Dana Farner, wine director at Cut restaurant in Beverly Hills (Carrie Mitchell )
Dana Farner has been beverage director of Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse Cut Beverly Hills for the past seven years. She came from the Blue Water Grill in New York, but by now, she's a real Californian. Our own Jonathan Gold has called her "the indie-rock goddess sommelier." You can't aspire much higher than that.
I've always found her a warm, knowledgeable presence on the floor, not given to wine cant and without a whiff of pomposity. Her list of 400 wine selections isn't static. She's always moving wines on and off the list as her interests change and as she comes across something great. What she likes best about her job? Training the staff.
What's your favorite wine region to visit? "I have loved all of my wine travels but I think the trip I remember best was my first real wine trip--to Friuli (northeastern Italy). That's where I first saw winemakers priming the wine glasses. They were so passionate about coating every bit of the interior surface of the glass with the wine. That resonated with me and I brought that back here.
"It was great to be standing in the vineyards of Friuli and looking out over Slovenia and realizing how close those two regions are. But they kept promising they'd drive me across the border to the casino to drink absinthe," she mock-complains, laughing. "And it never happened."
What's the sleeper on your list? "First of all, my entire white wine selection as a whole is. But I think people come to Cut craving a steak and a big burly glass of red wine and it doesn't occur to anybody to drink white. I have some beautiful gems in Austrian Rieslings, for example. A 1996 Salomon Pfaffenberg Riesling from Kamptal at $176 on the list. And for under $100, the 2000 F.X. Pichler Riesling "von den Terrassen."
If you could encourage every customer to buy just one bottle, what would it be? "There's so much on the list I'd love to show people. I love to talk with guests to find out what's their dream, what they're looking for, and then bring them something that blows them away. Probably my top battle is in support of Syrah. I love Nebbiolo with steak, great Bordeaux with steak, but I just think Syrah is really wonderful with steak. And Syrah has such real beauty to it. I love Northern Rhones--Côte-Rôtie, St. Joseph, Cornas. But I also want to give the great American producers of Syrah their due, so I might bring out a Syrah from Gramercy Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington State. It's beautifully balanced with blue fruit, violets, smoke and meat. And it's so good with steak because it's a little bit more mouthwatering than Cab Sauvignon. "
What’s the last wine that really blew you away? "It was a Champagne, a Jacques Selosses Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru "Substance." I think that a lot of times people think of Champagne as a different category than wine. That sip just reminded me how Champagne is an elevated form of wine. It tasted like really great white Burgundy with bubbles in it."
Who else has a great list? Gosh. Lots of places. I love to go to Terroni because I can taste all of the Italian wines from regions I've been studying. Mozza, of course. (I'm looking at all Italian.) Hatfield's, too, I think is great.
What I'm drinking now: Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards
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