A Wine Speak Interview with Randy Caparoso

Here is an interview we did with longtime sommelier/wine journalist Randy Caparoso for Wine Speak 2020.

Randy Caparoso is a multi-award winning wine journalist.  He was also named Santé’s first Wine & Spirits Professional of the Year and Restaurant Wine’s Wine Marketer of the Year.  Today, he is Wine Speak’s resident food-and-wine pairing expert.


Pairing wines & food is undoubtedly an art.  One of the big questions in the wine field is how do we nurture & provide insight for sommeliers & wine professionals on this art?  For Wine Speak 2019, we featured a Paso Robles paired luncheon with Caparoso, a local chef, Cheyne Jackson of The Range in Santa Margarita & superstar Master Sommelier Fred Dame color commentating.  This certainly featured some daring, “out of the box”, thought provoking pairings, which made participants think differently on what can be.  (for more information on that luncheon, please go to archives & browse through the Wine Speak 2019 posts).

To take the concept a step further we created this workshop, which will again be led by Randy Caparoso, Editor at Large of The SOMM Journal.  Earlier in his career Randy was one of the founding Managing Partners of Roy’s restaurants.   This group was an epicenter of some of the most progressive & imaginative wine and wine & food programs in the country, if not the world.  NO overstatement here.

We therefore asked Randy to help lead us through this much needed workshop & share his insights, knowledge & expertise at this art.  He truly has a gift & I really think he will inspire all those who attend, just as he has inspired me for all of these years.

Randy returns to Wine Speak 2020 with yet another extravaganza of wine-pairing insights, this time leading our “Wine & Food Workshop” featuring dishes by Chef Jeffery Scott paired with Paso Robles wines curated by Randy.

Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Randy to talk about the art of wine pairings and what you can expect to experience at his workshop:

What is it about the art of food and wine pairing that makes you so excited?

Basically, yes, a nicely done wine and food match turns me on. That’s because I have a hospitality and food service background, while also being a garden variety wine geek. In fact, I first got “into” wine (back in 1975) as a result of a restaurant manager telling me I had to learn every wine on a wine list in order to become a waiter, which I did — only, I didn’t stop, I went way beyond that wine list, and later transitioned to a sommelier position. Consequently, as much as I love every aspect of wine, my perspective is colored by the belief that the ultimate purpose of any wine is to enjoy at the table, with food. Therefore, unlike many (probably most) other wine professionals, I’m just not concerned with cellaring, collecting, reading about what wines are “best,” and certainly not about numerical ratings. All I’m concerned about is two things — 1) how well a wine expresses its sense of place or terroir, and 2) how good a wine is in the context of food and the social contexts in which it might be enjoyed.

What is your favorite or a tried-and-true pairing? Why is it special?

I guess if I had to choose one, I’d choose Picpoul de Pinet with oysters, although I do love a light, zesty Pinot Noir with oysters, too. The reason, of course, is that I love oysters, although it’s not something I eat at home or every day, so it’s something I always look forward to when I go out. But it’s a sensory thing. I love the lemony taste of whites made from Picpoul, and anything lemony is amazing with oysters. But when I’m enjoying my all-time favorite wine, Pinot Noir, with oysters, I’m enjoying the amazing taste of umami found in both oysters and a lighter, zestier, balanced style of Pinot (I don’t go for big, oaky Pinots).

In a world of “fast paced living,” how can pairings help accentuate a meal, a wine and an experience?

The concept of enjoying wine with food is simple, elemental and timeless. It simply enhances many foods, and enhances our lives. As a wine professional, of course, I am able to experience wine at an elevated level — I always have a huge variety of wines at my disposal, and so invariably, whatever I’m eating, I’m enjoying a pretty darned good “match.” Lucky me.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to learn more?

Like many things, the subject of wine can be different things to many different people. I think I certainly understand the average consumer because, like most of them, I actually don’t drink like a fish. I enjoy wine in extreme moderation. But I always say that if you want to learn more, do what you do with all things — start to pay attention to what you are enjoying, and how you enjoy it, and then make a concerted effort to try different things, the same way we learn about foods by enjoying the process of discovering new dishes. For burgeoning professionals, I recommend the same thing, but bolstered by reading the basics (starting with Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and Kermit Lynch). This is what I’ve always assigned to my staffs over the years. I also recommend learning the basic discipline of wine tasting and note taking, and, of course, taking wine courses and attending tastings (public tastings as well as your own private tastings) as much as possible.

You spoke at length about umami, can you explain what you mean?

Well, that short article on umami should summarize the basics. But if you want an even shorter explication, umami is a taste sensation, just like sweet, sour, tart, salty and bitter. Only, umami is the savory taste you get from components (basically glutamates) common to foods like a ripe tomato, parmesan, mushrooms, lots of seafoods, and even everyday stuff like ketchup and cheddar. When you understand or are conscious of umami, you have a better understanding of why we enjoy the taste of so many different foods, from a bag of corn chips to cheeseburgers, stews, oysters, ceviche or a nice, rich demiglace or sauce in a French restaurant. That’s why it also helps to understand how umami sensations are common to many wines (especially balanced red wines) and, even more importantly, how these wines taste great with foods or dishes with umami accents. The knowledge makes our life better simply because knowing about such things makes our culinary experiences, even in everyday situations, that much better.

In preparing for the upcoming Professional Development Day at Wine Speak, what do you think attendees will walk away learning?

I hope participants in the workshop will walk away with a better idea of how wines and foods go together by getting a better understanding the sensory reasons why things taste the way they do in combination with each other. Although wine and food matching may seem elusive to many people, even wine professionals, the concepts are really pretty simple once they’re pointed out. In other words, I hope people find an “aha” moment or two when they taste the wines and dishes we are putting together, which we’ll do to deliberately demonstrate different sensory interactions. Some of the interactions will be unsuspected or surprising (I hope), which is what an “aha” moment is all about.

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