Jennifer Wagoner is the Wine Director for two upscale restaurants in Chicago – Proxi and Sepia. Additionally, she serves as the Chicago ambassador for Conegliano Valdobiaddene Prosecco Superiore DOCG. We spoke with her about why she loves Prosecco Superiore, her experience working in wine all across the United States, and how she approaches making wine less intimidating.
When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in the wine industry? And how did you get your start?
After college I was working as a server in NYC and I found myself surrounded by incredible hospitality professionals. I attended as many wine classes as I could and picked up a part-time job at an Italian wine shop. It opened up another world for me that was both creative and artistic as well as intellectual and social. It was while living in NYC when I realized that my focus was moving more seriously into hospitality and more specifically, wine.
You’ve worked in wine all over the country – from New York to Miami to Chicago. How are these cities different when it comes to working as a Somm? Do you prefer one city to another?
These cities all represent something different for me because they relate to specific moments in my life. NYC inspired (and still inspires) me. It is responsible for igniting the passion and pushing me to reach higher. Miami is where I spent over a decade and was able to appreciate the opportunities that allowed me to grow as a professional. I developed into a leader in Miami and I value the relationships I made through wine while living there. Chicago is a familiar and familial place for me. I feel at home here.
What is the most unique, rare, or expensive wine you’ve ever had the privilege of trying?
Oremus Tokaji Eszencia while road-tripping through Hungary during aszú harvest.
What one experience would you share from your recent trip to Conegliano Valdobiaddene that speaks to the character of the region?
There is a peace and humility that this region captures that I find to be quite beautiful. The winemakers and teams involved in the production of Prosecco Superiore are carrying on tradition while also increasing quality levels and caring for the environment as stewards of the land. The hills of Prosecco di Conegliano and Valdobbiadene are now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a testament to the historical value of the region and their commitment to sustainability.
In the competitive world of sparkling wine, why are you pro- Prosecco Superiore?
I appreciate the motivation of Prosecco Superiore to elevate itself from a quality and care standpoint since the DOCG was founded in 2009. The wines are clean, fresh and versatile and are also an incredible value. It’s fun to chat with people who thought they weren’t into Prosecco and then tasted a Cartizze or Rive bottling. The added complexity of these wines dispels any preconceived notion that all ‘Prosecco’ is the same. These designations guarantee an elevated quality level and guests appreciate that. The range of styles is also something that I enjoy seeing more of in the market.
Despite the best efforts of many Somms, wine can still be intimidating for many people. What is your approach to making wine more friendly to people who would like to pursue it as a career, or even to those just wanting to order a bottle with dinner?
My approach is always to be kind and welcoming. Our primary focus as wine professionals is to make sure that the guest feels comfortable. An effective sommelier will take the fear and anxiety out of ordering and turn it into a warm and memorable experience.