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Chicago Gourmet - bio: Jason Carlen
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Jason Carlen


Appointed as Wine Director and Sommelier of Spiaggia in early 2011, Jason Carlen, Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, joined the team with a parallel philosophy to fine dining. Believing that some of the finest old world and artisanal wines come from Italy, Carlen plans to enhance the restaurant’s mission of creating luxurious, world-class Italian dining, through the selection and pairing of the finest Italian wines.

Under Carlen, Spiaggia’s wine list, awarded the “Best of Award of Excellence” by Wine Spectator, will continue to be a reference point for Italian wines in the U.S. With a selection of 700 bottles, the wine list represents the larger Italian wines regions of Toscano, Piemonte, as well as regions that are seeing a wine resurgence such as Sicilia, Alto Adige and Valle d’Aosta. Using Spiaggia’s longstanding relationships with the most prominent wine families in Italy, Carlen is primed to expand this network by hand-selecting wines that speak of a place; particularly those from smaller, family-run producers.

Carlen will articulate each wine’s story by reorganizing Spiaggia’s celebrated wine list by the parcel of earth in which the vineyards sit upon such as their topography, soil type, elevation or exposure to the sun, among others, thereby educating guests on their origin. A model for this type of organization is the region of Barolo, which is made up of two valleys: one consisting of older less fertile limestone based soils resulting in bolder intense wines while the other valley contains fresher soils containing a greater amount of sand and limestone with the result being more perfumed and elegant wines.

With a degree in theatre, one of the aspects that Carlen looks forward to each day is interacting with guests and sharing his excitement and knowledge for wine and the story that each wine tells. Carlen’s objective is to provide each guest a singular dining experience. He gets to know the guest beyond their palate, therefore selecting a wine to perfectly match their culinary journey.

Prior to Spiaggia, Carlen spent four years as the Sommelier at The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, an Auberge Resort, in Bluffton, South Carolina. It was there that Carlen gained an appreciation for sourcing smaller, family-run vineyards, often traveling to the destinations to meet the producers in which he was sourcing the wines. Carlen honed his skills from New York City to Sante Fe, New Mexico in establishments such as: Gotham Bar and Grill; Geronimo Restaurant; and The Old House Restaurant at Eldorado Hotel and Spa.

When the opportunity was presented to join the talented team at Spiaggia, Carlen knew right away it was a fit. He felt an immediate connection to the people and place, the same philosophy he uses when selecting wine.

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