A small northern Nevada town of Yerington is an unlikely place for a high-powered sommelier to hail from, but Kirk Peterson, beverage director and certified sommelier of Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Las Vegas, says he owes much of his inspiration to his Norman Rockwell-ian upbringing and his food-obsessed family.
“Growing up in a small town, there weren’t a lot of restaurants, but my parents were excellent cooks,” says Peterson. “And, whenever we’d sit down for dinner, we always had the appropriate beverage to go with it.”
Peterson is now considered by his peers to be one of the most respected Italian wine specialists on the west coast – a big plus for Las Vegas visitors who dine at any of the four restaurants he oversees: Carnevino, B&B Ristorante, Otto Enoteca Pizzeria and B&B Burger & Beer.
Q: You started out wanting to be a microbiologist, then somewhere along the way, you said the wine industry found you. Explain.
A: Well, there were quite a few stops along the way. I entered college with the intention of being a viral pathologist, but I think it’s pretty easy to commit yourself to that much college while still in high school. Once I was actually in college and saw what it was like, I scrapped that plan pretty quickly and ended up with a degree in film. It was while I was working in the entertainment industry that I really became interested in fine wine. All my initial experience was gained on the other side of the table. And, what started out as an interest turned into hobby, which in turn evolved into an obsession, and eventually became a career. And, here I am.
Q: How did growing up in a small town ‘train’ you to become a great sommelier?
A: I think if anything it just made me pay attention in a certain way. For as long as I can remember, I have always been smelling things. I was surrounded by farming and to really be a good sommelier you have understand food just as much as you do wine. I was lucky enough to live somewhere that ‘farm-to-table’ food was just regular food when I was growing up. My childhood was a symphony of scents: the smell of the rains coming and going, crops ripening and being harvested – even the smell of livestock. I found all these smells fascinating growing up. So, it was easy to get lost in the glass once I became interested in wine.
Q: What grape varieties would you like to see the public embrace more?
A: I think that there’s a lot of varietals that I’d like people to embrace less. There’s a whole world out there beyond Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. I’d like to see the general public be more adventurous. People aren’t drinking nearly enough Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Nebbiolo, or Tempranillo. And while I can certainly appreciate that wine can be expensive and confusing and this contributes to risk-adverse wine purchasing behavior, what keeps you safe also keeps you isolated. There are bottles of Sangiovese that retail for $12 coming out of Tuscany at a level of quality that is truly unbelievable. While we’d all like to drink profound Burgundy all the time, most of us can’t. Thankfully, there’s Barbera d’Alba and Gigondas and a myriad of other fantastic wines out there just waiting to be drunk.
Q: If you had a choice to take five beverages to a remote island for an indefinite stay, what would those be?
A: Is there a naturally effervescent spring? Coffee is a necessity of life, but so too is Champagne and White Burgundy. I’d need beer -a crisp lager of some sort, and some tangerine juice, but I’d settle for orange juice. Unless of course there’s no water there, in which case I’d have to drop the juice and go for sparkling water. I have a thing for carbonation, apparently.
Q: What is the biggest challenge of being a sommelier?
A: Probably effectively communicating. Trying to concisely summarize a subject that is simultaneously complicated yet fundamentally simple to a guest in a way that is both elegant and informative but most importantly accurate. It seems like a simple problem that should have a simple solution – someone wants a wine they will enjoy to go with their meal. But there’s a million different ways to solve that problem and you rarely have an abundance of time to get to know your audience so there’s always this rush to understand the guest’s taste as much as you can in order to offer recommendations that are really going to hit home with them. It’s fantastic when it happens, but it doesn’t happen all the time.
Q: Had you not been in the wine business, where do you think you’d be today?
A: If I’d stayed on my former path, I’d probably be a tremendously miserable reality television show producer or something. Or maybe an arborist. I love trees, and it seems like a good way to get to always have your dog with you at work.
Q: What do you like to do outside of work?
Eat and drink! And, be merry of course. I love to travel and I’m clearly food and beverage obsessed. And I listen to and play music as much as possible. I agree wholeheartedly with the quote that if it weren’t for music, life would be a mistake. And, of course share all these things with all with my favorite people.
About Kirk Peterson
After joining the opening team of Carnevino Italian Steakhouse in 2008 as a sommelier, Peterson now serves as beverage director for all four Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group restaurants in Las Vegas: B&B Ristorante, Carnevino, Otto Pizzeria e Enoteca, and B&B Burger & Beer. Peterson delivers a unique blend of experience, expertise, and enthusiasm to the world of wine and cuisine. By combining his colorful character and amusing wit, he has the natural ability to impart his passion for food and wine to his guests.
You can find Kirk Peterson on
Facebook: Kirk Peterson