Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: Getting more from the pour

Nov./Dec. 2014 California Bountiful magazine

Meet Randall Bertao, master sommelier

More online: The language of wine

Randall Bertao said working long hours on his family's dairy near Los Banos helped prepare him for the demands of a career in hospitality. In addition to being general manager of the Los Altos Golf and Country Club, he also is among only 140 North Americans accredited as a wine expert by the Court of Master Sommeliers.

The prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers has conferred the title of master sommelier on only 219 wine professionals worldwide. Randall Bertao of Santa Clara County is one of them.

What do you hope people will learn from you about wines and spirits?
Wine is my passion. I love sharing my knowledge, not only in the dining room, but also through special events and outside classes. At a recent event, we took participants through a tasting of nine wines from around the world. The point was to educate them about some of the world's different wine regions and discuss how to thoughtfully taste and evaluate these international vintages.

Do you have a favorite California wine?
I love pinot noir, but I don't recommend my personal tastes to guests. I leave my ego out of it.

How do you make wine recommen­dations? 
Here's my practice: I ask a couple of questions to figure out where a guest's tastes may lie and find out what menu items they have in mind for their meal. I usually point out about three wines in a range of prices to provide choices. My job isn't to sell the most expensive bottle of wine on our list.

Do you have any wine secrets?
The most expensive wines aren't always the best value. A $100 bottle of wine often isn't twice a good as a $50 bottle, but a $20 bottle often can be better than a $10 choice.

What would you recommend for a holiday gathering at home?
Generally during the holidays, we tend to enjoy richer, savory food. To find a crowd pleaser, look for flavorful wines like pinot noirs from the Central Coast or zinfandels from Lodi-Woodbridge, areas offering wonderful, well-priced wines. But don't overlook Central-South Coast syrah. Oh, and Amador County and other foothill growing areas also offer outstanding varietals. California wines from lesser-known areas offer exciting choices that can work well with a hearty holiday meal.

The language of wine

It has been said "wine is poetry in a bottle," but not everyone speaks the same language when it comes to selecting wines for a restaurant meal or as a gift. And some fine dining establishments can offer a wine list long enough to make guests reach for their library cards. Part of a master sommelier's role is to help consumers interpret a wine list and select one they'll really enjoy.

Here's some advice from experts about how to select wines with a restaurant meal:

  • Scan the wine list: A wine list can be brief and sketchy or go into great detail about taste and background. Identify wines you may know as a place to start. Then check with the experts.
  • Rule of thumb: Wine lists usually offer bottles in a price range, with many selections costing about the same as entrées.
  • Keep it real: Once a wine is selected, show the waiter or sommelier the selection on the list and ask for an opinion. Place a finger under the price of the wine to indicate what works for the wallet. Sommeliers and experienced wait staff will pick up on the cue and offer useful suggestions in the appropriate price range.
  • One bottle or two?: Experts suggest starting with a half bottle per person. If the group includes at least three people, consider ordering a bottle of red and a bottle of white.
  • Homework: Many restaurants include their wine list online. Check the website before going and maybe do some quick research on a possible choice. It's a way to help ensure a perfect meal.
  • Wines by the glass: Most restaurants offer a limited selection of wines by the glass. It's a way to scout wines for a future meal.
  • BYOB: It's always good to call before showing up at a restaurant with a bottle in hand. Some restaurants welcome wines brought in by customers; others don't. If the restaurant allows outside bottles and its corkage fee is reasonable compared to the price of the bottle (expect to pay between $10 and $25 to pull the cork), then bring it. There's usually no cost advantage when bringing wines already included in a restaurant's wine list.
  • Tipping: It's customary to add a tip for wine service to the restaurant tab; 15 to 20 percent of the wine's cost is usual. 

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