Meet your sommelier: Rafael Peterson

For nearly three years, local restaurant-goers have been anticipating the opening of Little Italy's latest addition, the 10,000-square-foot Born & Raised. From the cocktail bar and restaurant powerhouse Consortium Holdings, the swank steakhouse boasts a glistening chandelier, luxe leather booths, faux fur adornments, and a certain mid-century meets Scarface je ne sais quoi, courtesy of regular CH designer Paul Basile. 

While the top-notch food, beverage and style were expected, in an unprecedented move, CH decided to hire its first ever in-house sommelier to run the restaurant's wine program.

Rafael Peterson was nearly "born and raised" in the restaurant industry. From a young age, the sommelier began working in restaurants in Hawaii and his hometown of San Francisco, including Michael Mina's Aqua, the once two-star Michelin restaurant. 

Moving to Las Vegas, Peterson worked for Mario Batali's Enoteca Otto, where wine stewards were allowed to taste every wine before serving, exponentially increasing his wine knowledge. Finally landing in San Diego, Rafael worked at Addison at the Grand Del Mar, where he earned his Level 1 and 2 in the Court of Master Sommeliers. 

Other impressive stints have included working as General Manager at Turquoise Cellars in Pacific Beach, and most recently as Wine Director at Bracero, where he helped bring the wines of Valle de Guadalupe and Baja to the thirsty mouths of San Diegans. At Born & Raised, he challenges locals again to experiment with bold, rich wines outside the comfort zone of California, with a list heavy in wines from around the world, including the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux of France, Greece, and Italy.

Amongst the new restaurant's opening flurry, PACIFIC caught up with Peterson to talk about wow wine moments, must-try varietals, and his tips on tasting and pairing wines. 

PACIFIC: What was your first wow wine moment? 

RAFAEL PETERSON: One of the best wine pairings of my life that I will never forget was Château d'Yquem, a Sauternes (dessert wine), with seared foie gras and candied kumquats. It literally blew me away. I realized there was something happening at a higher level and I realized I wanted to know more. 

What are two things everyone should do when tasting wine?

One, try to taste different things in the wine. If you find you are tasting the same thing over and over, you may not be allowing your senses to open up. Two, don't over complicate things. Allow yourself to enjoy.

What are your top tips for pairing wine with food?

One, personal preference is everything. If you enjoy cabernet sauvignon all the time, then you should do that.

Two, match the weight of dish with the weight of the wine. If you have a light dish, like crudite for instance, pair it with a light bodied and elegant wine with good acidity. On the other hand, if you have a steak, look for a fuller bodied wine like a cabernet sauvignon or a syrah from the Northern Rhone of France.

Three, try to do something different. For instance, if you have something with heat and spice, go for a riesling with a touch of sweetness to offset the heat. 

How did you choose your wine list for Born & Raised?

We are paying homage to the classic American steakhouse at Born & Raised. So, naturally, I looked for a variety of rich wines. But we also aren't trying to create the traditional steakhouse wine list either. 

We are looking at the Rhone, Italy, and Bordeaux, not just California. Rhone wines, for instance, have a meaty, peppery profile that pair perfectly with the dry- and wet-aged steaks we have on the menu. 

What's your favorite varietal?

Right now, it's syrah. It speaks to me on every different level. It's grown all over the world, and when it's young, you get incredibly rich black fruit, meaty, and peppery notes. When it ages, there's wonderful floral notes and red dried fruit, like cranberry and cherry.

How should someone new to wine get started? What's a wine you recommend?

Have a conversation with your wine shop or restaurant sommelier and get a few recommendations. Don't ever be afraid to ask. I personally recommend trying wines from the Rhone Valley, they are well-structured, big and rich wines. From our list, I would say the Domaine de Condamine L'Eveque. It's 100% Mourvedre; it's rich, luscious and velvety, with notes of strawberry and blueberry, with a hint of pepper in the finish. 

What are a few must-try pairings at Born & Raised?

Go with the Mushroom Tartare, a medley of wild mushrooms, capers, cornichons, shaved radish and black garlic aioli. Pair with the 2014 Domaines Schlumberger, pinot gris from Alsace, France. The wine shows lovely tones of apricot and yellow apple with an underlying mineral note that ties in beautifully with the mushrooms.

Then try the Uni Spaghetti, made with uni butter, chili oil, and cured egg yolk. Pair with the Savatiano, by Mylonas, from Attica, Greece. This is a really unique wine from a region with an incredible history of winemaking. According to Greek mythology, it is the birthplace of winemaking.  This wine is incredibly floral and shows a creamy mouthfeel that ties in texturally with the umami flavors of the uni. 

Name a bottle of wine you're embarrassed to say you drank before you became a sommelier
No one should ever feel embarrassed about drinking wine!

When you're not drinking wine, what's your booze of choice?

Light beer and mezcal neat.

What are you doing when you're not working?
Landscape photography (check out his Instagram: @WineRelatedRaff).

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