Each year we put a call out to wine directors across the country, asking them to nominate the best new talent they’ve spotted working the floor in restaurants. They voted in eight up-and-coming sommeliers who all share a depth of wine knowledge, a warm presence with guests and the respect their colleagues. We’re pleased to introduce our Best New Sommeliers of 2016.
Meet Erica O’Neal, wine director of the soon-to-open Italienne in New York City. When she moved to Colorado in 2011, she looked up Bobby Stuckey, MS, co-owner of Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine, and got a foot in the door as a reservations host. Any free moments she invested in stocking the cellar and shadowing sommeliers, until a call came from Jeff Kellogg, wine director at Maialino in NYC. She worked with Kellogg as he grew his list from 350 to more than 850 selections, and took on the role of wine educator for the staff. She signed on as wine director for Italienne in January of 2016, after fellow Frasca alum and chef Jared Sippel, ready to start his own restaurant, asked O’Neal to run the wine program.
Flying solo at Frasca
My first solo shift was on a Monday, the night the rest of the wine team was in New York for the James Beard Awards. We were up for best wine program, and we watched the ceremony right before service. We won, and I was overwhelmed that I was part of this. It was the first time I had owned the position.
We had done a special dinner with the Sirch family from Friuli, and Bobby decided to open a ’58 Conterno Barolo Monfortino for them after service. There were twelve of us, so we each had a tiny amount, but it was the first time I realized how great Italian wine could be, how emotionally involved it could be.
Behind the bottle
Working with Matthew [Mather, wine director at Frasca] taught me that wine is history, and history is wine. The way that the wine gets into your glass is important.
photo of Erica O’Neal by Mike Rush.
This article first appeared in W&S October 2016.