Q&A with Higor Valle

We chat with Higor Valle, Sommelier at The Continental.

Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Valle started as a server when D’Amico’s The Continental opened in 2014. He took charge of the wine program with the 2015-16 season. Recently he became one of 650 people in the world to pass the advanced level of the Court of Master Sommeliers. The grueling three-day exam, which focuses on tasting, theory, and service, is a prelude to the Master Sommelier examination itself.

NI: How has The Continental’s wine list changed since you took over?
Valle: We had about 350 selections in 2014 and more than 500 now. The growth is due to the availability of great wines in Florida that you couldn’t get 10 years ago. We’ve been able to add producers such as Hervé Souhaut from the northern Rhône Valley, who makes fresh, pure Syrah. On the domestic side, there’s Tatomer in Santa Barbara County, who specializes in Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, or Arnot-Roberts, making small-batch wine from some of California’s best vineyards. With Arnot-Roberts, I had to email them and persuade them to sell us some wine, and we started with six bottles.

What are your personal preferences?
I love Pinot Noir for its elegance and complexity. Syrah is the black sheep among the most popular grape varieties, but it’s truly magical when you taste a great one. Nebbiolo is the legendary grape of Barolo and Barbaresco: It has similar weight to Pinot Noir, with a blend of tradition and excitement. It’s important to start with the Old World [because] once you understand the classics and benchmarks, you can move on to variations in other regions.

What’s the best way to understand those benchmarks?
Try buying the same grape variety from different regions, then taste them side by side to appreciate the differences. If you want to understand Pinot Noir, for example, compare bottles from California, Oregon, and Burgundy. It’s also useful to compare the same styles of wine from different price points to get an understanding of why certain wines are more expensive than others.

For you, what’s the most interesting thing about wine?
The exciting thing is that it’s always changing. There’s always a new region or grape variety, and every vintage is different.

How can beginners learn more about wine?
I spend a lot of time surfing Instagram; almost every major winemaker and wine personality has an account, and it’s fascinating to see what they’re posting and what they’re drinking. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should only drink what other people say you should drink. Don’t rely on critics, ratings, or points—trust your own palate, and you’ll discover what you like and dislike.

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