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People 3 minutes 29 September 2021

Meet the CA 2021 Sommelier Award Winners

Charlotte Randolph of Californios in San Francisco and Matthew Luczy of Mélisse in Santa Monica

Sommelier Award wine California

We've been teasing the MICHELIN Guide California 2021 release for a few weeks, giving you a sneak peak at new additions in LA, the Bay Area, the Central Coast, and San Diego and Orange County. In addition to this year's new Bib Gourmands, Starred restaurants, and the Young Chef (Jon Yao) and Mentor (Thomas Keller) awards, we're honored to present two Sommelier Awards, in partnership with Wine Access. Meet Charlotte Randolph of Two-Star Californios and Matthew Luczy of Two Star Mélisse

Californios dishes featuring aguachile. Photo by Casey Robinson, courtesy of Californios
Californios dishes featuring aguachile. Photo by Casey Robinson, courtesy of Californios
Charlotte Randolph

As Californios co-owner and beverage director, Randolph curates a list that accentuates the unique cuisine of her partner/chef/brother-in-law Val Cantu— a foundation of traditional Mexican specialties rendered with local, seasonal products. Champagne, local Chardonnay, and Mexican labels all reside on the impressive list. Here, Randolph chats oolong tea, sake and sushi, and natural wine.

What are you drinking these days?
I am currently on a Croatian white wine kick. I visited this summer and am obsessed. Talk to me next week and it'll be something different, but pour me a glass of Malvazija or Stina Pošip and I will be content! Hopefully I'm not being obnoxiously esoteric, but they truly make a great summer white wine alternative!

What’s your favorite non-alcoholic drink?
Winter Sprout Oolong tea from Song Tea in San Francisco. It tastes like cotton candy and lemongrass and gets me caffeinated for service.

What wine industry or drinking trends do you see coming up?
Natural wine everywhere. Some of it is good and some of it is bad.


Californios co-owner and beverage director Charlotte Randolph with chef-co-owner Val Cantu. Photo by Adahlia Cole
Californios co-owner and beverage director Charlotte Randolph with chef-co-owner Val Cantu. Photo by Adahlia Cole

What’s the biggest misconception about being a sommelier, or wine in general, that you’d like to dispel?
That every sommelier loves the movie Sideways. That sommeliers care how many points a wine has. That sulfites in red wines gives headaches. That the job is all fun and games—it's not. The wine trips can be grueling, the studying never ends, organization is a priority, and you need to be able to work long hours on your feet. The work is always worth it though!

What pandemic-era adaptations to wine service, restaurants etc., do you want to see made permanent?
Wine lists that are accessible as retail. It has been so nice to see restaurants sell their wine and make special clubs for their guests. Instead of doing the run around for a special bottle for your friend's birthday, why not go to your favorite sommelier and buy a bottle from them!

What’s your criteria for adding a new wine to your list?
The wine needs to hold up in a blind taste test- it cannot be sold to me on a story alone. It needs to be exceptional on the palate as well. It needs to be sustainably made and the vineyard/ winery should practice organic winemaking- meaning no pesticides or harmful chemicals should be used.

What’s your ideal meal and pairing?
Sushi and sake. Sake is one of the most complex beverages in the world. I want more of it.

Mélisse wine director, Matthew Luczy. Photo by Jeff Couch, courtesy of Mélisse
Mélisse wine director, Matthew Luczy. Photo by Jeff Couch, courtesy of Mélisse
Matthew Luczy

Luczy's first interest was in music, but when he started working in restaurants, loved the connection with the guests. His wine list is extensive, and he features pairings at Mélisse that are as unique as the cuisine, with a theme and story behind them. Here, Luczy chats oat milk cappuccinos, red wine and seafood, and his abiding love of French omelettes. 

Mélisse's beautifully plated dish. Photo by Jeff Couch, courtesy of Mélisse
Mélisse's beautifully plated dish. Photo by Jeff Couch, courtesy of Mélisse

What are you drinking these days?
My personal taste as well as the wine program at Mélisse is centered around France—the trifecta of Champagne, Burgundy, and the northern Rhone. It makes me happy, tugs at my heart strings. I’m born and raised in California and work a lot with California wines. I like the classic stuff from France and future classics from California. Chanin Wine Company's Sanford and Benedict pinot noir has a really lacy, sexy, silky, ethereal thing. Whitcraft Winery's  chardonnay is really chiseled, focused, and elegant.

What’s your favorite non-alcoholic drink?
An oat milk cappuccino. I go to Demitasse, a coffee shop near me in Santa Monica, and they use light or medium roast.

What is your favorite unexpected or surprising food and wine pairing?
The frequency with which red wine and seafood can be a beautiful thing. The main protein in any single dish is not what I look at to set a pairing. What’s around it? The way I do the pairings at Mélisse is, I serve little flights—usually two wines, a white and a red. It keeps your palate fresh to bounce back and forth between the two colors. It’s fun to show people what can be done with red wine and seafood. For example, we have a Spanish mackerel glazed in tomatillo, with radishes and shiso leaf, and I use red with it, something light, silky, pretty, like a Corsican red, but that has some grit to it, especially with the bold flavors of mackerel.

Mélisse's aged beef, green goddess, charcoal, caviar. Photo by Bex Barone, courtesy of Mélisse
Mélisse's aged beef, green goddess, charcoal, caviar. Photo by Bex Barone, courtesy of Mélisse

What’s the biggest misconception about being a sommelier, or wine in general, that you’d like to dispel?
There’s a misconception that there is a linear quality to price ratio as you go up the scale in the world of wine. Once you’re above a certain price point—$35, $50, $60 retail for a bottle—it doesn’t scale any longer. A lot of the time, what you end up paying for is marketing and hype. Just because it’s expensive doesn’t make it better. There are so many factors driving that price that it can cloud the perception of a wine.

What’s your criteria for adding a new wine to your list?
Authenticity, age worthiness, and relative value, at whatever price point the wine is. What makes the wine cellar at Mélisse is the age of our bottles. When I buy a wine, I’m not thinking about serving it this week, but in months or years. There are wines I bought in 2015 that I’m just now putting on the wine list. It brings more dimension and greater value to guests, especially where prices have gone insane in particular regions. I don’t buy from auctions, ever. I never take anything where I don’t know exactly where it came from. I want the wine to be an honest representation of whatever it is.

What’s your ideal meal? And wine to pair with it?
An old school French omelette and a pinot noir-based Champagne. Something simple and delicious. The texture of the omelette done right is insane.

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Presented in partnership with Wine Access

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