James Juedes loves to talk food and wine.
Opening a sandwich deli in downtown Madison is hardly a novel idea. But the new Casetta Kitchen and Counter, the Italian-American deli at 222 W. Washington Ave. that opened in February, is already setting itself apart. Co-owner James Juedes has a rich knowledge of wine, and he serves it up alongside his American and Italian classics, which include the “Italian” (capicola, salami, ham, provolone “with everything”) and the “Tonno” (tuna, caper aioli, olives, potato, hard-boiled egg, shaved onion, lemon).
Juedes, a former sommelier at L’Etoile, has put together a selection of wines to pair with his menu, for dine-in or take-out — elevating the sandwich lunch. A few people have come in for lunch and had a bottle of wine, he says, something he’d like to see more of. Casetta is open until 7 p.m. Mon.-Wed., and until 11 p.m. Thurs.-Fri., so dinner, or picking up wine for a take-out dinner, is also an option.
Juedes offers what he considers some of the best-value Italian and American wines. “Being an Italian-American deli, we are kind of Italian-centric, but we’re not just Italian,” he notes. To pair with American deli classics, he carries a zinfandel, which he terms “the quintessential American grape.” His 100 percent zin is the renowned “Day,” from winemaker Ehren Jordan. Juedes also stocks some of his favorite Spanish and Austrian wines. “Everything here is stuff that I love to drink.”
Juedes graduated from UW-Madison with an undergrad degree in biochemistry. He worked in a lab for a while but soon realized that wasn’t for him. He started bartending and visiting wineries around Wisconsin.
His first job in wine was at Fisher King Winery. During that time he also enrolled in a distance-learning viticulture and enology program through the University of California-Davis.
About seven months later he moved with his fiancée to Spain to teach English. He spent a lot of that time visiting wineries around Europe. “It was an awesome opportunity to get around to a bunch of wineries and vineyards around Europe and learn from that,” he says. “There’s a distinct difference between knowing about winemaking and knowing about wine, so it was great to have that exposure.”
More globetrotting ensued. In 2013 he headed to the Willamette Valley in Oregon to work at Alexana Winery; then to New Zealand in 2014 to work at Wither Hills. After returning to Madison in 2015, Juedes got the job at L’Etoile running one of the most impressive wine cellars in the city.
Most of Casetta’s wines are between $15 and $25, because Juedes thinks the biggest jump in wine quality is from a $10 bottle to a $15 or $20 bottle — much more than the jump from a $25 bottle to a $100 bottle. Casetta’s rack has about 20 different bottles currently, but he hopes to add more as sales pick up. All bottles are priced at retail for take-out; for dining in, there’s a $10 corking fee.
Juedes has completed level three of the sommelier examination and wants to share his knowledge with his deli patrons. “I love talking about food and wine, so I’m more than happy to say if you’re [eating] this, I have the perfect bottle for that,” he says.