Meet the Woman Pairing Wines With Bazaar’s Mind-Melting Tapas

Rachel-MacalisangHoused within the SLS Hotels, with outlets in Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, The Bazaar by José Andrés is kind of like Willy Wonka (Mr. Andrés, in this case) meets a tapas restaurant. The set-up, the colors, and of course, the food and wine, all play on your senses in a comical, whimsical way that immediately puts you in a mood where you’re ready to explore, experiment and enjoy. It’s a unique dining experience that was voted among the Top 10 Hotel Restaurants in the World.

Renowned sommelier Rachel Macalisang is at the helm of the wine list of the Los Angeles location, a post she assumed in 2014. Prior to her arrival at The Bazaar, the LA native earned her stripes at top tier restaurants in Napa and San Francisco, continuing to build her expertise with each new role. Her personality (on full display on Twitter and Instagram at @winebadass) is a perfect fit for The Bazaar, and now Spain has become her new passion.

“It didn’t hit me before – the terroir of Spain – but now, being around the wines every day and having visited Spain, it’s really amazing,” Macalisang says. “They deliver value, quality and prestige.”

Behind Bazaar’s Brilliance

The Bazaar is basically three restaurants in one – The Bazaar itself, which consists of two different dining rooms, and SAAM, a private dining room within the restaurant. No matter the room you’re in, the emphasis is on the cuisine of Spain, with small plates of time-honored tapas such as garlic shrimp, Spanish cheeses and meats, including several different types of Macalisang’s beloved jamon. And while there’s always a nod to tradition, Macalisang is quick to point out that Chef José is an innovator, using molecular gastronomy to spherify (yes, that’s the verb form of sphere) liquids like olive juice or cherry juice into flavor bombs. The result, Macalisang explains, “…gives a different dimension of textures, flavors and layering [to the food],” further adding that, “[Chef José] has imagination and playfulness; he has a lot of fun.”

Macalisang describes a typical visit as a “modular dining experience,” with guests starting in the bar before choosing to go to one of two dining rooms—Rojo, which features dark colors and more conventional décor or Blanca, a stark white, modern space. Basically, red or white, a metaphor that plays perfectly into Macalisang’s capable hands and Bazaar’s well-stocked Spain-heavy wine list.
With regard to wine pairing, the concept at The Bazaar is very different from what Macalisang was accustomed to because of the volume of courses generally served. At The Bazaar, the small bites of food come out rapid fire and there are often many items on the table at once, so it is difficult to pair wine one dish at a time. In fact, Macalisang tells us it was a little overwhelming at first, having just four days of food training with over 90 dishes to taste and prep pairings for. As a solution to her delicious dilemma, she curates flights of wine to offer a choose-your-own-pairing variety. In SAAM, which only offers a 22-course tasting menu, a one-to-one pairing is easier.

“The way I explain it to guests, if they say ‘I love Sauvignon Blanc,’ I always try to turn them on to Rueda; it’s Spain’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc. It is light, crisp, just delicious. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.”

Bring On the RyR

“Don’t be a [insert a particular Spanish expletive]; drink a Verdejo!”

Given her belief that “Spanish wine and food is a natural marriage,” she encourages diners to try a Spanish wine. With a remarkably deep list, she has many options to offer and enjoys introducing people to Rueda’s white wines, praising it as “an amazing region.” “The way I explain it to guests,” Macalisang says, is “if they say ‘I love Sauvignon Blanc,’ I always try to turn them on to Rueda; it’s Spain’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc. It is light, crisp, just delicious. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.”

She has the Oro de Castilla Rueda included on two of her wine flights and has the higher-end Belondrade, which she refers to as “one of the best Ruedas we can get in the California market,” by the bottle (read all about the Belondrade story here) and its lower-priced, second wine, Apolonia Belondrade, by the glass. With any of these Ruedas, Macalisang says the Bazaar’s riff on a Caprese salad is “an amazing match.”

Macalisang says the Not Your Everyday Caprese, thanks to its liquid mozzarella balls, is "an amazing match" for Rueda wines.

Macalisang says the Not Your Everyday Caprese, thanks to its liquid mozzarella balls, is “an amazing match” for Rueda wines.

Switching gears to red wines, Macalisang proposes that, “You really can’t deny the history of Ribera del Duero with Vega Sicilia; it is one of the best wineries in Spain, if not the best.” And much like how Rueda is a perfect Sauv Blanc alternative, Ribera del Duero also has a reference point.

“If a guest asks if we have a big, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, the short answer is ‘Yes,’” Macalisang says, but admits that, “we like to steer them to Ribera del Duero.” More specifically, she sees a distinct parallel between the mountain fruit of a Napa Cab and the nice, mountain fruit and warmth in the vineyards of Ribera del Duero, that is “full-bodied with elegant minerality that is the essence of Spain. It’s a region we have in our back pocket.”

By the glass, Macalisang pours the Pago de los Capellanes Crianza, which she lauds as being “really fantastic, with deep red, black and blue fruits.” She has several other Riberas by the bottle (Nexus, Pingus and the El Nogal from Pago de los Capellanes), in addition to Vega Sicilia, but notes that its second label, Bodegas y Viñedos Alión, “is such a staple of our list with its great price point, people really love it.”

Wine = Fun

When your #dessert is too pretty to eat… #foodieproblems

A photo posted by The Bazaar by José Andrés (@bazaarbyjose) on

Knowing that her staff are fascinated about wine, but perhaps not as knowledgeable as she, Macalisang helps them remember with acronyms and other mnemonic devices that are a good indicator of her personality. “Don’t be a [insert a particular Spanish expletive]; drink a Verdejo!” is one of the more memorable ones. Similarly in terms of personality, Macalisang recently threw her hat (and the rest of her attire) in the ring for the Penfold’s & GQ “Best Dressed Somm” Competition. She didn’t win, but tells us she had fun participating and wants a second crack at it.

“I’m definitely all about play and participation. It’s what I teach my staff,” she says.

Tracy Ellen Kamens is a wine educator, writer and consultant based in New York City. She holds the Certified Wine Educator credential from the Society of Wine Educators and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust’s Diploma of Wine & Spirits (with Merit) and earned a Doctorate of Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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