Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Los Olivos winery welcomes master sommelier Will Costello
On Feb. 13, Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills Estates announced Master Sommelier Will Costello was joining the winery as Estate Brand Ambassador.
Costello was named master sommelier in North America through the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2015. He currently serves as the Wine Director at Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas.
From his current home in Las Vegas, which he shares with his wife and four dogs, Costello spoke with the Sun about how he fell in love with good wines and the difference a sommelier can make for trusting customers.
Will Costello: It was around 2004. I was a busboy at the Bluefire Grill at the La Costa resort [in Carlsbad]. Before that I was beer drinker. I loved hoppy IPAs. I happened to have served someone who went through the Court of Master Sommeliers [an organization set up to provide education and examinations for sommeliers]. He was hiding sauvignon blanc in a coffee cup and offered me a taste. It was a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand and it totally opened my eyes to wines. From there I just went down the rabbit hole. I realized how delicious it could be. From there I had bigger aspirations.
At Addison Grand Del Mar [where he served as maître d’] I met Jesse Rodriguez who was the head sommelier at French Laundry. He was my mentor. Meeting him was really important to me. He knew so much, I was drawn to him for understanding.
Sun: What is the education process like to become a master sommelier (through the Court of Sommeliers)?
WC: It is an arduous process. It involves both on-the-job learning and self-study. There’s no classroom and no books you can buy. I started around 2007 and it pretty much took until 2015 to pass the master exam. Education is a big aspect of this business. You share the knowledge to push the industry forward. That needs to be a goal. A rising tide moves all ships.
Sun: Why is the relationship between food and wine important?
WC: In this day and age there are wines made for bars or for things like cocktail parties, and that wasn’t always the case. There’s a saying, if it grows together it goes together. There are thousands of grape varietals in Italy because people would grow vineyards and the wines they made would be for the food they grew, right in their backyards.
Now you have big bombastic wines that don’t need food at all and can in fact hurt the food. For a sommelier, it’s important to find wine that can work with the food that American chefs are making. You look for wines with lower alcohol content and a more balanced fruit profile. A lower alcohol wine is typically one with more acidity. Acidity is any food’s friend, like a rich risotto with a lot of butter. It helps cleanse the palate between each bite. It can be a foil to richness or a harmony to brighten fresh dishes.
Sun: What’s a bottle of wine everyone should have in their collection right now?
WC: I think the Solomon Hills 2014 chard is one very important wine. If you collect Chablis or Burgundy you should have it. It’s such a perfectly balanced wine. The amount of oak is just barely perceptible.
Sun: For a novice getting into wine collecting/appreciation, what’s a good place to start?
WC: The most important thing is price point. If you’re moving from being a box-wine drinker to exploring fine wine, it’s going to be based around price. A starting point for a white wine would be around the $15 range, from any region you might be comfortable with; $25 is a good price point to start for red wine. But if you want to start engaging in fine wine, price point is commensurate with quality. I wish could I could still drink $6 bottles of wine but I can’t, my palate just won’t accept it.
Sun: What’s one thing people don’t know about what you do for a living?
WC: You are not born with an amazing palate. You have to train, learn, and most of all understand winemaking, especially the techniques behind it to be great sommelier. It’s not a party trick. It’s a craft. You have to work at your skillset and improve them.
Sun: What’s the best thing about the job?
WC: The best part about being a sommelier is you can actually use a whole palette of colors to find an exact recommendation for a guest. There’s really no such thing as “white wine and fish,” “red wine and beef”; it has to do with the preferences of people you are taking care of.
Sun: What’s a common question from customers?
WC: “What should we drink?” My response is always: “Do you want something delicious or something that goes well with food?” Sometimes, those two can’t always meet in the middle. For example: If someone really loves rich California cabernet with lots of oak, but they’re eating beet salad or a fish dish, we can either drink a rich cab or something that harmonizes with the food.
I can find you a delicious bottle of white, and you’re going to have to trust me. I’ll never recommend wine without finding out what my customers like first.
Coming from a sommelier’s perspective, we all get comfortable in wine styles we enjoy. But if readers would trust wine professionals every now and then, I think it would open their eyes to a whole world of wine instead of the microcosm we can build around ourselves.
Rebecca Rose will be sampling lots of Costello’s wine recommendations in the near future. Contact her at email@example.com.
Former KPRL host appointed to county Planning Commission Room to grow: SLO looks to build new art museum Respite from winter: Harsh weather stretches SLO County's minimal homeless resources/warming shelters Repeal and replace: SLO city halts rental inspection program, will consider alternate enforcement strategies Arroyo Grande seeks sanitation district's help in Hill investigation Community raises concerns for air quality over fire pits Supes name road maintenance as budget priority