What do you like to drink after a shift? “Water. Lots of it. I try not to drink on days I work. (I know, super lame.) But if the situation does arise, I usually have a gin Gibson, a Negroni or some amaro. After tasting 100 wines a day, I usually tend towards spirits.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “‘Crocodile Rock’ by Elton John. I used to rock it out on the violin as a kid. Now, whenever I see it on a jukebox I have to play it.”
Name the first good wine you ever drank and where you had it. “White zinfandel, when I was nine with my Grandmother. I used to sit next to her on the porch while she read romance novels and smoked cigarettes...That seemed pretty great to me, as a kid. I think ‘good’ is a relative term. Later, when I was getting into wine I realized that this beverage could carry a sense of place and history. Once you go down that rabbit hole, you can’t come back to the world of mass-produced wine. When I had my first ‘good’ wine as a ‘serious’ drinker, it was a 1966 Château la Mission Haut-Brion with Harry Poulakakos at his restaurant, Harry’s, downtown. I was the cellar rat there at the time and thought that this wine was just about as good as it will ever get.”
What book on wine, cocktails, spirits or food is your go-to resource? “Lulu’s Provencal Table: The Exuberant Food and Wine from the Domaine Tempier Vineyard by Richard Olney.”
Name the wine region that took you the longest to truly understand. “All of the German wine regions. That shit is hard to pronounce! Instead of a sentence, they just string a bunch of words together. Luckily, I now have a Swiss sommelier who speaks German and is educating me on pronunciation.”
What’s your favorite wine-and-food pairing? “Burgers and chilled cru Beaujolais. Although, the other night a guest at Cote ordered a Lafite Légende Bordeaux with their steaks, and these classic pairings really are a home run. A good bottle of Bordeaux with a dry-aged rib-eye is killer. The classics exist for a reason—they work.”
What’s the most common wine myth you have to debunk? “That rosé should only be enjoyed in the summer! It’s a wine, just like red and white. Banning it to the warmer months seems like such a crime.”
What’s your favorite bottle of wine under $20? “Domaine de Fontsainte Corbières “Gris de Gris” Rosé from the Languedoc in France. I think at that price point you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pink wine. It is outrageously delicious.”
What’s your favorite bottle of wine over $1,000? “Salon Champagne.”
What tool do you use to open a bottle? “A wines of Switzerland corkscrew. Those Swiss certainly know how to craft a well-made tool.”
Victoria James is beverage director of New York restaurant Cote and author of Drink Pink, A Celebration of Rosé.
Interview has been condensed and edited.