F&B Magazine : Featured Sommelier ~ Zoe Hankins

F&B Magazine : Featured Sommelier ~ Zoe HankinsZoe Hankins is Sommelier at La Toque, Napa Valley’s acclaimed fine dining restaurant, helmed by Michelin starred Executive Chef Ken Frank.

How many selections do you oversee at La Toque?
We currently have 2,123 selections and we were awarded The Grand Award by Wine Spectator, which we have obtained since 2014. I work closely with our Wine Director to make sure we keep everything in order and organized.

What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?
It’s fun when a guest allows you to introduce them to a wine they have never heard of but also to work with a wine list that offers bottles within their price range. It’s important to find something that pairs well with their entire meal especially since we offer multi-course menus. Sometimes it’s as simple as discovering that they only drink red wine, and with a list as extensive as ours, I essentially have access to the world of wine including a magnitude of rare and collectable bottles which is very helpful when someone is celebrating a special occasion. 

What food & wine trends are you seeing in Napa at the moment?
It seems like the food & wine trends of the Valley are becoming more centralized in Downtown Napa. There are more than a handful of restaurants, wine bars, hotels etc. popping up in Downtown which is exciting and will bring more foot traffic of food and wine centric people. The actual trends I am seeing are diverse but I find there is a focus on “farm to table” and people want to know where their food is sourced.

Your most interesting or unusual pairing at the restaurant?
I really feel like I need to talk up the wine pairing with the Seared Sea Scallops with Black Eyed Peas in a Savory Country Ham Broth. You guessed it, we pair it with Chardonnay but seeing as La Toque is known for our exceptional wine pairings there is a bit more to why this pairing works so well. Brick & Mortar Chardonnay is made by Matthew Iaconis and sourced from Cougar Rock Vineyard on Atlas Peak, a vineyard that was originally farmed by the Antinori family of Tuscany. We originally tried to pair the scallops with a more oak-driven Chardonnay, but the flavors of toast, vanilla and baking spices were too apparent and distracted from the flavors of the dish, so we scaled down the oak but we wanted to give the dish the same sweetness or ripeness of fruit to contrast the salty and savory flavors of the ham. The Brick & Mortar Chardonnay was the perfect match to compliment the desired flavor profile.

Being in Napa, do most customers order local? How much of your wine list is from further afield?
A good portion of our customers opts for the wine pairing which features beverages from the entire world. We were recently pouring a wine from Lebanon, Chateau Musar, with a Veal and Black Truffle dish and are currently pairing Sake with Tuna Belly on our Chef’s Table Menu of nine courses. But with nearly 15 pages of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, it is hard to ignore that we carry many local wines, which consistently grab the attention of our guests.

Sommeliers always seem to be studying, tell us about your educational path and do you have a mentor?
That statement couldn’t be any more accurate than at the moment. I am taking my Advanced Exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers in July and I am studying constantly. Thankfully, I have many mentors that I am able to call close friends and sometimes I have to pinch myself for being so lucky. The Bay Area has a substantial amount of Sommeliers