“I love food,” Jack Mason, MS, says. “I was at the Culinary Institute to cook. But the opportunity to push into something that was super deep…and also to get to interact with people, to help them put together an experience and to watch it play out—I thought that was really cool. And I still think it’s really cool.”
When the lists are written, the inventory done, the boxes schlepped and the budgets approved, there’s one thing that draws people to make a profession out of wine in restaurants. It’s a genuine enthusiasm for matching people to bottles and vice versa.
We asked thousands of sommeliers across the country to take a break from their multitasking and consider the best new talent in their field. Five sommeliers—all with fewer than four years at the helm of a restaurant list—garnered the most votes in our poll. They are the guides other sommeliers would most like to have by their side, advising on what to drink tonight. Please welcome the Best New Sommeliers of 2015.
Kimberly Livingston Prokoshyn came to New York to study art at Hunter College. Wine was never a career goal, even as she worked her way through her early twenties at various downtown restaurants, before ending up at the short-lived Bowery Kitchen. Its closing turned out to have a silver lining: She stayed on as the space transformed into Pearl & Ash, which sommelier Patrick Cappiello quickly turned into a magnet for wine geeks and sommeliers attracted by its far-ranging wine list and low-key vibe. Although she insists she knew next to nothing about wine, Prokoshyn’s interest grew as she listened to Cappiello at tables with bottles, telling stories about the people who made them and the places they came from. Branden McRill, the general manager at the time, noted this, and suggested she take some courses with the American Sommelier Association. She’s never looked back.
Prokoshyn recently took on the wine program at Rebelle, which Cappiello and his team opened next door to Pearl & Ash last spring. It was a huge challenge, she says. “In going from nothing to creating a list, I think the most challenging thing is to balance all of the tasks,” she says. “Receiving wine, maintaining a cellar, considering budget, providing lyrical, poetic, ethereal wine experiences to people. There are two really important and opposing aspects to maintaining a wine program.”
And yet Prokoshyn’s enthusiasm for the list she curates is palpable; when asked about values or favorite producers or under-the-radar regions, she doesn’t stop. “We have so many vintages of Olga Raffault—those wines are beautiful and intriguing and so terroir expressive,” she says. “And Alain Graillot—whenever the allocation comes out, we take as much as we can. Or the Dolomies Chardonnay from the Côtes du Jura. It has this saline thing that is also wild and woolly and ginger spiced that goes really well with chef ’s food.” —C.G.
“It is all about the sensual experience, all the senses you go through when drinking a bottle with friends, and our job as sommeliers is to cater to that experience, assist it along, create it. This is a completely human experience, not this intangible thing. This is fun every single day.”
Close to Home
Before we opened Rebelle, the whole somm team went up to the Finger Lakes and we tasted with ten producers. It was really cool. Bellwether was a big highlight; Kris Matthewson does single-vineyard bottles with riesling and pinot. His riesling was so lively and really energetic; there was a precision and minerality to all of his rieslings. I especially enjoyed the Tuller Vineyard Riesling Pét-Nat: it was dry, bright, salty, peachy. And then there is Wiemer, which has been around since the seventies; they are making great wine, especially the rieslings.
We [the sommelier team at Rebelle] all chip in $20 each week to buy a mixed case of wine. Every day the team tastes a bottle and we have the wine store wrap the bottles up for us, so we don’t know what they are. I love blind tasting; you always learn something new from it. You think you know what a wine is, and then you realize you don’t.
Since we only list American and French wines at Rebelle, I do miss some grapes and grape-growing regions. I had a craving for German riesling the other day—the Weiser-Künstler, you know the label with the owl? Love those wines. And I miss wines from Etna. Benanti Pietramarina: That wine is crazy good and ages super well, almost like the Dauvissat of Mount Etna. Both are like crushed oyster shells. I also miss wines from Piedmont, especially the really cool, less exposed areas and grape varieties of the region, like pelaverga, timorasso—I just can’t play with those grapes anymore.
I really do love French wines, especially the Loire and the Jura and Savoie—these have long histories but have been veiled from the American public so there is really great value there. And I’m completely in love with Burgundy. We have a really large Burgundy list at the restaurant. Our page of Roumier, I don’t know how that happened! Jacques Carillon from Puligny-Montrachet is really good, so much precision. Or Morey-Blanc for value.
Benoît Roseau: I am hooked on this Northern Rhône syrah from Collines Rhodaniennes. It is super fresh and light and peppery, all at 11.5 percent, and a really great value.
So much of this job is about translating. You have to understand what people are asking for and translate.
This article first appeared in W&S October 2015.