Wine judge, lecturer, and sommelier Debbie Zachareas is a well-renowned wine expert from the Bay Area who recently created an exclusive pairing for Izzy’s Steakhouse.

Along with developing innovative wine programs across San Francisco’s wine scene, she has worked as an international wine judge, a wine buyer, and is the only sommelier to have won San Francisco Magazines Wine Director of The Year twice. We caught up with Zachareas to learn more about her career and her method for creating the curated pairings for Izzy’s.

Debbie Zachareas

Debbie Zachareas

Photo by Kelly Puleio

Can you tell us about what led you to becoming a Sommelier?

I fell in love with wine when I was in college while working in a restaurant. I was studying to be a psychologist, applying to graduate schools when a question on the application read, “In 500 words or less, describe where you see yourself in 5 years or less.” I wrote, “I see myself making enough money to buy great wine.” I put the application in the recycling bin and decided to follow my heart.

Do you have any thoughts on what wine trends for this winter will be?

Hearty reds from Italy are some of my favorite winter wines. Trends are hard to predict, but the warm-hearted Cabernets from California are always a sweet spot at Izzy’s.

Tell us about the wine program at Izzy’s! What are some of your favorite things on the menu right now?

The new section of European whites speaks to “San Francisco Summer” and serve as the perfect complement to Izzy’s beloved appetizers. I am especially fond of the versatility of the Soalheiro Alvarinho and the Koferhof Kerner.

The Mascot 2015 Red Blend

The Mascot 2015 Red Blend

Photo by Kelly Puleio

You recently curated a trio of wine pairings for Izzy’s can you walk us through the process of each pairing?

Celebratory Pairing: British Baldies Bone-In New York Dry-Aged $69 with 2015 The Mascot, Napa Red, Napa Valley, California 175: There is a richness to this steak, which is best paired with a complex Cabernet with a full mid-palate. It is about pairing complexities and matching the decadence in each.

Classic Pairing: Filet Mignon au poivre $39-55 with 2017 Neal Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California 95. A classic Napa Valley Cabernet is the quintessential pairing with a filet mignon. The pepper note in the steak beautifully highlights the subtle notes of black peppercorn in the wine.

Izzy’s Filet Mignon au Poivre with a glass of 2017 Neal Family Vineyards

Izzy’s Filet Mignon au Poivre with a glass of 2017 Neal Family Vineyards

Photo by Kelly Puleio

Fried Oysters Pairing: Fried Oysters and half bottle of Krug Grand Cuveé. The reason I chose Krug with fried oysters is because Krug has more body and richness. It can stand up to a meatier style of oyster, yet has the acidity to cut through the richness of a dish that is fried.  If it were a fresh oyster, I would go with a more citrus style. Since they get a bit toasty, and I’m referring to the coating of the oyster, it’s a perfect match.

Izzy’s Fried Oysters with Krug Grande Cuvée

Izzy’s Fried Oysters with Krug Grande Cuvée

Photo by Kelly Puleio

Could you share a few tips for bartenders or aspiring Somms who want to get better at pairing?

I would suggest to sit down with a few glasses of wine in front of you and try each of them with the dish you are trying to pair. It is often surprising to discover what really works with a little trial and error. Do this as often as you can with every dish on the menu.

Is there any wine advice you think more bartenders should know but don’t?

There are so many things! Wine is subjective, and it is better to know the wine and describe it accurately than it is to use third party reviews. Show up at the wine trainings and continue to open your eyes to the world of wine so you can be a better bartender.