Sommeliers Pop Out of the Cellar

Jeffery Lindenmuth - January/February 2005

An insider's guide elevates appreciation of restaurant sommeliers, while keeping their image down-to-earth.

"You'll often read recognition of a great restaurant wine list without the name of the sommelier. Somebody put that list together. Somebody is working down in the darkness of the cellar," says Yves Sauboua, estate sommelier for Chalk Hill Winery. And with the current edition of Chalk Hill Winery Sommelier Guide to Restaurants in America (Chalk Hill Press, Healdsburg, CA, 2004, $19.95), Sauboua and co-editor Ronn Wiegand, M.W., M.S., have thrust 395 of their colleagues into the light, with a far-ranging welter of quirkily probing profiles.

The first edition, in 2002, stemmed from Chalk Hill Vineyards & Winery co-owner Peggy Furth's idea for a sommelier newsletter. The forthcoming 2005 edition will list 1,700 restaurants, including over 1,200 sommelier interviews, and have educational chapters on topics such as food and wine pairing, penned by leading sommeliers.

Readers will take away a greater understanding of professional sommeliers, beginning with their diverse backgrounds and duties. Actually, the collective "sommeliers" comprise general managers, owners, wine buyers, and even executive chefs. "For me, it can be whatever title. We want to promote the person who not only does the list, but is also here every night, on the restaurant floor," says Sauboua.

For the trade, the guide shares progressive food pairing ideas and insight into national and regional wine trends. For instance, Oregon Pinot Noir, German Riesling, and Austrian Grüner Veltliner are repeatedly mentioned as wines that consumers are increasingly eager to order. In the 2005 edition, expect to see Grüner Veltliner continue its reign on the hip list, accompanied by more mentions of South African and regional Spanish wines.

Those interested in ordering copies or being considered for future inclusion should visit chalkhill.com. There, sommeliers can submit their profiles via an online form or even update an existing profile with a new employer. "People always said they lost the forms. Now they have no excuse," says the determined Sauboua, who finds the online update ideal for keeping track of these oft-itinerant professionals.

Following is a capsule selection of 2004's featured sommeliers, who, with their candid personal tales and engaging smiles, are helping to shed the Nosferatu image of the sommelier. "Basically, I want to show we're not just these scary guys in black," laughs Sauboua.

Ronald D. Wolf manager and wine buyer Pinot Blanc St. Helena, California

What inspired you to pursue a career that involves wine?
I was a brewer for Anchor Steam Beer in 1976–77. Upon returning home to Portland, Oregon, my wife gave me a 12 week Wines of the World course from Harris Wine Cellars as my Christmas gift.

In the past year, what wines in your wine program have customers become more willing to order?
German Riesling, Oregon Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, and old-vine Zinfandel from anywhere.

Name a couple of your restaurant's signature dishes. What types of wine do you prefer to recommend with each?
Foie gras with Tokaji Aszù 5 Puttonyos; ricotta gnocchi with braised veal cheeks paired with Pinot Noir or Zinfandel from Napa, Sonoma, or the Central Coast.

What categories of wine are the best values in your restaurant?
Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Syrah offer the best values.

Jennifer L. Benzie sommelier Michael's Restaurant Santa Monica, California

What inspired you to pursue a career that involves wine?
I thought I would be serving cocktails on the beach when I moved to the Virgin Islands, but I knew enough about wine to land a job as a wine steward.

In the past year, what wines in your wine program have customers become more willing to order?
Oregon Pinot Noir.

Name a couple of your restaurant's signature dishes. What types of wine do you prefer to recommend with each?
A juicy Barbera d'Alba with a 28 day dry-aged New York steak.

If you were not in the wine profession, what would you be doing?
A pastry chef, except that I don't do early mornings!

Bernabe De Luna wine director Pacific's Edge Restaurant at Highland's Inn, Park Hyatt Carmel, California

What inspired you to pursue a career that involves wine?
The inspiration came from my first taste of serious wines: Champagne Salon and Château d'Yquem.

In the past year, what wines in your wine program have customers become more willing to order?
Wines from Austria, Spain, and Germany.

Name recent wine discoveries that have excited you.
Numanthia-Thermes 2000 Termanthia, from Spain's Toro district (a Grenache produced from vines that date back to the 19th century).

Name two of your favorite wines.
Champagne and Burgundy.

Debbie F. Zachareas partner and wine director Bacar San Francisco

What inspired you to pursue a career that involves wine?
I fell in love with wine and decided to pursue a career in it, rather than a career that would afford me the income to spend all of my extra time and money on my true love.

In the past year, what wines in your wine program have customers become more willing to order?
German Riesling, Austrian Grüner Veltliner, American Pinot Noir, and Washington Syrah.

Name recent wine discoveries that have excited you.
Austria has been most exciting over the last few years, especially the fact that it is the only place in the world for Grüner Veltliner. It fits all price ranges, too.

Name a couple of your restaurant's signature dishes. What types of wine do you prefer to recommend with each?
Oysters with Txakolina (from the Basque Country in Spain); wok-roasted mussels with Austrian Grüner Veltliner; house-made sausages with a selection of Riesling.

Darius Allyn sommelier Aureole at the Mandalay Bay Resort Las Vegas

In the past year, what wines in your wine program have customers become more willing to order?
Spanish reds from Priorat, Australian Shiraz-Grenache blends, Argentine Malbecs, German Rieslings, and Austrian Grüner Veltliners.

Name a couple of your restaurant's signature dishes. What types of wine do you prefer to recommend with each?
Our pan-seared scallop with shaved black truffles with a top Barbera-Nebbiolo blend from Piedmont; Maine lobster with Thai curry sauce and coconut-scented jasmine rice cake with German Riesling Spätlese or Alsace Pinot Gris; roasted guinea hen breast with foie gras with great Rioja or Brunello.

Name some of your favorite wine districts.
Savennières, Saar, and Wachau for whites, and Côte-Rôtie for red. They are incredibly unique in their own way, and their pure, clean flavors make them a hit with food pairing.

Maxence Ariza sommelier Bravo! Ristorante at the Adams Mark Hotel Denver (currently a professor at Johnson & Wales University, Denver)

What inspired you to pursue a career that involves wine?
I grew up in France. At home and on a regular basis, my mother served Alsace Riesling, Pommard, Saint-Émilion, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, to name a few.

In the past year, what wines in your wine program have customers become more willing to order?
Pinot Grigio.

Name a couple of your restaurant's signature dishes. What types of wine do you prefer to recommend with each?
Cider glazed pork chop and sun-dried tomatoes with Valpolicella Ripasso or Breganze Merlot; grilled lamb chops with mustard/goat cheese vinaigrette paired with a super Tuscan or Barbaresco.

If you were not in this profession, what would you be doing?
A chef or a stuntman.

Dawn M. Lamendola beverage manager and sommelier Mistral Boston

Name recent wine discoveries that have excited you.
New Zealand Pinot Noirs often have a great flavor profile at affordable prices.

In the past year, what wines in your wine program have customers become more willing to order?
Spanish reds, by the glass and by the bottle; great new styles at great prices.

Name a few of your restaurant's signature dishes. What types of wine do you prefer to recommend with each?
Truffle scented gnocchi, wild mushrooms, and shaved Parmesan with Premier Cru or Grand Cru white Burgundy; pappardelle, braised rabbit, and prosciutto with Valpolicella; grilled salmon with citrus and winter greens with rosé Champagne; roasted duckling and root vegetables, date/fig hash, and cherry gastrique with northern Rhône red.

If you were not in this profession, what would you be doing?
Organic farming.

David Gordon wine director Tribeca Grill New York City

What inspired you to pursue a career that involves wine?
While working as a restaurant manager, I tasted the great 1971 Grange Hermitage and was hooked.

What wines are customers now more willing to order?
German Riesling and Spanish reds from Ribera del Duero and Toro.

Name a couple of your restaurant's signature dishes. What types of wine do you prefer to recommend with each?
Braised short rib with foie gras paired with northern Rhône reds like Hermitage or Cornas; rare seared tuna with sesame noodles paired with German Riesling or Alsatian Gewürztraminer.

Name a recent wine discovery that excited you.
La Carraia Sangiovese from Umbria is better than many Chianti Classicos, for a fraction of the price.

Olivier Dufeu sommelier Le Bernardin New York City (currently with Geisha, New York City)

What wines are customers now more willing to order?
Oregon Pinot Noir and Rhône whites.

Name a couple of your restaurant's signature dishes. What types of wine do you prefer to recommend with each?
Black bass with girolle and black trumpet mushrooms in duck bouillon with excellent red Burgundy; skate wing with brown butter sauce with fine white Burgundy.

Name recent wine discoveries that have excited you.
Slovenian Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir for their excellent value; Priorat for its complexity.

What category of wine is the best value in your restaurant?
Red Bordeaux (we are a seafood restaurant).

Karen A. King beverage director Gramercy Tavern New York City (currently with The Modern at MoMA, New York City)

What inspired you to pursue a career that involves wine?
Working with Danny Meyer and Paul Bolles-Beaven, who introduced me to the wonderful world of wine.

What wines are customers now more willing to order?
Austrian whites.

Name a couple of your restaurant's signature dishes. What types of wine do you prefer to recommend with each?
Fresh bacon with Châteauneuf-du-Pape; fava bean salad with German Riesling.

Your favorite wine district?
Piedmont. I love old Barolo!

David Weitzenhoffer wine director Felidia Ristorante New York City

What inspired you to pursue a career that involves wine?
A pairing of Copper River salmon and Oregon Pinot Noir.

In the past year, what wines in your wine program have customers become more willing to order?
Wines from Sicily and northeast Italy.

Name a couple of your restaurant's signature dishes. What types of wine do you prefer to recommend with each?
Krafi, Istrian wedding pillows, with dry Moscato from Sardinia; pasutice, a diamond-shaped pasta, with a spicy lobster sauce with Piedmont Grignolino.

Name a recent wine discovery that excited you.
Spanish Albariño.

Patrick P. van Hoorebeek, master of ceremonies, The Bistro at Maison de Ville Hotel New Orleans

What inspired you to pursue a career that involves wine?
Auguste Escoffier.

What wines are customers now more willing to order?
Cabernet Sauvignon and Oregon Pinot Noir.

Name one of your restaurant's signature dishes. What wine do you prefer to recommend with it?
Mussels bruxelloise with French fries and California Sauvignon Blanc.

Name a recent wine discovery that has excited you.
Bajoz Crianza from the Toro region of Spain.