Food & Wine Magazine has unveiled its annual list of Sommeliers of the Year, and making the list at the tender age of 30 is Brent Braun, the sommelier at Castagna. “It was a huge surprise,” Braun tells Eater. The list in the past has included the likes of Portland’s Dana Frank (Dame), when she was running the wine program at Ava Gene’s.
Braun isn’t your typical sommelier, and instead of learning the dos and don’ts of wine from veteran wine professionals, he says he got into wine simply because he loved it. “In Portland, we just do what we love, and I just did it.” Accordingly, Braun is obsessed with making wines accessible. “Wine isn’t just something old white guys pontificate about.”
At Castagna, this means a wine menu filled with rare yet well-priced bottles aged one-to-three years in-house. “Wine shops are so good these days, I have a pet peeve with wine lists that feature current vintages of expensive bottles. I ask, ‘Why am I paying so much for this bottle if I can get it for a quarter of the price at New Seasons?’” So Braun finds quality bottles that will age well in the short term to offer something customers cannot find elsewhere.
And this is despite having inherited a large wine cellar full of aged Barbaresco, Barolo, and Chateauneuf-du-pape wines when he joined Castagna, which Braun says he’s equally excited to share.
Braun is a Court of Master Sommeliers-certified Level 2 sommelier, but he has a fundamental distrust of certifications. “What is this sort of rigid format teaching me, verses going out and doing it on my own? I think it’s impressive, but it’s not my thing.”
And what’s he excited about right now? “Chef Justin Woodward’s food leans toward white wines in general, so our list at Catagna is heavy on whites. I’m a huge, huge, huge fan of rieslings from around the world, especially dryer rieslings and German rieslings. People still do not know how many there are out there that are crisp and dry.”