Do you feel like you need a drink just to tackle a restaurant’s wine list? Even if you’re something of an oenophile, do you get overwhelmed by the number of choices you have? Whether you want to try something new and different, discover a hidden bargain, or indulge in a once-in-a-lifetime splurge, these experts are quite literally here to serve. Use these sommelier secrets to help you find terrific wine the next time you dine.
Wine Director Eugenio Jardim, Black Cat, San Francisco, California
Pro tip: Go for grower.
“I knew people would be inspired to drink Champagne at Black Cat because it’s a restaurant and a club, so I named the category ‘Grower Champagne,’ sending a clear message. It’s basically Champagne made by the people who grow the grapes. Growers let us look at Champagne as any other wine, allowing its ‘imperfections’ to be discovered and appreciated. Some grower-producers that paved the way have become more expensive; it’s disappointing. They shouldn’t be as expensive because they don’t pay for marketing the way the big houses do.” Make a reservation at Black Cat.
Sommelier Rob Guimaraes from Trattoria Il Mulino, Nashville, Tennessee
Pro tip: In Italy, go beyond the Brunello and Pinot Grigio.
”In Italy, there are a wealth of styles of wine; it’s so diverse. I brought on Lacrima, from central eastern Italy on the coast. It’s similar to Pinot Noir or an intense Beaujolais with aromatic intensity. It’s a light and open, floral wine, from the Marche. Near Rome, Frascati with native grapes like Malvasia is fun — uncomplicated, good value for Pinot Grigio drinkers with a pistachio note. Soave is a region in the Northern part of Italy. It was popular decades ago; it was Frank Sinatra’s favorite wine. But now there are a number of producers with quality. It’s fantastic with pastas and creamy sauces — or even black ink. If you like Brunello, try Rosso di Montalcino; it can be brighter and always less expensive, and it’s still 100% Sangiovese. Sicily is pretty hot right now. The Etna region offers Mascalese, like Nebbiolo, and also Frappato and Nero d’Avola. Verdicchio is maybe my favorite white. Around Le Marche, it’s a side step from Chardonnay with an almond finish that’s similar to oak in Chardonnay but a good bit of weight and phenomenal acidity. Make a reservation at Trattoria Il Mulino.
Wine Director Jason Jacobeit, Bâtard, New York, New York
Pro tip: There’s bang for your buck in Burgundy.
”Be open to what the scope of the restaurant is because, with globalization with wine, sommeliers may focus on a single varietal or region. At Bâtard, the smart money is on Burgundy; almost all of our list is dedicated to Burgundy.
Amelie Berthaud is lovely young winemaker at Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, a single vineyard. Patrick Javillier has been making wines since the 70’s; his wines are not expensive but made just outside Meursault. As the wines have gone to the stratosphere, the entry-level wines are the ones producers are excited about because they are the gateway. They can over-deliver, especially for a Burgundy drinker. At least once a night, I hear, ‘There’s no value in Burgundy,’ but the real story is how layered it is — the pride in entry-level wines is amazing. There’s really good fruit.” Make a reservation at Bâtard.
Sommelier Jeff Kellogg, Quince and Cotogna, San Francisco California
Pro tip: Start with price, then ‘sip’ back and relax.
“Put yourself in the hands of the sommelier and just share the price point. Often I’ll fudge that; if something is right up your alley, if I have something that is $110 and you said $100, I will charge you the cap. I want you to get something great, not upsell. Also if something sticks out, a strangely weird section on the list, for example, ask the sommelier about it because it’s probably where their passion is and you might get turned on to something new.” Make a reservation at Quince or Cotogna.
Sommelier Belinda Chang, formerly of Maple & Ash, Chicago, Ilinois
Pro tip: Pass on the by-the-glass pairings.
“It’s an old idea that there’s just one wine that goes with each course. I don’t think that’s a meaningful way to engage with the wine. It varies from chef to chef, but with balanced dishes, it’s easier to find wines that match [all the dishes].” Make a reservation at Maple & Ash.
Sommelier Cate Hatch, Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta, Georgia
Pro tip: You can find a ‘one-drink-fits-all’ selection.
“Champagne, bubbles in all categories, rosé including sparkling, Riesling with some residual sugar, Gamay Beaujolais — all are low alcohol and pair well with most things. If none of those works for you, try a beer. We have a team of sommeliers and they write the wine list and cocktail menu and select the beers. We get as excited about the scotches as wine. We’ve even done mocktail pairings and tea pairings.” Make a reservation at Restaurant Eugene.
Share the best sommelier secrets you’ve gleaned while dining out here or over on Facebook, G+, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics (drink pics count, too) with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.
Photo credits: Kelly Puleio (Black Cat); Heidi Geldhauser (Restaurant Eugene).