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Photo Courtesy of Peter Kasperski

Peter Kasperski opened Cowboy Ciao February 12, 1997 in Scottsdale, AZ. and later Kazimierz World Wine Bar, also in Scottsdale. Ciao has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades from local, national and international sources including:

National Restaurant Association-“Most Innovative Wine List”.

Esquire Magazine -“If cowboys were connoisseurs, they’d drop by here after the last roundup.”

Zagat Guide-“Hot spot for the hip with seriously good food; a spaghetti western with a happy ending.”

London Times-“Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale is a first-rate restaurant and wine destination.”

Over the years, they’ve hosted many luminaries of the political (Senator John McCain, Hillary Clinton), sports (Charles Barkley, Danica Patrick), music (Eddie Van Halen, Nils Lofgren), and entertainment fields (George Clooney, Hugh Laurie), as well as several shiny stars that light up the worlds of restaurants (Jacques Pepin, Stephanie Izard, Ming Tsai) and wine (Charles Smith, Raj Parr, Master Sommelier Laura Williamson).  Bio taken with permission from Cowboy Ciao website.

Through it all, their goal has remained simple: thrill each guest every visit with a memorable entertainment experience.

Recently, I had the honor of talking with Peter about his history, family and business. Well, of course, his wine list too-2000 wines! Below is your front row seat, so put on your seat belt and peruse the wine list on the website Cowboy Ciao, and have a fun ride!

W  &  M: Peter, tell us what is your every day wine?

PETER:  It’s rare that I go back to the same wine. There’s so much wine out there to try. Well, I need to stay informed of what’s new in the market so I’m always trying new wines, but I like Champagne or Grenache.

W  &  M: What is your splurge wine?

PETER: A really old Châteauneuf-du-Pape

W  &  M: Do you have a favorite wine quote ?

PETER: I have a new toast I like to use.  When I drink green Chartreuse, I like to hold up the glass and say ” As the Chartreusean monks who make this say…” (they don’t say anything, they’re sworn to silence ) 🙂 it’s fun watching people figure that one out. I like the quote from “Sideways” -Virginia Madison ( who played the role of Maya) said  “How it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity.”

W  &  M: Peter, how did you first become interested in wine? collecting wine? and what still gets you enthusiastic about wine?

PETER:  What still gets me enthusiastic about wine? A compelling wine on the table, meaning someone willing to be righteous in their pursuit. Curt Schalchlin from Paso Robles is such a winemaker: he has two wines I want to mention-  Sans Liege wines & Groundwork wines. They’re sort of his homage to Manfred Krankl. The style is esoteric and artsy and brilliant! He takes what the land gives him and makes really brilliant wine. The Groundwork wines are more mainstream wines, simpler bottles and labels, still esoteric but less expensive than the Sans Liege. Pax Mahle is another. They make wines like they used to in the 1700’s. His vineyards are managed  in the biodynamic style, using animals to help manage the vineyard. They still use people to stomp grapes.  Paul Lato is another guy, his wines are just exquisite. The grower Champagnes that are available right now that haven’t been seen until the last decade in the U.S, these keep me enthusiastic.  Sometimes it’s not about the history but about what can be done right now. Champagne used to allow only 3 grape varieties and now they allow 9 because  they found an old charter that said some other grape varieties used to be there and were allowed to be used in Champagne, France.  So winemakers like Aubrey now use all 9 grapes.  I don’t think we’ve ever been at a better place in the wine world than we’re at right now. 

I became interested in wine when I worked with a chef  who told me he was the son of a Russian count who escaped during the Revolution.  I was in Chicago working for him. He could speak many languages and could talk to anyone. He sometimes would come into the dining room of the restaurant and sing.  He was one of the first guys to champion American wines. He introduced me to a 1969 Burgundy. 

The wine collection started in 1997 with my restaurant Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale, AZ. We have over 2000 wines on the wine list which supports both Ciao and Kazimierz. We do have a retail license and so if customers want to take home a wine, I can sell it from Kazimierz. We also have a Cowboy Caio, with 60 wines, at the Sky Harbor Airport.

Though there are 2000 wines on the list, wine doesn’t have to be daunting. People understand it as it becomes part of the food.  

W  &  M: Who chooses the wines that come onto the wine list? Is it you or is there a team?

PETER: It has been mostly me but I have some very knowledgeable people working here and I listen to suggestions. 

W  &  M: Has your extensive knowledge of wine come from any formal wine education?

PETER:  I learned  from working in restaurants and I used to taste a wine and read about that wine at the same time.  My education is based on the people that I’ve had the good fortune to meet in the industry and feel their passion and taste their wines and understand  why they do what they’re doing. I don’t care much about wine scores. I do still read Parker because I get his palate. Whenever I teach a wine class, I ask students to raise their hand if they’re a wine expert. When no one raises their hand, I tell them they’re wrong, they’re all experts- of their own palate!  It doesn’t matter what I tell you and what the wine has scored.  I give them a trick question: what is the most important sense when you taste wine? Common sense! 

W  &  M: Peter, how long has it taken for you to collect this wine list of over 2000 wines?

PETER: Basically since Cowboy Ciao opened in 1997. In the past, we had a couple more restaurants and had about 3500 wines  on the list, which just became too much to manage.  We feel 2000 is a good amount, it’s fun for us. 

W  &  M: Please tell readers about your Dad and how you have made a tribute to him through the Kazimierz World Wine Bar.

PETER:  My dad was a kind of John Wayne type of guy. I always knew him to be Casimer and he was adamant about: tell the truth, do the right thing ( unless he was playing pool, in which case he would cheat). When he passed away and I went through his things, I  found his birth certificate and saw his name was Kazimierz. I found out through my aunt, that when he was growing up, it was war time and he was too young to go to service. There was a lot of anti-European sentiment in Chicago at the time and so they  changed his name to Charlie. When he got older, he changed his name back to Casimer.  When I opened Cowboy Ciao, he was an investor and he made me promise to do something to honor his mother, who had worked in a restaurant in Chicago and raised her kids alone.  The wine bar Kazimierz is named after my father.  I named a dessert after his mother. 

W  & M: I’ve selected a few wines from your wine list. Would you tell readers more about these wines please?

Sparkling– 2010 Rojac refosk

White– 2002 Domaine des Baumard chenin blanc

Red–  I chose 2 wines: NV Hinnant blackberry wine and Syrah(s) from Charles Smith.

PETER: Sure. Let’s do it.

Sparkling- 2010 Rojac refosk, Royaz, unfiltered, Primorska, Slovenia (extended skin contact and no disgorgement makes this grapefruity beauty a ‘baby blush/orange bubbly). It’s a 100% Refoško, biodynamic, taste like pink grapefruit, we sell it a lot by the glass and it’s a really perfect brunch wine. 

White- 2002 Domaine des Baumard chenin blanc, Clos de Sainte Catherine,Coteaux du Layon, Loire, France.  This is a spectacular producer that does Chenin Blanc like others do Chardonnay. I think they’re the best maker of Chenin Blanc on the planet.  Five years ago I had one of the oldest wines I’ve ever had and it was a  1969 Baumard and it was brilliant, the wines age incredibly well and get so interesting and complex. Richard Betts, Master Sommelier and a friend of mine, says  you can just taste the sunshine when you drink this wine. 

Red- NV Hinnant blackberry wine, Baily, North Carolina. We like to bring in obscure wines and they sell. People come here because of our reputation with wine.  This wine has sold out and I’m not sure I’ll be able to get it back.  

Charles Smith,  I have one picture on the wine list and it’s of Charles Smith. I love that guy! He has a wine called Kung Fu Girl Riesling ( because he says Riesling and girls kick ass) that you can buy in the store for $10 and  he has Royal City Syrah you can buy in the store for $500. Both are just pieces of art. He gives the most intriguing presentations on wine, all while dropping 277 F-Bombs along the way. If there’s a rock start of winemaking in the US, it’s Charles Smith.

Wine and Meaning  thanks Peter Kasperski for this interview.

Here is a link to the wine list with 2000 wines! Cowboy Ciao- The Big Book

Make sure to read the wine list Prologue-  “Oh, sweet Jesus, there’s a prologue!” actual guest quote.

They offer suggestions on how to navigate the wine list:

1) check out the list on the web site prior to coming

2) ask for the NIFTY FIFTY, a one page list of guest favorites

3) the following varietal lists are available: chardonnay, pinot noir, grenache, syrah and the big dog cabernet/merlot/bordeaux blends

4) tell your server the brands and styles you like, along with price range; they will be able to recommend something you’ll enjoy as much or more

5) let your server choose wines by the glass for each course, a mini-wine dinner