Ever wonder what it is like to be the mastermind behind the wine program of one of the country’s most prolific restaurant chains? Maeve Pesquera, National Director of Wine for Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, is responsible for just that. Running a wine program that has been the recipient of Wine Enthusiast’s Award of Distinction and Wine Spectator Magazine’s Award of Excellence, not to mention curating the Fleming’s 100®, the restaurant’s award-winning collection of 100 wines by the glass, during a rigorous 12-month tasting process, is no small feat.
The Daily Sip caught up with Maeve to find out how she got here, what she likes to drink while dining, and why Riesling might be a great pairing for steak after all.
The Daily Sip: Can you share a little bit about the steps you took along the way to get where you are today?
Maeve Pesquera: My love affair with wine began in France. Growing up, we spent our summers in Provence in a perfect, tiny, picturesque village. Grandpapa, who was 89 or 90 at the time, was the one who showed us that wine was not just a beverage, but something much more special.
Every night at dinner he would pour each of us a tiny glass of wine and encourage us to put our nose in the glass, inhale and enjoy. His gentle guidance taught me how to discover wine, and to understand that it is an experience, an emotion, a connection.
From there, I spent years in the fine dining arena in Texas, as the GM and buyer at one of the pre-eminent fine dining restaurants in Houston, deepening my connection with wine and understanding the Guests’ relationship with it.
When I connected with Fleming’s, I was enthralled with the possibilities created when you place a wine bar inside a prime steakhouse, and have the brilliance of 100 wines by the glass as your backdrop to bring wine to life for people in a new and engaging way. It was a perfect pairing.
TDS: With over 100 wines available by the glass, how do you decide what to pour?
MP: As I build the F100, I taste hundreds of wines, with the focus of curating a list that accomplishes our wine mission: Meeting our Guests wherever they are on their journey with wine.
First and foremost I am looking for wines that are made with integrity, with passion. Wines that are harmonious and balanced. Wines that can stand on their own, or pair well with our food. Our Guests know that when they select an F100 wine, that it is a sure thing; a safe haven in which to explore. They can be confident that I have curated a list that is quality.
I dig in with the winemakers, and work with them to discover what they are really pushing toward, what they are really passionate about. This may be an interesting blend, new varietal or even a hot new growing region or country that has not been highlighted yet.
TDS: What are some of your favorite go-to wines for dining?
MP: Wine for me is all about context and combination. Where I am, who I am with and what the occasion is dictates where I go with the selections.
One of my most favorite wines for all occasions is a Champagne or sparkling wine. These have always been known as wines of celebration; but traditional celebrations, like a birthday or anniversary, are too few and far between. The way I see it, any time that I am with friends or family is a reason to celebrate. This could be a Tuesday night, when the weather is particularly beautiful, or a weekend, when I am spending time with friends. Sabering at sunset has become a common tradition at our house, and never fails to set the tone for any evening.
TDS: As a steakhouse, Fleming’s must go through a lot of reds. But you are also a national partner for our 31 Days of German Riesling program with Wines of Germany. Does this mean we can enjoy white with our steak?
MP: Our guests, somewhat surprisingly for a steakhouse, drink a lot of white wine, with Riesling at the very top of that list. Much of that is enjoyed as an aperitif or as a pairing with some of our other menu items, like our seafood tower or our lobster tempura.
For the Riesling enthusiast, an off-dry selection would perform well alongside a steak that has a sauce with a sweet or spicy element to it.
There are also Guests who drink what they like, Rieslings among those wines, with what they most like to eat, including steaks, and that is the perfect pairing for them.
TDS: What other food and wine programs can Fleming’s diners look forward to in the coming months?
MP: One of the most fun and pleasurable parts of my job is to reach into the wine country, pull out some of the hidden gems, and bring them to life for our Guests at Fleming’s. I work with my winemaker and vintner friends and ask them to share something exclusive and different – wines that are in such small production and in such high demand, they never make it out of the tasting room.
This is how the Icon Wine series was born. The Icon wine is something our Guests can’t get anywhere else. More than just a glass of wine, an experience.
Currently, we have an amazing Napa Cabernet from our friend Jean Charles Boisset and winemaker Stephanie Putnam, which is a new release from his JCB series, called JCB Passion. A big, bold wine that is perfect with one of our prime steaks. I had it with our prime Bone-in Ribeye last week and just can’t stop thinking about it!
Coming in September, we have a back vintage, single vineyard 2005 Cabernet from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. With 10 years of age on it, this will be a rare opportunity for our Guests to taste through an important piece of Napa Valley history. Rounding out our year, we end with a Pinot Noir from Gary Farrell, made exclusively for us by winemaker Theresa Heredia.
Be sure to let us know what you think German Riesling pairs best with at Fleming’s and the 100+ other participating restaurants and wine shops across the country during 31 Days of German Riesling, now through July 31st.