John Ragan

Sommelier

New York

John Ragan is the wine director of restaurateur Danny Meyer’s celebrated Union Square Hospitality Group in New York. After graduating with an urban planning degree from the University of Missouri, Ragan moved to Napa to see where his love of wine would lead him. Over the years, he worked at top restaurants in Napa, and as sommelier under chef Daniel Humm at both Campton Place in San Francisco and at Eleven Madison Park in New York. At the latter, he garnered several accolades, including the 2008 James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service. In 2012, Ragan solidified his standing as a trusted wine authority, earning a Master Sommelier Diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers in London, a prestigious certification earned by the top wine professionals.

  • On January 7, 2013
    John Ragan answered the question: John Ragan

    What are John Ragan’s favorite New York bars?

    If you’re downtown, there’s The Ten Bells. It’s a wine bar that’s always got great drinks that it’s pouring. In the Union Square neighborhood here, there’s a wine bar called Corkbuzz. The food is great and it’s always got fantastic wines open. Another one — it’s not a dive bar but don’t wear a suit to it — is called The Brooklyn Inn. And I just love it because it’s probably 200 years old — there’s no television. It’s just a great place to go with somebody you like to have a couple beers with and a great conversation.
  • On January 7, 2013
    John Ragan answered the question: John Ragan

    What is John Ragan’s favorite Italian restaurant in New York?

    There’s a pizza place called Lucali in the Cobble Hill neighborhood. It’s the best pizza you’ll ever have — it’s fantastic. Everything is made from scratch. You can watch them make everything. Their ingredients change depending on what they have that’s fresh. You’ll walk in and see some big baskets of mushrooms, and those mushrooms are going on the pizzas tonight and that’s that. If they don’t have good mushrooms, you won’t get mushrooms on your pizza. They don’t have any wine lists, so you’re encouraged to bring your own wine, which for me is great. So it’s a great Sunday-night activity to just bring a really nice bottle of wine and have a great pizza.
  • On January 7, 2013
    John Ragan answered the question: John Ragan

    What are John Ragan’s favorite New York brunch spots?

    Union Square Cafe does a great brunch, and a Sunday in Union Square just feels very New York to me. Over in Brooklyn, there’s a little spot called Mile End that does great brunch as well. It’s a casual, quick place, but as far as great bagels and lox, it’s a fantastic spot. If you ever walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and cut across in Battery Park City, we have a spot called North End Grill. That’s great as well because it’s right there on the water.
  • On January 7, 2013
    John Ragan answered the question: John Ragan

    What does John Ragan wear when he travels?

    What I’ve learned over all the trips I’ve taken is to just be casual because it keeps the packing light and it keeps things easy. If it’s cooler weather, you can have a couple layers — a couple sweaters, a couple jackets. I like to keep it simple and travel light. Every time I go, I think my luggage gets a little bit lighter.
  • On January 7, 2013
    John Ragan answered the question: John Ragan

    What does John Ragan always travel with?

    I definitely always bring my iPad. If you’re going to a region like Burgundy or Verona or Piedmont, you can download the vineyard maps. And for me, that’s really fun and really key because a lot of the best vineyards are not necessarily marked. It gives you the lay of the land like you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.
     
    If I am checking luggage, I always bring a corkscrew because I think one of the fun things — not to be too wine-centric — is going to the wine shops and being able to sort of pick their brain and see what they’re excited about that you might not get in America. I’ll always buy a few bottles and bring them back to the room. And I’ll get some great bread and cheese for a late-night snack or lunch.
  • On January 7, 2013
    John Ragan answered the question: John Ragan

    What are John Ragan’s favorite hotels?

    In San Francisco, the one place that I always try to stay is actually outside the city. It’s right over the bridge in Marin. It’s called Cavallo Point. It’s a relatively new place that’s only been open for maybe five or six years. The rooms are great. It’s got a very spacious feel. You get views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but in 10 minutes you can get to San Francisco. From here, you can easily head north as well, and you can get to Sonoma in half the time it takes if you were in the city. And when you’re in Marin, you can smell the eucalyptus trees and get the fresh air. It is a great definition of the Bay Area.
     
    I’ve stayed at quite a few different places in Italy — so many great ones — but I haven’t really gone back to the same ones over and over again. I keep trying out new ones. If I can, I like to stay at the wineries because then you really get a sense of the culture.
  • On January 7, 2013
    John Ragan answered the question: John Ragan

    What are John Ragan's favorite cities to visit?

    I find myself in San Francisco a lot. It’s nice to be able to go back there as a tourist and just purely enjoy the city for a few days. I’m in Napa and Sonoma a lot as well. I actually lived in Napa before I lived in San Francisco, so same story there. It’s great to be able to know the ins and outs and be able to use it as a tourist in the best way.
     
    I love New Orleans. It has a really different perspective than most American cities. I love the old architecture. In a lot of ways, I think it’s probably the closest feeling you can get to Europe in America. I love the old buildings, the old architecture and the gardens. Of course, it’s a great food city as well. I was there for Jazz Fest once, which was a great experience.
     
    Otherwise, I’d say I’m pretty much a sucker for France and Italy. I usually find myself choosing Piedmont in northern Italy. There’s the confluence of its beautiful landscape, and if you can get there in the fall, you see a lot of the beautiful colors. A little bit later in the fall is the height of truffle season; the white truffles there are just fantastic. You’ll see them everywhere and have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, literally. It’s a pretty magical place that time of year. If you can boycott American Thanksgiving and just get over to Italy, it’s a pretty great time to go.