement each other. Studying helps me provide a better guest experience, and being on the floor talking with guests about food and wine helps to solidify my knowledge base. Our main job is to translate what people are saying into finding the wine they want. Having a full understanding of wine, beer and cocktails helps me achieve that quickly. I only have 15 seconds to make them feel comfortable and get them what they want.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

Everyone who has won TEXSOM is currently an Advanced or Master Sommelier. Having the win under your belt opens up a lot of opportunities within the sommelier world. It would show what I’m capable of and my level of dedication.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

I’d like to take a tour through the great wines of France, Germany and Italy, beginning in Champagne and ending in Mosel. I’d like a Meursault from the Côte de Beaune of Burgundy, or a nice Barolo from Piedmont.

 

Melissa Lamb, wine manager, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar

Melissa Lamb, Fleming's

During college, Lamb fell in love with the romantic side of wine while the Hill Country wineries. She followed her heart to a career in wine industry starting as an auction director for the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas. In that role she met several sommeliers including her boyfriend, Bill Elsey. He inspired Lamb’s interested in the profession and studying wine. She passed the Introductory Exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers in February 2013 and recently passed Level II Certified Sommelier Exam.

While studying wine at The Red Room Lounge, Lamb met the Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar operating partner, James Cook. “He read the article about the Best Somm Competition in CultureMap last year and realized that I was an up and coming sommelier,” says Lamb. “When the sommelier position at Fleming’s opened up, he offered me the job. I love it here. I’m responsible for building the by the bottle selection and making sure that every guest gets great service.”

The constantly evolving industry with new producers, new wines and changing consumer tastes keeps Lamb excited about wine.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

I want to push myself and see how much stronger I can compete. I’m never going to pass up an opportunity to get in front of the Master Somms and get my name out there. It’s a free look at the Advanced Exam, which is my next goal. I competed last year, so I know to expect the unexpected. They throw out crazy questions and scenarios.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

It makes me better in my job. It’s exciting when a guest wants to talk about a wine producer or region after I’ve studied it. It’s a great way to reinforce the quality of my service at work.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

There are awesome sommeliers who have won before and I would be humbled and honored to be among them. The competition is crazy. It’s like the American Ninja Warrior competition. If you can make it through, you are legit.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

I would drink a Last Word cocktail.

 

Edward Morgan, food and beverage manager, sommelier, Travaasa

Edward Morgan, Travaasa

Morgan’s path to the sommelier position started with dreams of Hollywood. As a student at Texas State, he wanted to pursue a career as screen play writer along with a close friend who wanted to be a film producer. It became quickly apparent that the duo needed to make money until they got a break in the film industry. Wine distribution seemed like a way to do both.

“When I visited my first wine big retail account, I brought big gun Bordeaux wines to impress him,” says Morgan. “He called me out, saying, ‘you don’t know anything about the wines you have in this bag.’ We spent the next several hours drinking through all of my samples and getting a quick education in fine wine. That was the start of my wine education.”

Fast forward 12 years, Morgan is now a sommelier at a prestigious resort and his friend is a producer in LA. He gladly traded fame for an opportunity to pursue his passion for knowledge. He feeds that passion by blogging about wine on the Travaasa website and testing for sommelier certification. He passed the Intro exam in 2009 and the Certified Sommelier Exam in 2011.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

This is a great opportunity to get a free peak at what I might expect in the Advanced Sommelier Exam next year. It puts urgency into my studies with a more tangible goal to accomplish. Master Sommelier, Craig Collins, is my mentor, and I’ve been studying regularly Paul Ozbirn, Brian Philips, Mandy Nelson and Rania Zayyat since last year’s TEXSOM.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

It definitely makes me feel more confident at work. The trick is to study first thing in the morning so I can take any new fundamentals to the floor that evening to educate staff and the guests. I recently had a guest come in from Italy and I had just got back from a trip to Italy. I was able to speak knowledgeably about the landscape and the producers.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

Small victories only solidify your path in life, but larger ones ensure your success. I would consider this a big win.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

I’ll drink the wine that most people got wrong in the blind tasting part of the competition. It’s another chance to learn.

 

Mandi Nelson, Fine Wines Specialist, Republic National Distributor

Mandi Nelson, Republic

Food and beverage have been a big part of Nelson’s life since she started in the restaurant business at age 15. She fell in love with wine while working as a bartender and began her wine career in earnest at the Four Seasons where she opened Trio and created its wine list. She passed here Introductory Exam when it was held at the Four Seasons Austin as a part of TEXSOM.

Nelson continued to pursue her passion for wine by joining the team at Republic. As a key account manager with Republic, Nelson call on the top accounts in Austin, most of which have sommeliers selecting the wine. Her job entails bringing winery owners, winemakers and master sommeliers to town to host tastings at top restaurants and shops. I’d like to trade jobs with her for a day.

She is a Certified Sommelier and has continued her education and certification march by completing the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Advanced Exam, CSW and Wine Location Specialist Program for Champagne and Port.  She has applied to take the Advanced Exam and hopes to take it next year.

Why did you choose to enter the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition?

This is another opportunity to study and prepare. Hope to sit for the advanced exam. This is my third time competing. I’m hitting the books more this time around. I’m also studying with a group that started last year at TEXSOM. It’s a great study group and it has been is extremely helpful in my preparation.

How does studying for this competition affect your daily work?

The more knowledge I have, the better I am at my job. I’m better prepared to find great wines for my clients. For example, if a winemaker from the Priorat region of Spain is visiting town, I can take them to the right accounts who appreciate it.

What would winning the competition mean to your career?

I love my job and I wouldn’t want to change anything. I’m just doing it for the education. My employers are extremely supportive of what I do. I appreciate it.

What will you drink when you win the title of Texas’ Best Sommelier?

Champagne, of course. Whatever the closest bottle would be. Bollinger RD.

 

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

Austin’s 10 Best Drink Slingers: Meet the CultureMap Tastemaker Award Nominees for Best Beverage Director

What is the right cocktail to drink while listening to Gary Clark Jr.? What wine will bring out the best in braised rabbit? The 10 nominees for the CultureMap 2014 Tastemaker Awards in the Best Beverage/Wine Program category keep Austin at the forefront of trends in craft cocktails and fine wine.

Whether working at a cozy wine lounge or a fine dining restaurant, this year’s nominees share a passion for constantly studying beverages to ensure they buy and serve the very best drinks available. (They’re also sharing with us the best beverage options for spring.)

CollinsbyNilsJuul-Hansen (1)Craig Collins, Beverage Director, ELM Restaurant Group
Craig Collins became enamored with wine while working at a Texas winery during college. He is currently the beverage director for ELM Restaurant Group where he oversees the programs at 24 DinerEasy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden and Arro. In 2011, he passed the esteemed Master Sommelier Exam, joining an elite club of less than 200 people worldwide at the time. He is an active member in the Court of Master Sommeliers and frequently serves as a featured speaker at wine and food festivals across the country.

What was your first memorable wine? I experienced my “aha” wine while living in Italy with Chef Andrew Curren. It was a bottle of 1998 Brancaia Il Blu, a super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot that opened my eyes to the rest of my life.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? My guilty pleasure is an ice cold can of beer when I get home at the end of the night. Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap always does the trick.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc. The acid of the goat cheese balances out the saltiness of the cheese and cuts through the fat. It is one of the classic pairings that works every time.

What should Austinites drink right now? It sounds a bit cliché at this point, but rosé. We are moving into the hot time of the year and there is nothing better than an ice cold glass of pink wine.

Sam Hovland, Wine Consultant, Swift’s Attic
Sam Hovland has worked at The Austin Wine Merchant, Headliners Club, Sardine Rouge, Demi-Epicurious, Mars Restaurant and Bar and Twin Liquors. Hovland became the wine buyer for East End Wines in 2010 and continues in that role today. He worked with Mat Clouser, the chef at Swift’s Attic, to develop and maintain the Swift’s Attic wine list. As an extension of that partnership, he is looking forward to buying wines for Clouser’s new restaurant, Wu Chow.

What was your first memorable wine? My first experience was with wines pilfered from my father when he was hosting art openings at the Austin Conceptual Visual Artists Association. I then made wine in the early 1980s, and distilled it (thanks, Science Academy). I was really blown away by a 1967 Richebourg, older vintage Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese, Henri Jayer Pinot Noirs and Domaine Huet Vouvray sweet Chenin Blanc early on in my sommelier career.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? I like very cold tallboys of cider after a day of drinking wines for work, vermouth and Cava and 10,000 beers. I once ran out of wine, and had Sauternes poached foie gras on Ritz crackers with ice cold Budweiser standing in a friend’s kitchen in the middle of the night.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? My four favorites are Sonoma Coast or Oregon Pinot Noir with duck (Doritos crusted for extra naughtiness); Alsatian Riesling with escargot soup; Muscadet and oysters; and the classic vintage Port and Stilton.

What should Austinites drink right now? Bubbles, Mondeuse, Sherry, pink wine, orange wine, natural wines and food-friendly wines that are funky with higher acid, lower tannin and lower alcohol.

josh_lovingJosh Loving
Josh Loving has worked in both the front of the house and back of the house at such notable Austin restaurants as Fino, which he helped open in 2005, Vino Vino, Asti and East Side Show Room. Most recently, Loving was part of the opening team at Josephine House & Jeffrey’s, where he served as beverage director. He left Jeffrey’s this year to focus on his own project, and is currently tending bar at Half Step.

What was your first memorable wine? I think it was 2003, I was working a private party for wine collectors and they gave us the rest of their wines including a vertical from the 1970s of Premier Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy from Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret. I didn’t know what they were, but I remember telling myself to remember the labels so someday I could recall what they were.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Cheap beer: Coors, Miller High Life, Tecate, etc. I try to stay away from cheap wine, but I crush cheap beer.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? It’s a tie between Champagne and raw oysters, and fried chicken and Riesling.

What should Austinites drink right now? Sherry. I feel like I say this every year, and every year it gets a bit more traction. But yeah, Sherry.

Bill Norris, Alamo DrafthouseBill Norris, Beverage Director, Alamo Drafthouse
For 20 years, Norris has poured drinks in venues across the country, winning numerous awards and cocktail competitions along the way. He was on the opening staff at Fino, where, according to the Austin American-Statesman, he “planted the sacred seeds” of the modern cocktail in Austin, before creating the nationally recognized bar program at Haddingtons. Norris is currently the beverage director for Alamo Drafthouse, overseeing the cocktail and beverage programs at Midnight Cowboy400 Rabbits and other Alamo properties.

What was your first memorable wine? It was probably a Chablis Grand Cru. One of my early jobs was at a restaurant in New York City where all the wines were from Skurnik’s book, and he led a tasting. I just remember thinking, “So, this is why people like white wine!”

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Vinho Verde from the lobster bottle (Santola). There is nothing better for an Austin summer Sunday afternoon.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Vintage Champagne and potato chips. And I’m not joking.

What should Austinites drink right now? It’s springtime in Austin, so I recommend rosé, preferably Provençal or Spanish. Or Champagne. Champagne is always good.

Paul Ozbirn, Olilve & JunePaul Ozbirn, Wine and Beverage Director, Parkside Projects  
Ozbirn got his start in Austin’s restaurant industry in 2006 as a server at Vin Bistro, which sparked his passion for wine. He held various positions at Botticelli’s, Wink Restaurant and Paggi House while studying to attain Certified Sommelier status through The Court of Master Sommeliers. Ozbirn became the Beverage Director for Parkside Projects to hone the predominately Italian wine list at Olive & June. He is expanding his role to manage the beverage and wine programs at The BackspaceParkside and Chavez.

What was your first memorable wine? My first memorable wine was Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2002. My dad couldn’t find it in Birmingham and asked me to buy it at my local wine shop in Huntsville. It was the start of a long relationship with said wine shop and my love for the balanced, lush and fruit-forward wine. I still love the wines today despite the fact that I’ve really moved away from buying and drinking that style.   

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? After a long day of tasting and discussing nothing but wine, the last thing I crave is wine. If I’m at a bar, I’ll drink Hops & Grain ALTeration, but I’m always up for a Lone Star with a lime. Another guilty pleasure is chilled Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka!

Your favorite food and wine pairing? A big glass of Lambrusco with the new late-night burger at Vino Vino is a pretty stellar meal. I’m always up for Riesling with just about anything.

What should Austinites drink right now? We’re really diving into the orange wine thing at Olive & June. We serve an abundance of small bites like quail, pork and meatballs that pair really well with either full-bodied whites or lighter style reds. Orange wine is perfect for those plates and introduces tannin to white wine drinkers in a much more approachable way. My favorite at the moment is Ezio Trinchero Bianco 2007.   

Brian Phillips, Eddie VsBrian Phillips, Manager and Sommelier, Eddie V’s Restaurants Inc.
Over the past 14 years, Phillips has worked in venerable Austin establishments such as The Driskill Hotel and Haddingtons and currently manages the beverage program at Eddie V’s Prime Seafood. He not only serves wine, he also makes wine called “Ground Up” from Texas Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional grapes tended and harvested by the team at Pedernales Cellars.

What was your first memorable wine? My first memorable wine was a sip of my mom’s Beringer White Zinfandel when I was around 10 years old. It was memorable because it was so bad. I can’t quite recall one wine that sent me down the rabbit hole. It was a natural progression with an endless quest to find wines that make me stop and look both inward and outward at the same time.   

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Like all somms, at the end of a long day serving our guests we want something clean and simple like beer, or a cold, classic martini. My guilty pleasure is a shot of really cold silver tequila (no salt, no lime, no mixology). 

Your favorite food and wine pairing? My go-to wine and food combo is spicy and sweet Asian with the classic off-dry wines of the world. I am super happy with Thai food and an assortment of Loire Chenin Blanc, German Riesling and fungus infected Alsatian beauties. 

What should Austinites drink right now? Everyone should be drinking wine, period. There has never been a better time in the history of wine to drink it in terms of quality and world representation. When treated right, wine is restorative, contemplative and, in turn, good for society. Every region and corner of the globe produces something special and we owe it to those producers to try it and give it its moment of silence.    

Nathan Prater, The Red Room LoungeNathan Prater, Sommelier and General Manager, Red Room Lounge
A native Austinite, Prater is currently the general manager of the Red Room Lounge, a hidden gem of vinous solitude. He began his education with the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2007, and after six years of dedicated study and practice, he sat for the Masters Exam in 2013, passing the service portion. He plans to take the other sections of the Masters Exam in Aspen, Colorado in mid-May. Part of his study is the pursuit of the perfect gin martini, which he calls the “elixir of quietude.”

What was your first memorable wine? A bottle of 1983 Château Lynch-Bages sparked my interest for wine, while a 1978 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea inspired the drive to become a sommelier. 

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? A third gin martini.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? French rosé and escargot.

What should Austinites drink right now? Sidecars, Aviations, Micèl Prosecco, Domaine Houchart rosé or a Gibson with three onions.


Paula Rester, CongressPaula Rester, Wine Director, Congress

Paula Rester worked at Congress from its opening in December 2010 until January 2012 when she left to become the general manager of Vino Vino. In October 2012 Paula rejoined the Congress team as the Sommelier. Rester draws on her education as an actor at the University of Texas and her experience as a nightclub jazz singer to bring a spirit of performance and presentation to wine and food. She is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators.

What was your first memorable wine? Travaglini Gattinara, for the shape of the bottle and the aromatic nature of the Nebbiolo.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Rye whiskey manhattans.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Champagne and French fries.

What should Austinites drink right now? Rosè! Because (in my best Game of Thrones voice…) summer is coming. My favorites include Inman Family Endless Crush Olivet Grange Pinot Noir Rosè 2013 and Clos Cibonne Cotes du Provence Tibouren Rosè 2012.

June Rodil, Qui

June Rodil, Director of Operations, Qui
Rodil leads operations of Paul Qui’s flagship restaurant, Qui, and the multi-location casual concept, East Side King. She has an extensive wine background and has served as the beverage director for the Uchi Restaurant Group and Congress Austin. Rodil relishes the perfect pairing and believes that this can be accomplished when a chef and sommelier have mutual respect for each other and have the same goal: happy guests.

What was your first memorable wine? I first started really getting into wine and food when I was a server at the Driskill. I went in to dine there for a birthday celebration to see what the tasting menu was all about. I scoffed at the buttery Chardonnay that was on the tasting menu, but the simple butter poached halibut with tomatoes was transformed into something else altogether by the wine … It always reminds me not to turn my nose at a wine. There are definitely moments for each wine, and if not moments, then at least dishes that go well with it.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? A Lone Star tallboy and a shot of bourbon after a long shift. It gets me every time.

Describe your favorite food and wine pairing? Champagne, Champagne, Champagne, and anything! Champagne and French fries are a must. For complete dishes and something that I like to do at Qui, I suggest a red Burgundy with saba. It’s really a stunning pairing and one that I love introducing to people.  

What should Austinites drink right now? This is the season for rosé! Rosé in any style to satiate any palate. The range of grape flavors, texture and fruit concentration is huge. It’s available in everything from bubbles, to a salty, barely pink Côtes de Provence.

Dhal Smith, UchiDhal Smith, Beverage Director, Uchi/Uchiko
Smith joined Uchi in 2009, where his extensive travels in Asia fueled a fascination with the history and culture of the wine and sake on the menu. Rodil, who was beverage director at the time, encouraged Smith to become a certified sake professional. That education was the beginning of his passion for food and beverage pairings and how the right match can elevate the experience.

What was your first memorable wine? It was a Châteauneuf-du-Pape about six years ago with a former roommate who was a wine rep. I was struck by all that it had going on. There was great depth of fruit, leather, tar, savory, and it had this really meaty texture. They are still some of my favorite wines.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Jameson. 

Your favorite food and wine pairing? I really love pairing sweeter wines with meat. Instead of red wine, choose Riesling Spätlese or Chenin Blanc that has some richness that goes great with beef, lamb and pork. The acid cuts right through the fat and the ripe fruit balances the savoriness. A pairing that I love to do at Uchi is a Norwegian mackerel with truffle oil and yellow tomato on top with Royal Tokaji dessert wine. The mackerel is quite gamey and savory along with the truffle and the fruit and acidity of the wine is a perfect match.   

What should Austinites drink right now? Craft beer is blowing up right now and I think that brewers are really pushing the boundaries seeking out new and different nuances. Whether it’s barrel-aging or the use of some indigenous yeast, beer is becoming so varied — and almost wine-like in some instances. For wine, I choose Riesling because it is so versatile and it’s possible to find one that will pair with almost anything. They will age for decades and continue to gain complexity.

Tickets for the third annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, which take place May 7 at Brazos Hall, are available here.

This story was originally published on CultureMap. Disclosure: I am a CultureMap Tastemaker Award Judge.

Photo Credits:

  • Craig Collins – photo courtesy of Nils Juul-Hansen
  • Josh Loving – photo courtesy of Bill Sallans
  • Bill Norris – photo courtesy of Bill Sallans
  • June Rodil – photo courtesy of Qui
  • Dhal Smith – photo courtesy of Uchi/Uchiko
  • All other photos by me.

What are you drinking?