At Spago Beverly Hills, Kevin O'Connor was wine director with a million-dollar budget -- and tasted through countless wines from all over the world during those years. In the end, like his predecessor at Spago, Michael Bonaccorsi, he wanted to make wine.
In 2005, he and wine import specialist Matt Licklider founded LIOCO, a small winery in Sonoma County that produces produces Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Carignan from vineyards in Sonoma, Mendocino and Santa Cruz.
O'Connor is also a partner in the new Aestus restaurant in Santa Monica, where he is getting back to buying wines on a much more modest scale than at Spago. In terms of the wine scene, O'Connor said, "we are the luckiest country on the planet: Everything comes here. The amount of good wine out there is unbelievable."
Though O'Connor appreciates wines from many wine regions around the world, he said he has a special affection for Alsace along the Rhine in eastern France.
"To me, Alsatian Riesling is undervalued and under-appreciated," he said. With sommeliers chasing every newer, more eclectic wine region, Alsace has fallen out of fashion.
Recently, he said, he had a Riesling from Domaine Paul Blanck et Fils in Kientzheim, an estate with a history that goes back to the 17th century, that blew his mind.
"In the mouth, these wines are so gloriously dry and then finish with with pinpoint precision. They make village wines, crus and grand crus from four varieties, often on three different levels," O'Connor said.
The 2008 Domaine Paul Blanck Riesling "Rosenbourg" is, in his words, incredibly precise and angular.