Food News

Wrigley Mansion's New Wine Director Is Changing Things Up. Meet Jason Caballero

Jason Caballero, shown here in Jamie's Wine Bar, became the new wine director for Wrigley Mansion Aug. 1.
Jason Caballero, shown here in Jamie's Wine Bar, became the new wine director for Wrigley Mansion Aug. 1. Geri Koeppel
On August 1, Jason Caballero joined the venerable Wrigley Mansion as its new wine director, a position that oversees Christopher’s, Geordie’s, Jamie’s Wine Bar, and all special events. He's arrived with plans to change a few things.

One of his goals is to shed the fussiness of traditional fine dining, “to make it a little more engaging, a little more vibe, a little more fun,” he says. "I think dining overall is evolving, which is nice. And we’re starting to get on that, which is cool.”

So far, Caballero has consolidated the wine lists from the three separate spaces into one, and he’s offering a blind tasting of one red and one white each day to help guests hone their ability to deduce what’s in a glass.

“Once you learn how acidity and tannin and this stuff works,” he says, “it becomes a lot of fun.”

Caballero is an advanced sommelier who has passed the third level exam given by the Court of Master Sommeliers. But he eschews the braggadocio common in the wine world in favor of making wine approachable and offering his talents to help guests enjoy their evening, no matter if their budget leans toward the lower end or the top of the menu.

“People assume if they have good wine it’s going to be expensive,” Caballero says. But Wrigley Mansion offers wines by the glass for as low as $10 — with most in the mid-teens — and bottles starting at $40.

Granted, Wrigley Mansion also stocks rare wines, such as a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti that can set you back $97 an ounce, or $59,000 for the priciest bottle in the cellar. But you can get a world-class wine experience for much less.

“Whether it’s $40 or $40,000, you’ll get the same amount of care,” Caballero notes.

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The wine cellar at Wrigley Mansion contains bottles ranging from $40–$59,000.
Wrigley Mansion
Another of Caballero's goals is to raise the level of wine service throughout Arizona. He’s on the board of GuildSomm, a nonprofit for wine education, and works to cultivate a homegrown crop of sommeliers that learn from each other.

In 2011, Caballero co-founded an informal wine group that met weekly in members’ kitchens to do blind tastings. Eventually, it became the Society of Arizona Sommeliers, and chef, restaurateur, and fellow sommelier Mark Tarbell let them use his restaurant.

“Mark is a huge reason why any of us are doing really anything,” Caballero says. “He donated money, donated time, donated his space. The Society of Arizona Sommeliers wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for him.”

Tarbell says Caballero is a “young star in the Guild of Master Sommeliers world," and describes him as international, hardworking, and sincere.  Wine service should be humble and thoughtful, Tarbell notes.

“I wanted to see if there was any way I could communicate that to the young sommeliers coming up in Arizona,” he says. “[Caballero] really resonated with that.”

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Geordie's Restaurant at Wrigley Mansion is one of the concepts Jason Caballero oversees as wine director.
Wrigley Mansion
But Caballero wasn’t always a wine expert. He was three weeks from earning a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Arizona when he left for a career in food and beverage.

“Originally what I wanted to do was revolutionize interstellar travel,” he says. “I freaked out because I’m too sociable to be a scientist.”

In 2006, Caballero was hired as a bartender at Olive & Ivy, and there, started learning under Kyle Erickson, an advanced sommelier, and Regan Jasper, now the vice president of beverage and partner in Fox Restaurant Concepts. He also started taking classes and found that the massive field of wine “scratched the itch” of wanting to constantly learn.

“Studying wine is like drinking the ocean a cup at a time,” Caballero says. “You’re never going to get it all.”

After a short break, Caballero returned to the world of wine when he joined Vintage 95 in 2011. He was the wine director at the chic restaurant and wine bar in downtown Chandler. There, he got his chops, as he says, and became a sommelier.

In 2015, Caballero joined Bourbon Steak at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess and in 2017, became an advanced sommelier. In 2019, he went on to helm the wine program at Maple & Ash before moving on to Wrigley Mansion.

Now, Caballero is preparing to take the exam next year to become a master sommelier, a level of prestige only 269 people in the world have ever achieved and only 172 currently hold.

Becoming a master sommelier requires an encyclopedic knowledge of wine and other alcoholic beverages worldwide, how to properly serve and pair each product, and the ability to taste wine and identify it, including the grape varietal, region, and year of bottling. Only about 3 to 8 percent of applicants typically pass. Tarbell has faith in Caballero.

“Whether it’s one year or five years, I think he’ll be our next master [sommelier] in Arizona," Tarbell says. "A lot of it has to do with study and dedication.”

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Advanced sommelier Jason Caballero wasn't always a wine expert; he once wanted to "revolutionize interstellar travel."
Wrigley Mansion
Caballero also set his sights on landing a Wine Spectator Grand Award of Excellence for Wrigley Mansion. The magazine’s highest honor for restaurants, it recognizes extraordinary wine programs that have a host of attributes ranging from an extensive and well-chosen selection to knowledgeable staff. Only 97 restaurants worldwide in 2022 were bestowed this honor.

When he’s not working, Caballero loves to cook, go four-wheeling in his Jeep, spend time with his two sons, and travel, preferably to — you guessed it — wine regions. He’s been to Australia, Italy, France, and Spain to learn about terroir and producers. His favorite region is Bordeaux because of its rich history and amazing wines. He's eager to share these experiences with both new to and versed in wine.

Even if someone isn’t comfortable with a wine list, Caballero urges them not to shy away from the sommelier when they’re at a nice restaurant. Don’t be afraid to ask anything, he says, even how to pronounce the name of a wine.

“There’s so much to learn in life if people didn’t care about the shame of not knowing everything,” Caballero says. “Don’t deny yourself the ability to enjoy an incredible wine because of what someone thinks. If it’s not fun, what are we really doing?”

2501 East Telawa Trail
Wrigley Mansion: 602-955-4079
Christopher’s: 602-522-2344
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Geri Koeppel is a professional writer, voracious reader, devoted traveler, and an amateur cook, wine drinker, birder and tennis player. She's lived and worked in Detroit, San Francisco, and Phoenix.
Contact: Geri Koeppel