by Andrea Stuart / photography by Michelle Magdalena Maddox
Having grown up in Adelaide, Australia, a region where vineyards tendril through the land, Nicole Kosta, Sommelier and Director of Food and Beverage at the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco, has become metaphorically intoxicated by the tannic elixirs derived from the spherical little fruit known as the grape.
Surrounded by fertile knolls, sporting venues, and the opportunity for coastal and oceanic adventures, Adelaide begets a lifestyle abundant in outdoor activity. Kosta, a former world-champion dancer and scientist, took fair advantage of her stomping grounds.
Daylong fishing trips were a prominent part of Kosta’s life. She and her father would often come home with a menagerie of finned dinner options. “Between my two sisters, myself, my mother, and even the parakeet and the dog (I think), my poor father was surrounded by females,” the spry South Australian snickers. “I think I was inclined to be a bit of a tomboy because of that.”
During one summer outing, Kosta and a friend embarked on a fishing trip that resulted in catching 60 fish. “We ate every one! Mom cleaned them and dad grilled them. It was the best summer,” recalls Kosta.
In Adelaide, the festivities often never leave the backyard. With a spatula in one hand, a glass of sparkling Shiraz in the other, and calamari on the barbie, Mr. Kosta is the quintessential Aussie father—hosting barbeques, from quaint gatherings, to grand affairs that include nearby cousins and neighbors. “We grill for pretty much any occasion, year-round,” admits Kosta. “Dad would even grill under the veranda if it rained.”
Kosta’s parents, though not connoisseurs, have always had an appreciation for wine. Where Kosta’s dad enjoys Shiraz-cabernet blends, her mother enjoys dry Riesling or chardonnay, and has “an affinity for bubbles” (sparkling wine). The image of Bubbles from Finding Nemo, who’s fascination is with, well … bubbles … comes to mind. Kosta, herself revels in Semillon from Hunter Valley or Adelaide Hills.
Having developed an infatuation with America while travelling for dance competitions, Kosta utilized her career as an avenue to come back after college, accepting a job as a research scientist. However, Kosta found the sterility of the lab environment countered her earlier, more fruitful experiences so much that she made an about face in her career, becoming a restaurant manager for a restaurant in Nebraska.
She later moved to Cleveland, Ohio to become the manager at P.F. Chang’s—known for their extensive wine program, offering more than 50 wines by the glass—and from there, began developing her wine palate. She went on to work in Detroit, Michigan under Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon, and never looked back.
Kosta is now excited about Mandarin Oriental’s wine program. From their offering of biodynamic (holistically organic) wines that complement the Mandarin’s eco-centric attitude, to their international selection of 700 wines, pairing options for the Asian-influenced faire at Silks are endless.
Due to Kosta’s penchant for libations from our northern Sonoma coast, it’s no surprise that when Mandarin Oriental began making its own wine label, they employed Hirsch Vineyards for the task.
“They made our ’09 Pinot Noir, Ngima’s Cuvee,” says Kosta, liberating a higher octave from her throat. “It was inspired after meeting a Sherpa from Tibet named Ngmia. He had an affinity for Mt. Everest and a passion for wine.”
This year, they are working with multiple Mandarin sommeliers and the wine will be in their hotels countrywide.
“What makes it so fun is that every Mandarin hotel is independently operated. We have fun with our programs and express our local bounties!” Kosta’s accent yields to the sharp edges of California colloquialism as she weaves a few Australian curves through her inflections. “For St. Patrick’s Day, the Mandarin hosted a ‘green’ tasting where we served organic, sustainable wines. In April, we are hosting an organic wine dinner.”
Appropriated by friends as “Principle Wine Provider,” Kosta’s personal wine collection is vast—her abode is overrun by a libational anthology: bottles perched atop kitchen counters and cabinets, and having made Tetris-like homes in the overflowing wine fridges.
“Life is about learning and mentoring,” says Kosta. “It’s also to be celebrated.” It’s no wonder she is doing all of the above as a leading wine expert at the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco. We’ll drink to that!