Imagine your basic high school wrestler: staggering off the mat, huffing, huffing, sweating, and maybe with a handkerchief shoved into his schnoz to stop the bleeding.
Seems most atypical characteristics for someone who would one day pay the bills bragging about the full-bodied flavors of blueberry, chocolate, plums and black pepper in the fabulous Petite Sirah he had last night.
But hey, Emanuel Diaz is no ordinary guy. Diaz, who wrestled at Montville High and recently graduated from Central Florida, is an aspiring sommelier — or sommelier, a professional who specializes in wine pairings and other aspects of wine service.
“Sommelier is not the end goal,” Diaz said the other day from Alexandria, Va., where he runs Ada’s On The River, a 5-star restaurant on the Potomac. “It’s something I can leverage, especially in the market we’re in, which is very volatile. The turnover rate in restaurant management is fast.”
Diaz, the son of Desiree and Ruben, comes from a large and proud family here in our corner of the world. And they know their food. Hence this rather literal wine and dinner story.
“I’m very lucky to have the cultural and ethnic background that I have,” Diaz said. “Growing up was mostly about cooking. My mom, dad, aunts and uncles. I always saw different food and wine. We traveled to the Caribbean, Portugal, Italy and were exposed to many different people. It made me want to be a sponge.
“Both my parents can cook well. They are good at different things. My mom and Aunt Lisa (Potter) used to make johnnycakes (a Caribbean-inspired fried dough). My grandfather used to make chicken and dumplings. My dad made Arroz Con Pollo (much more than the translation “rice with chicken” suggests) and his Habichuelas (rice and beans) are all staples I make today.”
Diaz took wine classes at UCF with a professor who owned vineyards in South Africa. Suddenly, his passions marry better than the stars with the stripes: good food and good wine equal a budding sommelier.
“A sommelier handles wine sales and inventory, but the biggest role of service in the restaurant is to elevate a dining experience,” Diaz said. “Food and wine go together perfectly. There are perfect pairings in the world that will always make a steak taste better. Knowing how to do it is what a level 2 sommelier does. I’m currently level 1. My goal must be at level 2 next year.”
Interpreted freely, here’s what most of us really know about wine: The world has fewer problems with glass #2. White in summer, red in winter. Orson Welles advised not to sell wine before time. And while eight glasses of water a day sounds like a chore, eight glasses of wine is a sign of a good meal.
And yet, real wine people seem to speak another language. Many of us see a simple glass of Cabernet – and a bartender who doesn’t fill it high enough. But the sommelier sees in it a “garnet color with a nice acidity and subtle, adherent tannins” or “a nose of ripe black fruits and compote with a velvety mouthfeel and a long finish with flavors of new oak”.
Fortunately, we have our aspiring sommelier to explain.
“There are thousands of different grapes and varietals around the world,” Diaz said. “The best way to put it is that filet mignon doesn’t taste like ribeye, but they both come from the same cow.”
So the next time you raise your next glass, think of a happy thought for Emanuel Diaz, who took the tastes of his childhood and turned his adulthood into nirvana.
“Lebron (James) talks about red wine. Dwayne Wade has a wine business. I think wine is something anyone can love,” Diaz said. “There’s a wine for everyone. I grew up around entertaining in the kitchen. There were no cell phones at dinner. We talked about our days. It was a meaningful conversation with the food at the center. Taking the time to be a family. In today’s society it’s really hard. I want to bring that back.
That’s the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro