As an element of my exploration of wine and restaurant service, I remain on the lookout for conversations with wine celebrities, both in and outside of the industry. To follow up on my review of Fearing's, here is my conversation with Wine Director and Advanced Sommelier Paul Botamer.
Paul Botamer is full of wit and wine wisdom to embellish your experience at Fearing’s Restaurant, Dallas. When I found him in the Rattlesnake Bar, I asked, “Are you Paul?” With a look of concern, he replied, “It depends how much money I owe you,” before cracking a grin. Following introductions, he offered comments on his philosophy of wine service.
Regarding how he got his start in wine service: Paul was a history major when he had opportunity work at a fine dining restaurant. At age twenty-two, while keeping himself fit to play college basketball, he had not even had a drink. The restaurant employed several sommeliers, and he was quickly exposed to wine's historical and social relevance. He realized wine service was what he wanted pursue. “I saw that I can never get bored, and the more you know about wine, you realize how much you don’t know.”
On emotional connections made with wine: “Wine is a social experience. If you have a bottle of wine in a picnic basket with the right young lady, it doesn’t matter if it’s a four-dollar bottle of Riesling. You will remember that wine.” Paul spoke of the social significance of wine, and how the sight of a wine label that is connected to a special experience, or simply hearing the wine's name, remains impactful throughout one's life.
On working with celebrity chef Dean Fearing: "Dean gets everyone on the staff involved." He spoke about how easy it becomes to get excited about the resulting menu. “Imagine what it’s like for a young staff member, just out of culinary school, and Dean Fearing asks, “”What do you think?””
Criteria for appearing on the wine list at Fearing's: “Everything on the list should be something I am excited for you try. There are so many great wines out there, if I’m not excited about it, you shouldn’t be trying it. There’s just not any sense in that.”
On coaching the staff on wine and food parings: Paul encourages passionate recommendations. “There are over four-hundred wines here, and for anything someone orders probably forty wines will pair with it. I tell (the staff) to find the wines you are most excited about, your passion will show, and (the diners) will see how excited you are, then they get excited.”
Paul later escorted my teenage daughter to me, and commented about wine with his daughter. “When we make dinner at home, I give my daughter, who is sixteen, just a little sip, so she knows there’s nothing mysterious going on.” I heartily agree with positioning wine as educational and appreciable rather than reserved for mindless guzzling and secrecy.
Summing up what to expect at Fearing's, Paul stated, “Dean provides people with a dining experience. Our customers can afford whatever they want, and what they really want is that experience.”