Welcome to The OenoFiles, where we chat with the smartest sippers of wine in the ATL. This month, we talk to Jason Raymond of adjacent East Cobb restaurants Seed and Stem.
Jason Raymond. [Photo: Christopher Watkins]
Jason Raymond looks at every day as a special occasion. And he wants you to enjoy those occasions with a bottle of wine that doesn't necessarily have to break the bank. That's what makes him one clutch sommelier, a role he holds at Marietta's Seed Kitchen & Bar and at the Seed team's new venture, Stem Wine Bar, set to open this week. His background includes a Swiss degree in hospitality (we hear they're a very hospitable people) and work in some of Florida's finest resorts (where he learned from Master Sommelier Virginia Philip). He then helped open Buckhead Life Group's City Fish Market in Boca Raton, a connection that led him to Atlanta, where he managed the beverage program at Bluepointe before joining Seed as general manager and sommelier at their opening nearly two years ago. He's now looking forward to another debut, Stem Wine Bar—and with it, wine classes and over 40 boutique by-the-glass options—every one of them fit for a special occasion.
How long have you been at Seed Kitchen & Bar?
Since August 2011, a few months before our opening in November 2011.
Tell us about developing Stem Wine Bar.
The wine bar seemed like a natural progression for us. Our goal was to make Seed a wine destination in East Cobb, and once we felt that was accomplished, we knew it was time for the next step. We wanted to create a concept where you can get true Spanish tapas combined with European-inspired small plates and a wine program geared toward four wine regions (Spain, Italy, France, domestic) that we felt fit the concept the best.
Does Stem play a role in the beverage program at Seed (and vice versa)?
The wine lists will be completely separate with Stem carrying domestic, Spanish, Italian, and French wines only, whereas Seed carries wines from every hemisphere. We like the separation of Stem and Seed even though it is right next door. However, we will have a reserve wine list that will be available for both Seed and Stem.
Where do you begin when pairing wine with food?
My favorite pairings start towards the end of the dining experience, with dessert and dessert wines. I look at the fat content first then flavors for the perfect pairing. For example, something with a higher fat content like cheesecake needs a dessert wine that has a full mouth-feel like a straw wine. A great example is De Trafford Vin De Paille (Straw Wine) with a key lime cheesecake. The fat content in the cheesecake eliminates that alcohol taste in a way and leaves nothing but the honeycomb, apricot notes, and key lime flavors to mingle perfectly. It's that unforgettable magic-in-your-mouth moment (yep, I said it) you'll never forget. I promise your dining experience will be taken to a whole new level.
Are there any ingredients that pose a particular challenge?
One of our most popular dishes at Seed is our fresh catch over caramelized Brussels sprouts and cauliflower with a Thai vinaigrette. The 40 or so components of the vinaigrette are very complex. Because it's vinaigrette, I go with the rule, "let acid battle acid," and pair a nice acidic Sauvignon Blanc.
At Seed and at Stem, what's your favorite bottle on the list right now and why?
Revelry Vitners 'Block 19' Syrah from Walla Walla, Washington. It has that "meal in a glass" character, it's elegant and sexy. I've had guests literally walk across Seed to shake my hand, give me high-fives and fist bumps for the recommendation. That's the reward for me. 151 cases produced and I was lucky enough to get every bottle released in Georgia. Call me greedy.
Can you name the most strange/funny wine question you've ever received from a diner?
I recently had a guest call me over to the table and say, "This wine doesn't have enough body to it." I then looked at the glass and noticed there were ice cubes floating in it, so naturally I said I will gladly get you another wine. When I brought the replacement wine back to the guests, they tasted it and said it was perfect, and then they poured ice water into the wine glass, again. People like what they like, so who am I to stop them?
Do you have favorite oenophile customers?
Too many to count at Seed. My favorite evenings are when multiple oenophile guests come in on the same night. I get to go from table to table talking about my favorite subject. Sometimes I get to educate them and sometimes they educate me, but in the end we are always smiling.
Have you noticed a recent trend in diners' wine selections, whether it's a certain varietal, price point, or producer?
I think guests are willing to be a little more adventurous with their selections if the by-the-glass price doesn't break the $10 mark. At Seed we price our more obscure wines less than the usual varietals, so guests are much more likely to experiment. Right now two of our best-selling wines by-the-glass are a White Bordeaux and a Barbera.
Do you remember the most expensive bottle you've ever sold?
1962 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, $15,000. The sommelier actually sold it, but it's a great story I don't get to tell often. It was a single gentlemen eating alone, drank one glass and gave the rest to the staff to try. It was pretty incredible.
Where do you think wine trends are heading next?
I think, and hope, restaurants are getting smarter about pricing their wine selections. The old rule of taking the cost of the bottle that the restaurant pays and multiplying it by 3, and sometimes 4, is now old-school. As an industry we need to realize that our guests are smarter and more price conscious about the way they spend their money—and ordering wine at a restaurant is no exception. A lot of restaurants today are seeing success with marking their wine up 100 percent or less. This allows guests to enjoy wines that they normally choose simply because of the price, and maybe have an opportunity to try a second bottle of something interesting. It's all about elevating the guest's experience, and that's why they return.
How do you recommend that a beginner start learning wine?
Start drinking White Zinfandel, like I did— just kidding. Everyone starts there, and whoever says differently must be from France where the starter sweet-style wine is Sauternes, so lucky for them. I think people get so locked onto a certain varietal and producer that they have a hard time venturing away from that. I tell people the only time you should drink or buy the same wine twice is when you are taking it to a party, so you know what to expect from it. You aren't going to learn if you don't try something new. When you buy the wine, look it up online, see the tasting notes, and start identifying the scents and tastes the official producers' website tells you to notice.
How about collecting?
Collecting wine is a great hobby; however, it can be a slippery slope turning the experience into an obsession. My advice is to get with a wine professional at your local retail shop and have them walk you through the beginning steps of building a collection. Start small and be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day, and your wine cellar shouldn't be either.
Do you have a fave budget-friendly bottle?
One of my favorite white wines at the moment is Bevan Cellars Sauvignon Blanc. It's unfiltered and less than 300 cases produced at $20 a bottle. You can't beat it.
For folks at home, do you have an all-time favorite wine and cheese pairing? How about a suggested wine and cheese party set-up?
Manchego and Tempranillo is a Spanish match made in heaven. The general rule is to pair a wine from the same region where the cheese is made. In this case it's La Mancha, Spain. A set-up that I've received a great reaction from is setting up the party in three or four courses. Start course one with a lighter style cheese and wine working your way up to big and bold. Try to have a white and a red for each course. Your guests will be amazed at how well certain wines pair with certain cheeses and how some just don't work together. People love a great wine learning experience and seldom forget it.
What's your favorite beverage to drink when you're not sampling wines?
Diet Dr. Pepper, hands down. It's my one vice, can't get enough.
What's your number one wine-rule to live by?
Don't wait for a special occasion to open a great bottle of wine. Every day is a special occasion—you're breathing, so drink up.
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