MICHELIN Guide Ceremony 2 minutes 05 April 2022

Colin Hofer, 2022 Chicago Sommelier Award Winner

One Star Porto's sommelier Colin Hofer talks California burritos and Galician grape varietals

wine Sommelier Award Chicago Wine Access

As wine director of the Bonhomme Group, whose restaurants include Beatnik, Bib Gourmand Mama Delia and One Star Porto, Colin Hofer helps shape and drive the city’s appreciation for small wineries across the world. His wine list at Porto is an impressive love-letter to vineyards in Spain and Portugal, while his selection at GoodFunk spotlights all-star natural producers. Hofer is this year's Chicago Sommelier Award Winner, presented in partnership with Wine Access. As part of the 2022 MICHELIN Guide Chicago Star Revelation, he chatted with us about Galician wine and his abiding love for California burritos.

Porto's razer clams and white asparagus. Photo by Jordan Balderas, courtesy of Porto
Porto's razer clams and white asparagus. Photo by Jordan Balderas, courtesy of Porto

What are you drinking these days?
I’m drinking indigenous grape varietals from Galicia and the Rias Baixas while I’m staying in the area working on a new project for Bonhomme Hospitality. Albariño and Mencia are king and queen of the region, but the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal has many compelling wine expressions. The region is brimming with iconoclastic winemakers who are reviving varietals and mixing ancestral with modern techniques to create beautiful wines with a lot of character and sense of place. It’s really inspiring, and I can’t get enough.

Favorite non-alcoholic drink?
A well-made cappuccino or probably green juice. I just had a green juice palate cleanser at Solla recently that I would drink a gallon of. 

What’s the biggest misconception about being a sommelier, or wine in general, that you’d like to dispel?
A somm’s greatest skill isn’t blind tasting. Being able to communicate the little nuances and interesting facts of a wine in a concise and eloquent way is the true skill of a somm. Also, wine isn’t complicated. The wine industry makes consumers think they need to know technical and obtuse language to talk about wine, but that's just not true. Wine is a relatively simple beverage to make, and it should be a simple beverage to enjoy. I find being overly technical is counterproductive in enhancing guests’ experiences.

What pandemic-era adaptations to wine service, restaurants etc., do you want to see made permanent?
Not leaving the cork on the table after opening a bottle. The majority of the time it's completely superfluous, and when a guest smells the cork it causes more questions than answers. Cork is always going to smell like cork, and guests often conflate that experience with what’s in the actual glass, making the job of a wine steward more difficult.

What’s your criteria for adding a new wine to your list? 1. Is the wine cool? Cool is a subjective term, but what I mean is, are there interesting aspects for me to latch onto? This could be a unique region, a daring winemaker, crazy tasting note, or even a beautiful color. 2. Can I see my team sharing the story in real time? I want to enhance guests' dining experiences by sharing compelling stories, and that’s impossible if my team doesn’t think they are compelling. If I can’t envision my team talking about the wine in a passionate way that makes sense in one of the restaurants, it doesn’t belong on the list.

Ideal meal and pairing? This is a tough one, as I love trying new food and wine pairings. Something that I’ve been craving is a California burrito with amphora-aged skin-contact wine. Orange wines have a lot of weight and texture, and they drink well with any kind of food. While I'm working on a project in Galicia, I find myself longing for the local burrito I grew up with in Central California (obviously stuffed with French fries).

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay on the top of the MICHELIN Guide's best restaurants, plus chef interviews, recipes, travel stories, and more.


Presented in partnership with Wine Access

Keep Exploring - Stories we think you will enjoy reading