Savvy Sommelier Uncorks Delicious Adventure
July – August 2015
Savvy Sommelier Uncorks Delicious Adventure
CARNEVINO’S KIRK PETERSON PAIRS WINE WITH FOOD…AND PEOPLE.
BY MARISA FINETTI
It’s well past lunch, yet a seductively plated dish of braised quail in cognac reduction is placed before Kirk Peterson. Along with two other sommeliers, a chef, and a culinary director, he attempts to identify the perfect wine pairing. While taking sips from several glasses and sharing small bites from this regional Italian creation, Kirk soon recognizes its match.
“Lacrima di Morro. Final answer,” he declares.
This is a day in the life of Kirk, beverage director of Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group (B&BHG). He oversees the purchase, education, and sales of wine, liquor, and beer for all four of B&BHG’s Las Vegas restaurants. Kirk’s days (and nights) are, in part, spent tasting and smelling, all in an effort to provide guests at Carnevino Italian Steakhouse—inside the Palazzo Las Vegas— with the best possible marriage of food and wine. “Really, what I do for a living is buy and sell wine, but in the context of matching food from the most talented chefs,” Kirk says, whose slightly quirky persona radiates a mix of entertaining wit, intelligence, and a splash of mystery. The job requires a deep knowledge, derived from years of study and innumerable tasting experiences. It also takes passion. With unflinching instinct, he displays an almost encyclopedic command of “50-cent words” about the intricacies of sight, smell, taste, sense of place, history, and culture of virtually any wine—and food, for that matter. But that’s not all. Kirk is as polished in wine service as he is eloquent in story-telling. When guests sit down at Carnevino, they are handed a jumbo-sized menu where his wine list takes up much of the real estate; approximately 750 wines are noted. While some may find the list to be daunting, Kirk insists on dismissing any feelings of inferiority.
“It’s terrible that people find selecting a bottle of wine so stressful sometimes,” Kirk says.
He recommends talking openly. “You might not immediately understand why I’m asking if you like cherries or rosemary or ripe peaches, but there is a reason,” he explains.
As a result, not only will you like the wine, but it will certainly be an optimum pairing for one of the classic offerings at Carnevino, such as the 90-day dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye steak.
Carnevino is famous for its meats, which are all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic- free, and hand selected by professional “meat maestro” Adam Perry Lang. Together with Mario Batali’s pastas and fresh, seasonal Italian specialties, the restaurant could also easily be considered one of Las Vegas’ best Italian restaurants.
A GLASS FOR EVERY TASTE
Kirk’s international wine list complements Carnevino’s cuisine. Like a journey across the globe, it’s comprised of a generous treasury of unfamiliar varieties such as Pigato and Xinomavro, to more recognizable Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots. Guests will find moderately priced by-the-glass and bottles, alongside the Burgundy region’s exclusive single-vineyard bottling from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.
“It sells for $31,000, but we are also talking about a vineyard with an 800-year track record,” he says. “In a good year, they will produce 5,400 bottles for the entire world. It’s not like you’re buying a Jimi Hendrix song; it’s like buying his guitar.”
If that’s not intriguing enough, how about a sparkling wine aged for 13
months on the sea floor, 200 feet below the surface off the coast of Portofino, Italy? For guests that truly want to discover hidden treasures—accompanied by stories that have depth—they’ve come to the right place.
Kirk takes pride in finding wines of rare and limited quantities. This was proven during his recent sales visit with a winemaker and distributor who came to present him with red wines from Napa. Peterson’s eyes scan the order sheet, as he marks an asterisk next to an item, and inquires, “Have you sold this one to anyone else?” The representative reassures Peterson that Carnevino is his usual first stop. “Then, I’ll take everything you have, please.”
BREAKING SOME RULES
He may be one of the most respected Italian wine experts on the West Coast, but it didn’t happen suddenly. The avid music lover, who has been with B&BHG for eight years, is originally from Yerington. The 39-year-old self-proclaimed “cork dork” says he developed is sense of taste and smell early on, appreciating food and wine long before he was of drinking age.
“My parents were exceptional cooks,” Kirk says, “And, there was always that idea that we would drink something appropriate with our food.”
When he moved south to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Kirk was frequently found at restaurants ordering wine with his Discover card and a fake ID.
“The vast majority of my initial education came on the other side of the table,” Kirk says. Thereafter, he took courses through the International Sommelier Guild and is now a certified sommelier pursuing the title of master of wine. His developed sense of taste and smell has contributed to the success of his career, and placed emphasis on enlightening his clientele on how to truly savor food and wine.
“One thing that I find somewhat fascinating is, when I watch most people eat food, they don’t actually smell it. Smelling is part of the overall experience—as it is in wine—because you can only taste five things,” he says.
So, why not heighten the olfactory experience and go against some rules? For example, he suggests enjoying bubbly wines in larger-bowled glasses, which allow for more collection of aromas. Kirk loves every opportunity to debunk wine myths. From food pairings, to etiquette, his quiver is full. He finds it interesting that people in general still insist on pairing fish with white wine. In actuality, there are red wines that complement fish, according to him.
“It’s tannin that clashes with fish, not the color red,” Kirk says. He believes that choosing wine should be a pleasurable experience and tries to make it simple for his guests.
“I’m their easy button,” he says. “I think it’s also important to offer a style that they are looking for, more than a particular brand.” Ultimately, if a guest discovers a new favorite wine, all the better, since pairing wine with people is just as gratifying as pairing wine with food.
“Turning people on to new things is perhaps the greatest satisfaction of all,” he says.
And to that, he and his guests can raise a glass.
Pairing it up at Carnevino
Culinary Director Chef Jason Neve: “A staple of the Carnevino Summer menu, we pair the ripest and most mouthwatering heirloom tomatoes sourced from local farms and farmers markets with handmade Di Stefano Burrata made fresh daily. Along with a touch of basil pesto, Maldon salt and Aceto Manadori, it’s the perfect start to a summer meal.”
THE WINE: FEUDI DI SAN GREGO- RIO FIANO DI AVELLINO 2012
Kirk Peterson: “If it grows together, it goes together. This classic dish from the island of Capri pairs perfectly with the Fiano grapes grown in the hills above Avellino in Campania. It’s fresh and aromatic, with hints of citrus, verdant herbs, and hazelnut with a clean, mineral finish.”
Jason: “No other vegetable says summer quite like mouthwatering, fresh sweet corn. Charred on the cob over open flames and then removed, the corn is tossed with pickled peppers to bring just a little spice and acidity to contrast all that sweetness, and lastly a bit of lime-infused sea salt to round it all out.”
THE WINE: PAOLO BEA “SANTA CHIARA” UMBRIA BIANCO 2011
Kirk: “To match the impact of the charred corn, while still remaining vibrant enough to compliment the pickled peppers and lime salt, an unconventional approach is needed and Santa Chiara definitely delivers. This unique blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Garganega sees extended skin contact and all-natural winemaking practices, granting it a softness, weight, and generosity of flavor that is distinctively appropriate.”
THE DISH: SUMMER BERRY TART
Jason: “Strawberry cake layered with pistachio cream and strawberry gelee, topped with sweet late summer berries bursting with flavor, finished with raspberry sorbet, edible flowers and candied hazelnuts.”
THE WINE: MARENCO PINETO BRACHETTO D’ACQUI 2013
Kirk: “Ripe, floral, sparkling, and sweet, this Piedmontese dessert wine has something for everyone. Copious strawberry, red raspberry, and rose aromas alongside a mousse-like texture mirror and compliment the flavors of the tart while refreshing the palette.”