BACk TO TEAM PAGE Jason Wagner New York Metro Manager

Short bio

I’ve been a Sommelier since 2006 and was Wine Director at some of America’s most creative, boundary-pushing and iconic restaurants. I headed the program at seminal New York restaurant Union Square Cafe, leading an award-winning wine list of 1700 references and 7 sommeliers. I cut my teeth working as Wine Director for Michelin-starred Chef Joël Robuchon at the Four Seasons Hotel New York. I’ve been featured in the New York Times for work at Fung Tu, an innovative Chinese-American restaurant, and in Food & Wine Magazine, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits Magazine for the imaginative approach to a Champagne Bar at RM Champagne Salon in Chicago. I was also Beverage Director for hospitality start-up, Resident, where I paired wines, managed inventories, and lead Sommelier teams for tasting menu events across 9 different venues across New York City. I’ve been mainstay and Captain at events La Paulee, Fete du Champagne, Reboule du Rhone, and many others.

I  also enjoy coaching youth soccer (ahem, football) for my son, and hanging with my wife and dog, Buckley, in New Jersey.

Where have you lived?

I grew up in the south. Born in Houston, TX but spent my formative years in the suburbs of Atlanta. A little time in Charleston SC in there too. I moved to NYC in my very early 20’s and lived in peak-Williamsburg Brooklyn for a decade. Wouldn’t trade that time for the world. Had a brief 2-year stint in Chicago before coming back home to NYC for another 10.

First Car

I don’t remember the model, but it was a hand-me-down from a deceased uncle. A grey Ford sedan that drove like a boat and had couch seats and a tape deck. I had to rebuild the engine with my dad, and I never want to open the hood of a car again.

How did you start in the wine business?

I got my start in Hospitality at a fancy-ish restaurant in downtown Atlanta, working Service Bar at lunch. When it wasn’t busy I’d do the crossword or read the box scores. The owner didn’t like the idea of me doing that and insisted that I find something work related to do in my downtime. I picked up Karen McNeil’s Wine Bible, and fell in love. I was fascinated with the idea that wine was not just a commodity, but it was history, geology, chemistry, geography, poetry, and a capture of a snapshot in time that could never be repeated.

Best concerts of your life

The Unicorns in 2003(?) in Brooklyn and I was so blown away that I knew I could never make it as a professional musician. It was inspiring and devastating all at once. I saw them again, this time as Islands for the 10th anniversary tour of “Return to the Sea” album and it was just as incredible.

Lucky enough to see Weezer when they were an opening act for LOW and Silverchair. They were so good I left after they played. This was the “Sweater Song” Era, and you could just tell they were going on to amazing things.

Elliot Smith, Belle & Sebastien, Beirut, DJ Shadow, The Flaming Lips. I’ve also seen a ton of great jazz/avant garde acts that are too many to name here.

After tasting wine all day I want to drink a…

Usually a beer, and nothing fancy. A lager or Kolsch. Sometimes a boozy cocktail is better. Any kind of Manhattan variation. I particularly like a Black Manhattan or a Remember the Maine.

After staring at a computer all day I want to drink a…

Glass of wine that is both easy and thoughtful. Those are some of my favorite wines – easy going down and simple to enjoy – but if you’re feeling intellectual and have the mind to listen, they have something to say.

What puts the biggest smiles on your face?

Nothing makes me smile more than my kid. He’s everything. Also, my dog, Buckley, because he is so ridiculous, that if you don’t smile at him, you’re probably not human.

Fantastic wine experience

Perhaps there are too many to count, but on the eve of my 40th birthday my wife and I were casually hanging out after putting our son to bed. At the stroke of midnight, she started playing Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” out of nowhere and we both just started cracking up. Totally unexpected. I’d been saving a bottle that a guest gifted me for many years, wondering when would be the best time to open. I think we often hold bottles like that in such reverence that the never get opened, so I reached for the bottle of 1989 DRC Richebourg. It was everything I could’ve hoped for. And it was also the right place, the right time, and with the right company. Perfection.

Last bottle of wine of wine you ever want to drink

Honestly, d’Yquem.  A sweet, and complex ending.

While on the wine route I love to…

Take advantage of the travel time and read.

Favorite vacation spot

Anywhere quiet and without a ton of bugs. I love natural beauty and I also love exploring metropolises (Mexico City!!!), but I’ve come to appreciate the more tranquil vacations as of late.

Favorite cheese

I’ve become lactose intolerant, so this has been really hard for me. Aged cheeses, I can still do and I love them, but my favorite was always Cabrales – an intense blue cheese from Spain. Its intensity made it perfect for playing around with pairings of all kinds.

Great food & wine pairing

At Fung Tu, I paired Rodenbach Grand Cru (a Belgian Sour Ale) with Fried Smoked Dates Stuffed with Duck. This may be the most perfect pairing I’ve ever experienced. Amontillado Sherry with Soy-Maple Glazed Fried Pork Chops (Pete Wells from the New York Times liked this one). A still, dry Pedro Ximenez with skin contact with Yellow Noodles in Fermented Black Bean Clam Sauce with Chinese Sausage that was out of this world.

At the end of the day, though, I’ll take a glass of Brachetto and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

If you won the lottery…

I’d take it easy. I’d help others, I’d do my best to give my son all the opportunities I didn’t have. Probably buy a boat too.