Interview: sommelier Alex Weil (Bouchon Beverly Hills)

  • Home
  • Wine
  • Interview: sommelier Alex Weil (Bouchon Beverly Hills)
Sommelier Los Angeles

The firestorm surrounding Bouchon Beverly Hills reached inferno status by November 16, but hours before the bistro’s opening party, sommelier Alex Weil took the time to discuss his background and approach to the wine program, which features bottles, carafes and glasses that express locality. Weil was born in D.C., grew up in L.A. and worked at Wally’s Wine & Spirits and both Mozzas before landing the prized post at Thomas Keller’s first L.A. outpost.

How often do you plan on changing the list, and what will it depend upon?

We anticipate changing the list when and where it makes sense. The by the glass program and the by the carafe program is designed to be constant. You can come in and get that glass of wine that you always like, so that’s not going to change. We have the opportunity and ability to change things internally in that we can offer specials and flights. We’ll have a sommelier’s selection, which will be updated each day. That gives us an ability to play around and change things…The food only changes four times a year. So too will the wine list.

How will the Bar Bouchon wine program differ from the bistro?

Bar Bouchon will be approximately 35 wines, and each of those wines will be offered by the glass or carafe – a 500-millileter carafe – and by the bottle. Here we offer any wine by the glass in those some formats, but we have an extensive list beyond the by the glass selection. Downstairs in Bar Bouchon it’s going to be entirely that…It’s very similar to what you’ll see at Mozza, in that they have 50 wines, $50 or less. We’re not going to have a saying like that, but certainly it’s going to be much more wine bar-friendly wines, mirroring what’s going on downstairs. Even more accessible and more casual, but still holding on to what is traditional, high quality, what is boutique. Also downstairs, we’re going to offer draught beers, as well as bottles and ciders. Then there’s the sommelier’s selection, which could be anything. It could be wines we’re featuring, it could be flights, verticals, it could be a winemaker’s in town and we did a dinner last week.

How much leeway are you given in forming the wine list?

Quite a bit. I can only say what leeway I’ve been given so far and what’s been discussed. Certainly within a restaurant group with the success of a Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, there are a lot of wines that we need to carry. There are a lot of investors who have wineries. There are a lot of relationships. I would just say that if you look at a list of the wines that we “have to pour,” it’s pretty amazing, and about as good of a list of “corporate wines” as possible. To have to pour von Strasser, to have to pour Araujo, to have to pour Krug and Dom Perignon, those are all wines that we would want to pour anyway…Putting on any old wine isn’t going to fly, but again, not because of a desire to control, there’s a theme, much like a restaurant could have a certain price point as a theme, or certain countries, our theme and our guidelines are pretty clear. To put a Carmanère from Chile, I don’t have the authority to do that, because it makes no sense for us to do that…It’s been a great collaboration with Jimmy Hayes and my own sommeliers.

Would you say that you have any wine mentors?

Definitely. Christian Navarro at Wally’s is a wine mentor. Working with him so closely, for so long, good, bad and different, the way in which he conducts his business. He knows what he’s doing, he’s on his game, and for me, the idea of being a Master Sommelier candidate isn’t necessarily what I’m about. The idea of existing in Pinot Noir culture, the culture of food, the culture of our restaurant group, of our city, that’s somebody who’s taught me a great deal about how to be a wine person, and has definitely given me a lot of life in the business, both he and Steve Wallace. Definitely Jimmy Hayes here in the company has been fantastic, working with somebody who’s 30 years old, who has as much responsibility as he does, and to be able to handle his business with such a clear focus. I don’t know if I’d call him a mentor given that our relationship has only been three months, but the amount that I’ve learned and the centering, calming influence that he’s had with this program when he’s program when he’s come to town.

Do you have a first wine memory?

I would have two, probably. They kind of happened simultaneously. At college, I was fortunate enough to be a pledge brother with the son of the owners of Alexander Valley Vineyards, and I never drank at all. I never drank in high school. It’s illegal. You’re not supposed to drink, but I really didn’t like the taste of it. Either you’re drinking Boone’s Farm or Zima for the taste, or you were holding your nose – or I was – and drinking whatever you stole from your parents’ liquor cabinet. Ezra Brooks sipping whiskey? Okay. I needed to find something more than just the alcohol, just the liquor. I was able to go on spring break up to the winery, up to Sonoma, and that whole experience of being up there, but also being at a meal where just about everything I put in my mouth was grown by, raised by, made by, hunted by, shot by the family and their winemaker…The winemaker came over with three bottles of wine made with grapes grown in his back yard. The duck, the father shot. I was coming from a city. That was very powerful. That was a wine moment, I guess.

A singular wine would have been ’79 Mouton Rothschild. For a friend’s 21st birthday, I was fortunate enough to be at a dinner. Their father, who bought multiple cases of that wine, brought some to dinner. It was the first time the light bulb went off. It was the first time that I said, this tastes different, this feels different. This isn’t what I know to be alcohol. It’s not. It’s wine. Certainly the whole experience, but also the flavor and the taste, it was a light bulb.

Any interest in producing your own wine?

Not particularly. I’m a critiquer, not a creator. I was an art major and can’t draw stick figures well. I do this, but don’t make wine. Music is among the most important things in my life. I never played an instrument in my life. I want to know it on a level that the winemakers know it, which is impossible if you don’t make wine. I like the idea of walking into a vineyard and knowing each wine personally. That obviously can’t happen unless they’re your vines, or you’re trespassing a whole lot…I’m not going to be good at it. Why bother? I don’t snowboard because I go skiing so rarely. Why do I want to be bad at something when I have so little time to do it? If I’m going to take the time to make to go to Mammoth every four years, why be horrible at something just for the sake of trying something new when I spend the time skiing? I’d rather spend time doing what I love. In the free time that I have, I don’t want to screw up something that I love.

Is there a dream bottle that you’d love to open that you’ve never tasted?

I’d love to try Screaming Eagle, but to say that’s my dream, I would need better dreams and better goals in my life. I’d like to get married and potentially have a kid. That’s a goal and a dream. Screaming Eagle is not…I would love to try many more wines from the 19th Century before they’re too dead. And I’d love to get that bottle of ’79 Krug Collection back, that I drank far too young. Since I was born in ’79, I just want to keep having that for every anniversary.

If you could only drink one more glass of wine, what would it be?

It depends on where I am…Champagne, just a really bottle of aged champagne, or something from 1928. I don’t know. ’28 Bordeaux, ’59 Burgundy. Probably a bottle of ’28 Palmer, but I guess if you have to go out, you gotta go out on bubbles.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

cool profile. I agree that if you’re going to go out, might as well do it on bubbles.

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by foodgps, Steve Remillong. Steve Remillong said: Food GPS » Q&A with Bouchon Beverly Hills sommelier Alex Weil […]


GRETA Presents Sachin + Babi Resort 2010 : … | Business Beauty Wisdom

[…] Food GPS » Q&A with Bouchon Beverly Hills sommelier Alex Weil […]

[…] Food GPS » Q&A with Bouchon Beverly Hills sommelier Alex Weil […]

Leave a Comment