Andy Lynes - June 2013
Raised in Italy by restaurateur parents, Vanessa Cinti pursued her wine education and certification in the United States, and then brought her appreciation of American wines to a posh London steakhouse.
Wolfgang Puck’s CUT restaurant is a little slice of America in the heart of London. In the glamorous setting of the Dorchester Collection’s art deco–inspired 45 Park Lane hotel, you can dine on USDA prime steak and choose from the best selection of American wines in the city. So you might be forgiven for expecting CUT’s three-strong team of female sommeliers to be headed up by an American. In fact, the vivacious Vanessa Cinti was born in Turin in northern Italy and, despite a professed love of Barolo, is uniquely qualified for the job.
“I lived in America for 10 years. I was beverage director of The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Colorado when Spago opened there in 2007, and so I became a Wolfgang Puck girl,” laughs Cinti, who grew up in her parents’ restaurant that overlooked a picturesque lake between Milan and Turin. “All my wine studies were in the States, I was accredited Advanced Sommelier by the American Court of Master Sommeliers, my mentors were American, and the list at Spago was mainly American, so I’m very familiar with the wines.”
Cinti has been at CUT since it opened in September 2011 and built the 600-label list, half of which is made up of wines from California, Oregon, and Washington, from scratch. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. An American restaurant with a big American list? Would it be popular? How much wine should we order and would people take to it? So we started a little cautiously and then, as soon as we opened—boom!—everyone wanted American wines. I went from ordering three bottles of each wine to ordering by the case.”
Just over two-thirds of the American wines are reds, and, of those, Cabernet Sauvignon is the biggest selling. “All the food is rich and full-bodied, so you really want a full-bodied wine, even in the summer. You want something that sticks in your mouth. Beaulieu Vineyard Napa Valley 2008 is very accessible and well priced, and Opus One is always a classic. I have many vintages because the wine goes fast. People know the name and the quality, and it’s a status symbol, so it’s very easy to sell.”
The list ranges from a 1998 vintage of the iconic Screaming Eagle at £5,500 ($8,392) to a 2008 Wente Chardonnay Arroyo Seco Riva Ranch from California at £30 ($46). “I want to make sure there’s everything for everybody and that my lower priced wines are not just cheap but are well made and well priced. I want to make sure my guests are as comfortable as they can be.” Cinti also puts a lot of effort into ensuring that the wines on her list complement the food on the menu. “Over the years, I’ve developed an intuitive understanding of which wines best match Wolfgang’s style of cuisine; I also work very closely with executive chef David McIntyre to test which wines go best with our seasonal menus.”
One of her favorite matches is California’s O’Shaughnessy Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2007 (£250/$380) with the 100 percent Wagyu rib eye from Chile. “The beef is very nice and rich and juicy, and it’s perfect with the wine, which has good minerality and a hint of smokiness. It’s made with all French oak, so it’s round and full-bodied and the tannin cuts through the fat and balances all the flavors in your mouth.”
Staff training is another area Cinti takes seriously, with daily blind tastings and weekly training sessions with Master Sommeliers, including the Dorchester’s own Ronan Sayburn and American winemakers, such as representatives from Shafer, Honig, and Frog’s Leap. “I want everyone to participate and understand the wines,” says Cinti.
Cinti also keeps American wines firmly on the agenda, with pairings for special menus to celebrate key calendar dates, such as Thanksgiving, the Academy Awards, and regular wine dinners with the likes of Beringer. “The winery sends me the wines they’re going to present to their guests, and then we create the menu around them. I taste the wine with the chef, and we discuss what ingredients will work, and that’s a lot of fun.”
Cinti makes regular trips back to the States, visiting her favorite wineries and discovering new ones, like Corison in Napa Valley, making contacts so she can import directly from the winery. Recent additions to the CUT list include Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel California 2010 (£68/$104), which she drank in a restaurant in San Francisco, and former Screaming Eagle owner Charles Banks’ Sandhi Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2011 (£85/$130), which she recommends drinking with the restaurant’s signature crab and lobster Louis.
“I’m going to get some Virginia wines and I’m thinking about some Rieslings from Long Island, New York,” says Cinti. “Now that I have the contacts and resources, I just want more and more. The hotel doesn’t let me do everything I want, though. If they did, my list would have 10,000 wines!”
Holmes on the American Range"Andy Lynes"
The Vineyard has been a gastronomic destination since the luxury boutique hotel opened in the Berkshire countryside in 1998. Chef Daniel Galmiche was named Relais & Châteaux’s Rising Chef of the Year 2010 for his modern take on his native French cuisine. But it’s just as notable for its equally award-winning wine program. The monolithic list features no less than 3,000 bins, 30 percent of which are American.
“American wines make up about 50 percent of sales,” says sommelier Alan Holmes, who moved to The Vineyard from the five-star Chewton Glen hotel in December 2012. “I wasn’t a specialist in American wines before I took this job, so it’s been quite a learning curve.”
Although dominated by California, the list includes wines from Oregon, Washington, and even a red from New York (Red Newt Cellars Cabernet Franc Finger Lakes Glacier Ridge Vineyards 2010). Perhaps more remarkable is that some of finest American wines on the list are produced in Sonoma by Brit Sir Peter Michael, who also just happens to be the hotel’s owner.
Holmes says that Bordeaux-style Cabernet blends like Peter Michael Les Pavots Knights Valley (£250/$381) (about two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon with equal parts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot and finished with a dash of Petit Verdot) are the most requested at the restaurant. But he’s equally enthusiastic about Peter Michael Sauvignon Blanc Knights Valley L’Après Midi 2011. “It’s a very adaptable wine, but its fresh acidity goes particularly well with seafood dishes,” he says.
Familiar names like Dominus Estate and Opus One sell well, but The Vineyard’s customers are also open to less well-known bottles, too, such as Buccella Cabernet Sauvignon from Yountville and Checkerboard Cabernet blend from Diamond Mountain, both in Napa Valley. “It feels like every day there’s a new discovery, something new and intriguing,” says Holmes.