Sitting Down with the Sommelier: Meet Chris McFall of Austin's Paggi House

We are all familiar with the chef-as-rock-star designation but what about the lesser-known people that get the liquor all right at our favorite restaurants and establishments? Sommeliers and beverage directors are really the heartbeats of everyone feeling copasetic, right?  They are there to help lubricate your meal just so, and are very often wildly funny with academic brains and big personalities to match their chef counterparts.

In this three-part series, meet a few good men doing great work across the country, including Josh Nadel, beverage director at NYC hot spot The Dutch, David Lynch, wine director at Quince and Cotogna in San Fran, and Chris McFall, sommelier at Austin’s Paggi House.

When and how did you pursue the sommelier calling? Or did this line of work choose you?

This line of work most certainly chose me. After a bout with Jagermeister and Coors Original, it was a 1968 Bertani Amarone that was my “ah ha” moment. I have always loved restaurants and wanted to pursue a deeper understanding of wine.

Being a sommelier seems like one of the most fun jobs in the world, but there is a decidedly academic dimension to this line of work. What is the most fun part of the job for you? What do you find most challenging?
The job is beyond fun. I am fortunate to meet a great deal of wonderful people from all over the world, in many different facets.  There is certainly an academic side, staying current and up to date is a great challenge of the job. The most fun part for me is discovery, in that every day I am able to discover new things about wine or the job itself. The most challenging part has been learning the business side of the job.

Tell us a little bit about how you see your interaction with a chef. What’s your favorite dance with the godhead who cooks?
Interacting with chef, always interesting. I love the creative process. I love to listen to the chef talk about their idea of a dish, for a dish or of the entire feel of the restaurant. We love to have fun, laugh, but get down to business as well. My favorite tango with the chef is creating a multi-course dinner paired with wine. There are some great moments of creation that happen when we put our heads together.

Tell us something that would surprise our viewers and readers.
I do a mean Christopher Walken impersonation, and I love to sabre champagne. Sometimes this activity is done simultaneously.

Can you give us a recommendation of a wine or spirit you are in love with for this holiday season?

Right now, for red wine, I am absolutely head over heels in love with Chateau Musar Rouge, Bekka Valley, Lebanon. The wine is at great value, ages very well, and is wonderful if you are trying something off the beaten path.

As for white wine, I am very much in love with white burgundy for the holiday season, and all seasons. But I am fascinated right now with Domaine de Montille ‘Les Cailleret’ Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru 2008, beautiful wine from chardonnay and seems to own the very essence of the word “Terrior.”

As for spirits, Yellow/Green Chartreuse, classic digestif. Again we must thank the monks for a great holiday drink. 

What booze do you think is a fail-safe, inexpensive buy every time?
Campari, every time. I also love to buy Oxley Gin, perfect for cocktails and straight up martinis.

What’s the best advice for your restaurant patrons vis-à-vis interacting with a sommelier?
Do not be afraid to set a price range and parameters and let the sommelier create something special. We are here to help you whether you are drinking the $2000 bottle or the $20 bottle. We just want you to be happy and have an experience with a great wine.

If I weren’t a sommelier, I would be a __________.
Struggling comedian

What’s your favorite late-night bite?
Fried chicken and waffles. Amazing.

What is your favorite food and drink pairing?
I have three: champagne & French fries (or Caviar), red burgundy and squab, riesling and sushi

What is your favorite thing between two buns?
In the addition to Kim Kardashian, I love Chicago style hot dogs. I am craving one right now…

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