(Opening Photo SPANS ACROSS TWO PAGES, Horizontally)
Caption: Marian Jansen op de Haar, national wine director for Flemings, at the El
In a family of eight siblings, a bottle of wine didn’t go a long way at the Jansen op de Haar dinner table. “We would have wine with our meals every night, but I only got to taste,” explains the Netherlands-born National Wine Director for Flemings Steak House. “But because my brother and father were avid wine collectors, I definitely was able to reap some benefits from that collection!”
Marian Jansen op de Haar immigrated to the States in 1978 and discovered that her passion for food would also tie into her exquisite palate for wine. Working as a sommelier in several “Continental” style restaurants in Arizona and becoming schooled in the understanding of gourmet cheeses were just some of her stops along destiny’s route to meeting Paul Fleming, who at the time owned eight Ruth’s Chris steakhouses and now the man behind his eponymous nationwide Flemings restaurants.
For the past five years, Marian has been overseeing the wine program for the entire fleet of high-end steakhouses, striving for the optimal atmosphere to sell wine, and that means educating the managers, waitstaff and chefs on what they’re tasting.
“I love to taste with chefs,” states Marian, “They have such naturally expert palates.”
For the waitstaff, they must understand what they’re selling and with what dish they’re recommending the wine; for the chefs, they get a grip on the culinary ingredients that can raise the fruit level of a merlot or highlight the minerality of a sauvignon blanc.
Marian often conducts intensive seminars and for a new restaurant opening, she’ll hold three-day, two-hour-long conferences that will be “Flemings Specific” on the wines sold at that location. The education commences with the familiarity of her curriculum on the progressive wine list she conceptualized and teaches her group how to use it.
The second seminar focuses on winemaking: How do those flavors and tastes get into the wine? Part three is devoted to service and the art of food and wine pairing.
“At the end of every seminar, I prepare a blind tasting. This is such a wonderful awareness session, where the staff and managers have the opportunity to taste comparatively. Here’s the part where we get into the varietals to demonstrate subtle nuances or outright particular differences.”
In Search of Fine Wine
One would think that Marian Jansen op de Haar holds court in an Ivory Tower. Her discretion on choosing hundreds of wines gives her plenty of power, but this sincerely compassionate, learned and experienced wine director doesn’t always have the suppliers and wineries come to her.
“I do my own research,” she points out, traveling to wine regions throughout the world such as Chile, Argentina and Portugal…or as close to Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast. “I may educate our servers, but it’s ultimately up to them to educate our guests.”
Writing a three-course curriculum for wine managers offered a delightful incentive for those who passed her final exam. “I took 55 people to Sonoma,” she proudly announced.
“It was Paul Flemings’ idea to offer 100 wines by the glass,” admits Marian, “so I just ran with it.” The system within the corporate structure allows each location Wine Manager to choose 50 wines by the glass that cycle through over the months while Marian selects 50 that stay on the national list for one year.
“We sell over four times as many wines by the glass as we do bottles,” notes Marian, who adds that at a quarter of the price of a bottle, the wine-by-the glass approach makes all the sense in the world, especially with such a generous, conscientious and well-thought out selection.
Photo B: At the changing of the guard at Flemings – that is, the revised selection of 100 wines by the glass, Marian Jansen op de Haar (left) meets with Flemings/El Segundo Wine Manager, Michael DiGiambattista (right), along with restaurant managers and chefs to taste and pair the new by-the-glass options with cheese and appetizers. The Night of Discovery wines and appetizers will be offered to “friends of Flemings,” the restaurant’s loyal customers.
Marian’s Top Five Picks
Here are some of the wines we tasted along the route to the “Night of Discovery” – five new wines to hit the by-the-glass list:
Wattle Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino
Schug Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Qupé Syrah, Central Coast
Veramonte Primus (blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon & Carmènere), Chile
Fritz Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley