OpenTable named Juniper & Ivy one of the 100 Best Restaurants in America for a Big Night Out according to diners. And the exciting news comes on the heels of Juniper & Ivy being named both Critic’s Pick and Reader’s Pick for Best of the Best – Fancy by San Diego Magazine. The restaurant has also been awarded the Restaurant Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator.  

The wine list is adaptive enough to complement Juniper & Ivy’s constantly rotating menu, which features hand-selected local ingredients that showcase the best of Southern California. Signature dishes include the Smoking Biscuit, Whole Roasted Duck and the Yodel. An exceptional experience for San Diego locals as well as a one-of-a-kind destination for visitors, the menu from Executive Chef Anthony Wells balances precision and imagination.

We spoke to Juniper and Ivy’s Beverage Director, Nick Gergen about the importance of versatility in a wine program, and what’s next for the restaurant, its customers and the wine scene overall.

DRINK ME: How would you describe the Juniper & Ivy wine program overall?

GERGEN: Juniper & Ivy is a chef-driven restaurant, and that includes the wine program. When building the list, we focus first and foremost on pairing with the amazing food that comes out of our kitchen daily. Our focus is to provide a plethora of international selections that spans a variety of price points. We pride ourselves in maintaining selections that are familiar but not necessarily well known, while also discovering some offerings that hopefully our guests have never seen before. 

DRINK ME: How do you create a wine list that is versatile enough to pair with the unique/rotating menu offerings at Juniper and Ivy?

GERGEN: It certainly helps being able to try the food! But overall, I think the key is variety. We benefit from emphasizing a global wine list, ensuring that there are numerous “Old World” wines with more savory and herbaceous notes that can pair with a wide range of flavors.  Our chef team also utilizes whatever is currently in season. Given that we are in Southern California, this affords us a ton of opportunities to work with wines that will showcase those “in season” flavors such as stone fruits or cherries.

DRINK ME: All of your servers have taken the Level 1 sommelier test. Why is that important/how does that impact guests’ experiences?

GERGEN: Given that the majority of our staff have passed at least the introductory level to the Court of Master Sommeliers, our guests are in such great hands when it comes to pairing wines with dishes, especially when guests opt for an Omakase experience with wine pairings. We actively encourage our staff to try our by the glass selections, and we hold beverage classes weekly to further knowledge and familiarity with new wines that might only be available by the bottle.  We are fortunate to have garnered our guests’ trust relative to both the unique food and wine offerings, and hope to continue to earn that trust by perpetually raising the bar here in San Diego.

“I could honestly ramble on about so many different wines both on and off the list, but if the readers are further interested they’ll have to come in and chat with me!” 

Juniper and Ivy’s Beverage Director, Nick Gergen.

DRINK ME: Tell us about a few standouts from the wine list.

GERGEN: I’m a big fan of vintage wines, specifically Spanish as they don’t always break the bank. A couple of selections right now that particularly make my mouth water are the 1995 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva and the 1997 La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva (currently off list – this is why you should always ask to speak to the Somm). I’m also newly in love with Portuguese wines from the Bairrada region, so I have a few Luis Pato wines on the list that are just super cool and extremely affordable. We’ve also got a bunch of fun bottles that offer some great value, including C.W. Bernhard’s 2010 Spatlese Weissburgunder, a deeply complex, great aperitif-style wine to get the night started off right. I could honestly ramble on about so many different wines both on and off the list, but if the readers are further interested they’ll have to come in and chat with me!

Photo courtesy of Juniper & Ivy.

DRINK ME: What are some of the best menu/wine pairings right now?

GERGEN: If I were to give a few suggestions to pair with the menu in its entirety, I would have to say the 1991 Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Vinho Branco, 2014 Huber Alte Setzen Erste Lage Traisental Reserve, or the 2016 Weingut Knoll Loibenberg Smaragd Wachau Riesling would all be stellar white wine options that would pair with a wide array of dishes. For reds, I think wines like the 2014 Andre Brunel Les Cailloux Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the 2006 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva, or the 2000 Luis Pato Quinta do Moinho would be killer. As far as a single dish/by the glass pairing at the moment, I currently love the Vinho Verde we pour by the glass and our Uni Ceviche. The texture of the wine holds up to the carrot/guajillo sauce but also the vibrant, bright nature of the wine compliments the lighter flavors and cuts through any heat that the guajillo pepper could give off. Vinho Verde has a slight effervescence that plays really nicely with raw dishes such as this. Also, the Lamb Leg and our Andre Brunel Cotes du Rhone Villages is a fun one, as the wine displays a bit of a rustic quality that compliments the gamey nature of the lamb, while the somewhat smoky profile complements the house-made strawberry mole. (Full discretion: both dishes will most likely be replaced with something just as unique and exciting at the time of publishing.)

DRINK ME: What trends are you seeing for summer when it comes to wine? Are more people ordering rose, for example?

GERGEN: I’ve noticed a lot more of a focus on white wines lately. Not as much rose as I would’ve expected, but some. I was elated when we were given another allocation of R. Lopez de Heredia’s Gran Reserva Rose (we’re onto the 2009 vintage now) because it has got to be the best rose I’ve ever had. A wine that can truly stand up to anything on the menu; great food wine or just great on its own.