Never have I ever picked up a wine list at a restaurant. I simply blurt out “pinot grigio” when asked what I’d like to drink. With Philly Wine Week underway this week, I felt inspired to learn more about the art of wine, especially when I discovered that a sommelier works under the same roof as me. Daniel Rivas, General Manager of Bank and Bourbon (located on the lobby level of Loews Philadelphia) was kind enough to sit down with me and share his fascinating background and experience in all things wine.
How did you become interested in wine?
When I was a teenager, I first began working in restaurants and pretty much worked every position under the sun. I noticed the one consistent theme of guests having an enjoyable meal was a bottle, or sometimes several bottles, of wine being on the table. It wasn’t until I first started managing 9 years ago that I went down the rabbit hole of wanting to learn about wine — becausethe restaurant I was working at had an extensive by-the-glass and bottle list. I started learning by watching some Wine Library videos by Gary Vaynerchuk, tasting as often as possible, and reading whichever books I could obtain.
What led you to becoming a sommelier?
After about a year of learning and tasting, I knew that if I wanted to further my education I would have to take some classes. I signed up for the Intro course through the Court of Master Sommeliers, took the 2-day seminar and passed the test. Almost immediately after that an opportunity arose where the Certified Sommelier Exam was being offered several months later in Philadelphia. So I signed up to take that. I was fortunate enough at that point to be blind tasting several days a week and meeting with others taking the exam to practice the service portion, which ultimately led to my passing the Certified Exam.
Do you have any role models in the wine industry?
I have an innumerable amount of role models, all of whom saw wine was a passion of mine early on in my career, and took the time to pass down things that I otherwise would only have been able to learn through trial and error or experience.
What is the most popular wine ordered at your restaurant, Bank & Bourbon?
I hate to say it but Chardonnay. Not that I have anything against Chardonnay! When it’s done right, it can lead to beautiful wines. It’s just that a majority of guests know what they want and more often than not order a wine without even looking at the list. Any list I’ve put together always has some interesting, affordable and well-made wines and the challenge myself and a lot of wine professionals face is getting guests to step out of their comfort zone and try something they may not have initially been drawn to have before.
What are your favorite wineries?
In December I spent some time in Sonoma and Napa and had the good fortune to visit quite a few. One standout was Carol Shelton Wines. They call Carol the “Zen of Zin” for a reason. She’s been making wine since before I was born and has an incredible memory of vintages. She couldn’t have been more hospitable with sharing this wealth of knowledge. Tasting barrel samples with her was an incredible experience.
Nick and Andy Peay of Peay Vineyards are making some of the best Chardonnays and Pinots. Tasting barrel samples with them was a great experience. Neal Vineyards up on Howell Mountain is fantastic as well. Mark Neal is incredibly knowledgeable and his wines are some of my favorites.
Lastly, a trip to Sonoma wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Iron Horse. Not only are their sparkling wines some of the best coming from California but there’s something to be said for drinking their wines while admiring the views of Mount Mt. Saint Helena in the distance.
What are your best wine tips?
Tasting is completely subjective so don’t drink a wine just because someone tells you that it’s good. Discover what you like and then when you’re comfortable wanting to try something different, seek out the advice of someone who you trust that sells wine.
Bring on the wine list!
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