Above: Sommelier John Freitas
Do you tend to order the same kind of wine and familiar labels every time you eat out? John Freitas, the sommelier at l’escale, might just change that. Wine Spectator recognized l’escale with its award of excellence, and John is passionate about introducing people to new vintages, lesser-known regions and also helping them find great values. “The fun part is educating people. It’s such a pleasure when people ask me to pair the wine with their food,” says John, who grew up in an Italian family in Brazil and originally came to the United States for school and to play soccer, but quickly developed a love of wine while working in restaurants. He learned the business over the years working for the Marc Restaurant Group in New York and Greenwich and also by traveling around France, Italy, Germany, Oregon, California and many other wine-producing regions to meet with wine makers. He has completed multiple levels of courses in his quest for the designation of Master Sommelier (there are only a couple of hundred in the world).
Since joining l’escale in 2014, John’s been bringing diversity to the wine list, noting “I don’t see l’escale just being French at all, especially the wine program. I try to match the kitchen, the chef and, most important, what the customers like,” he says. Chef Frederic notes that John has an amazing knack for knowing the guests, studying their palates and remembering what they like while also inviting them to sample something new. “We change the wine list and print a new list almost every day, especially in the summer,” says John, who does multiple tastings each week in search of great new wines. “It’s fun to work in a place where you can do that.”
Wine preferences are very personal, of course, and the options are vast, but we asked John to share suggestions for lesser-known bottles and terrific values. Here are a few of his recommendations for broadening your wine horizons:
If you love Italian reds like Barolos, Brunellos and Barbarescos, try Aglianico, a wine from the Campania region of southern Italy. “It’s a monster, a full-bodied wine from a grape called Aglianico. It grows around Mount Vesuvius. It’s gorgeous and the price is so low compared to the big Bs.”
If you love wines from Burgundy, look to the smaller villages. John likes Santenay in the south for reds and Saint Alvin for whites. “Saint Alvin, which is in the middle of the two Montrachets, is like the poor cousin that nobody talks about. We sell it for about $80 and The Puligny Montrachet is like $200. To be honest with you, I think the Saint Alvin is better. It’s also comparable to Chassagne Montrachet.”
If you love full-bodied Napa cabernets, look for wines from places like Alexander Valley in Sonoma, and Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara, and also Washington State, which is the second-largest producer of wines in the United States and very much up-and-coming. “The quality in Washington State is amazing with the cabernets and merlots especially, which we call Bordeaux varietals. We now have four Washington wines on our list.”