When we popped by Fig in Santa Monica recently for a Happy Hour glass of wine, sommelier Matthew Lehman was happy to chat about the new Fig Pinot Noir we spied on the menu — Lehman helped make it under the watchful eye of La Fenetre winemaker Joshua Klapper. These days, it's pretty old news when a restaurant partners with a winemaker to “make” their wine label. And we all know the winemaker is really still the one doing all the heavy lifting.

But things got interesting when we heard about the friendly sommelier-chef spat over whose wine is better (Fig chef Ray Garcia made a Chardonnay at the same time Lehman made that Pinot Noir, information conveniently left off the bottles). “Oh, his is good, too,” Lehman said with his characteristic sly smile. Yeah, we know what that means.

“Yes, we sparred a bit on what we liked,” admits Lehman when pressed on how that wine tasting really went down between the head chef and sommelier — typically both rather authoritative, opinionated jobs — at the same restaurant. “Of course, we basically had an excuse to go up and make wine in Santa Barbara with a really great winemaker, which is hard not to like.”

Let The Fig Staff Decide; Credit: Anne Fishbein

Let The Fig Staff Decide; Credit: Anne Fishbein

“And it actually worked out well,” continues Lehman, “because Ray liked the Chardonnay best. I was a little surprised, to be honest, that he preferred the Chardonnay. I liked the Pinot, but I tend to prefer Pinot.” [Squid Ink tasting note: The Fig Pinot Noir, available only at the restaurant, is a good value for a such a lively young Pinot.]

As we happened to bump into Garcia at this week's Santa Monica Farmers Market, we asked him for his take on whose wine is better. He laughed, then artfully dodged the question. “I didn't want to do a California-y Chardonnay, more Burgundian,” he says. “Do you know the winemaker? He's really great. Have you tried both [the wines] yet?”

We have. “Well, if you don't like the Chardonnay,” he laughs, “don't tell [anyone] I helped make it, just talk about Matthew's Pinot!”

Actually, we did like the Chardonnay, but like Lehman, we fully admit our natural Pinot Noir bias. And yeah — sorry Ray — but…

It really was, well, better.

[More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com]

LA Weekly