Wolfgang Puck owns Spago. He also owns other restaurants, too. Dana Farner is the Beverage Director of CUT Beverly Hills and sidebar, both in the Wolfgang Puck umbrella. There’s a legacy to uphold, and in short she’s got her work cut out for her, no pun intended…Dana delivers. I’ve had the great pleasure of getting to know Dana over the last few months, her and her partner registered at Silverlake Wine prior to their wedding so we saw a lot of Dana in the months before the big day. Not to mention she lives near our store and buys wine for weekly staff tasting. Our conversations have always intrigued me and because of that I had the idea to do a Wine Director profile series, the first of which starts with Dana!
Matthew Kaner : What is your memory of your first glass of wine?
Dana Farner: I remember drinking white Grenache from a box at some upperclassman’s apartment when I was a freshman in college. My younger sister couldn’t believe I had done such a thing. I told her, “It was just wine.” She said, “It doesn’t matter, Dana. You DRANK.”
MK: How did you first get excited about wine? Was there an event, or an influential person in your life who opened up your access to wine?
DF: I was always interested in the flavors and the aromas of food and beverage but my career in wine really began when I blind tasted for the first time in a class taught by Greg Harrington, MS.
MK: What is the first vineyard you visited?
DF: I think it was Martin Weyrich in Paso Robles about 10 years ago. My car had broken down on the way there and I remember them being really nice and helpful.
MK: Working at a steakhouse, what do you feel is the most versatile wine region for non-meat eating guests?
DF: Riesling is a good match for almost anything, but vegetarians should not feel limited in their options. I think food and wine pairing has much more to do with the flavors in the preparation of a dish (seasonings, sauces) than with the flavors of the base ingredient.
MK: How do you approach a conversation about wine “without sulfites”? or as I call it, “the Trader Joe’s effect on the wine industry” (think about their displays right when you walk in the store advertising a wine that is SULFITE FREE grrrrrr)
DF: Sulfites are a natural bi-product of winemaking, so there is actually no such thing as sulfite free wine. I do sometimes mention that to a guest concerned about sulfite content. But I usually just try to determine what kind of wine they like to drink that doesn’t give them the symptoms they associate with sulfites. I can then make a recommendation in a similar style or from the same region and make sure they’re happy.
MK: Is there an age at which you feel (for your personal taste) that a wine no longer giving or maybe has seen too much time in bottle? For this question it is probably best to reference Brunello di Montalcino, 1er Cru and Grand Cru Red+White Burgundy, Barolo/Barbaresco, wines that are traditionally meant to age.
DF: Top quality wines from great vintages from the above areas can age beautifully for decades if stored properly. I haven’t tasted white Burgundy more than 15 years old, so I couldn’t recommend taking those much further. My three recommendations would be to a) Check with authorities – it’s easy to do online – to see if your wine is known to age well. Some of the off vintages in Bordeaux taste best young and many new world wines were made to satisfy in the short-term rather than to keep getting better. b) Adjust your expectations – as wines age the forward fruit flavors become more and more subdued and the secondary, usually more earthy flavors rise. If you love a juicy, jammy, tannic mouthful of red you might not immediately fall for even the best older vintage wine. c) Don’t destroy the case just because one of the bottles isn’t right. Collectors say, “There are no great wines, only great bottles.” The other eleven might transport you.
Check out Dana’s exquisite work at CUT and sidebar at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel every day except Sunday.