Wine interview: Eduardo Porto Carreiro

This week I’m delighted that top sommelier (sorry wine guy) Eduardo Porto Carreiro has agreed to take part in my booze interview. Originally from Brazil, Eduardo was sommelier at Grace and then Lukshon in Los Angeles and has recently moved to Bar Boulud in New York. 

What was the first wine you had that got you hooked?

I don’t think I can pinpoint exactly one wine that got me “hooked.”  I recall quite fondly growing up and always sneaking sips from my mother or father’s glass at the dinner table.   If I had to pick one specific event: it would have to be when I was in college and I went on my first winery visit.  I was in the Finger Lakes region of New York and had the opportunity to visit Hermann J. Weimer (one of the top Finger Lakes wineries) — there I tasted through a huge spectrum of Rieslings from dry to sweet.  I was amazed how complex and versatile just one grape variety could be… For the first time, it was both an intellectual as well as a hedonistic fascination.

I’ve been told you prefer the term wine guy to sommelier.  Why is this?

Fundamentally, “wine guy” and “sommelier” are really the same thing.  However, I feel that most people become more relaxed chatting about wine with someone when titles and oft-perceived-as-pretentious terms are thrown out of the window.  I don’t change who I am to play the role of the wine guy or the sommelier, but it does seem to change the guests’ view as well as their comfort level.

You started your career as a wine clerk at Greenblatt’s Deli in Los Angeles.  Which of their sandwiches is your favorite? 

Greenblatt’s Deli is a fascinating place.  I was lucky to have landed there. Not only has it been one of the top wine stores in Los Angeles for the past seven decades, it has also been the home to some of the best Deli Sandwiches in America.  Without reservations or hesitation: my favorite of the Greenblatt’s sandwiches is their Corned Beef & Pastrami Combo Reuben (corned beef and pastrami! ed.) It’s heavenly decadent.

Which reds would you suggest to those who think they only like white?

Wine drinkers who prefer to drink whites seem to do so, because they don’t particularly like the bitterness that tannins lend to a wine and have a preference for fresher and brighter profiles.  I would recommend young and vibrant low tannin reds that could be served with a bit of a chill.  A great young Beaujolais, or perhaps a Frappato from Sicily, or a Poulsard from the Jura would be good options.

Which wine makes you inwardly groan when customers ask for it and why?

I’m upset to admit that every time someone asks for a Pinot Grigio, involuntarily, my guard does go up a bit.  In the ten years that I’ve been in the wine business, Pinot Grigio has easily been the most requested white wine. It’s a grape that I don’t have much fondness for and that is so widely available, it saddens me that people don’t move beyond such an obvious option.  That being said, every time someone asks for a Pinot Grigio, it does give me the opportunity to turn them on to a different grape that may appeal to them even more.

What has been the least popular wine that you have listed? Do you regret listing it?

I’ve listed several “orange wine” style bottles on lists that I’ve curated that don’t tend to be terribly popular.  And I don’t regret listing them.  For the small niche of people who do appreciate these wines, and for the guests that we get to turn on to this unique style — we win regulars and repeat customers for life.  There’s nothing quite like dealing with adventurous wine-drinkers and it’s these less popular wines that make for great little victories along the way.

What’s the hardest dish you have had to match?

Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles.  Numbingly hot.  Dry wines are a terrible match; as are most off-dry wines.  It has to be a very specific kind of fruity Riesling or aromatic white Belgian ale.  Very tough to match!

Do you think that sommeliers have a great influence over what the average wine drinker buys?

I think sommeliers do have an opportunity to influence drinkers.  Most importantly, though, I think that sommeliers play a pivotal role in empowering average drinkers to trust in their own palates and push their boundaries with regards to what kind of wines to drink.

Have you ever told a customer that he’s wrong?

No.  I honestly believe that there is no right or wrong with regards to taste.  It’s entirely personal and individual.

How did you become a sommelier?

I fell into it.  I was a waiter at a restaurant with a great wine program and asked a lot questions.  My interest was rewarded when I was asked to help out with the wine program, eventually becoming the Assistant Wine Director.

What’s your big tip for this year?

Keep an eye out for wines from Corsica.  The regions of Patrimonio and Ajaccio have some fun little wines coming into the market.

What bottle are you most looking forward to drinking?

There’s a 2002 Ambonnay Grand Cru Champagne from Marie-Noelle Ledru in my fridge right now that I cannot wait to open.  It’ll be perfect for a lazy Sunday brunch at home.

Who is your favorite drinker in literature and why?

Henry Chinaski (Charles Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical main character in the novel Women).  This character drinks like there’s no tomorrow and reminds one that moderation isn’t so bad after all.

You own a wine label, Angelica Cellars, with your best friend, Ben.  How did you two decide to go into business together and how involved with the making of this wine are you?

Ben (Feldman of ‘Mad Men’ fame, ed.) and I have been great friends for a very long time.  We always used to drink together (even before it was legal to do so) and eventually came to a place of imagining what it might be like to get into the production side of things.  We did a lot of research and ended up deciding that we should make a wine that we both would love to drink because if all else failed, we could always drink up the inventory.  Long story short, we found a great little vineyard in Santa Barbara County that had the right clone of Syrah and the right climatic conditions, and we found a co-op winery that would help us with our project, and we haven’t looked back.  Ultimately, we make all the big decisions regarding wine-making, packaging, marketing, etc.  But, thankfully, we have a great team that looks over our barrels when we’re not around and effectively allows our vision to become a reality.

Do you have an aversion to ‘wine talk’? Are there any wine words or terms that annoy/ baffle you?

I don’t mind wine talk if the person I’m talking to comes from a real or grounded place and is using it because of a passion for a particular wine.  I have a real aversion to wine talk, if the person who is using it wants to somehow show off or elevate themselves above others.  That said, the word “filigree” to describe a wine has always confounded me (no idea either ed.)

What Californian wine would you recommend to someone who thinks that all US wines are jammy and brash?

Today there are quite a few up and coming producers such as Broc Cellars out of the central coast of California and Arnot-Roberts out of Northern California that could easily dispel notions that American wines are jammy and brash. But there are also older and more established wineries that could challenge those assumptions.  Try to find a bottle of Hanzell Pinot Noir from the 70’s — it would easily hold up to any Old World wines.

Finally if you had one wine to drink for the rest of your life what would it be?

If I were a man of means and had to answer that question truthfully, the one wine I’d drink for the rest of my life would be Champagne. There’s nothing quite like a great bottle of Champagne and there are few wines that are as versatile and can be drunk morning, noon, and night.

You can find out more aboutAngelica Cellars here.

About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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