For Heather Heuser, wines are people. They’re “schizophrenic,” “funky” or remind her of an “evil stepsister.” And at Xixa, Heather’s second restaurant, wines are presented that way. Rather than organize her wine list by price, style or place of origin, Heather has grouped them under the female personality they most embody. Every wine is paired with a vivacious and extraordinary woman.
“If you can identify with iconic personalities maybe that can be more helpful in choosing a wine,” says Heather, sitting in the dining room as hotel pans of garnished meat pass by. “Maybe you’re in the mood for Lucille Ball who is light and fun and fruity, or you want someone really big like Cleopatra who is dominant and has this backbone and great power and strength.” If you’re feeling Lucille, you’ll be drinking Tempranillos and Gamays. If something more ‘Queen of the Nile’ appeals to you, consider a selection of Cabernets. It’s all part of Heather’s quest to take what she calls “coldness” out of fine dining.
“Taking care of people” comes very naturally to Heather. Despite being seven months pregnant, she runs the room every night. You could say she takes her job seriously, but not in the academic sense. Heather’s restaurants and wine lists offer more than a meal — she and her husband (a chef and co-owner) try to craft an environment hinged upon shared moments, they try and remind us that there are real people behind the plates.
“If we can get people to escape from their iPhone or their social media for a couple moments and enjoy company, then we’ve been successful.”
While Heather’s number one goal is making food and wine approachable and relatable, she does like to encourage people to stray from the well-known. Admittedly, she’ll do her best to convince you to swap a Sauvignon Blanc for something like a Trousseau Gris.
“We try to introduce new grapes by the glass. It’s just like saying, hey let me hold your hand.” Kitchen timers begin to beep. The prep picks up and delicious scents start to fill the air. “They walk away excited because they’ve learned something.” She continues. “They share it with their friends and you’ve taken that dining experience and made it into a memory and something bigger than just eating.”
Heather is so committed to having her diners try new wines that she’ll lower the price on unique bottles. “It’s much more about people’s experience than it is about making a couple of dollars on a wine that will just sit there otherwise. Just getting people to tap into the emotional side of the wine, that’s the main goal for us.” What better way to do this than to pair by personality?
A personified wine list may sound a lot like a gimmick, but it’s not. There’s a real logic to it. All the “round, rich and complex” white wines are Marilyn Monroes. Coco Chanel wines are “sweet” and “aromatic.” Naturally, you’ll find the rosés listed under Molly Ringwald and her proclamation “I have a very independent spirit.” There are “structured” Helen of Troys and “spicy” Eva Perons. The more you browse the more it makes sense. Helen Mirrens, Courtney Loves and Dolly Partons all have their place in a well rounded and well organized list.
To some, pairing by personality is silly and unconventional. But it is effective, approachable and totally intuitive. At the end of the day, that’s exactly how wine should be.