Cristie Norman’s first job was at a tea house in Valencia, California, where she worked with a list of close to 120 teas, recommending them based on variety, aroma and different levels of caffeine. “It’s very similar in a lot of ways to what we do with wine,” she recalls. At 18, she started reading Wine for Dummies and Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia; she wanted to get a job at Larsen’s Steakhouse and had heard the General Manager liked wine. While working there, she passed her Introductory level exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and soon set her sights on Spago Beverly Hills. After applying six times, she finally landed a sommelier job when she was 21. “I don’t think I really fell in love with wine until I passed my Certified exam,” she says. “In the beginning, I was not doing a lot of tasting. It was mostly theoretical knowledge.”
Today, Norman runs the program at Delilah at the Wynn in Las Vegas. Her clientele is often comprised of celebrities, sports players and high rollers, offering a unique opportunity to sell wines that most wine directors can only dream about. She calls Delilah “a club restaurant” because, while it’s fine dining, they also have some of the same bottle prices as XS, the nightclub at the Wynn. These wines are marked at a premium because they are carried to the table with sparklers for bottle service. “A lot of people like wines because they light up,” she says. “And not necessarily because that’s the style of Champagne they enjoy.” Still, the spending habits of her clientele allows Norman to sell a lot of Krug and Dom Perignon, and an unusually high volume of all wines, turning her entire inventory multiple times a year. With 800 selections and five sommeliers on her team, Norman reprints the list every Friday because 20 to 30 items sell out each week. —Alissa Bica
What types of wine are you currently in to?
Burgundy is a big focus right now, but it’s getting so expensive. I like tasting and discovering new producers and being open to wines I haven’t tried before. Last September, I was at Spruce in San Francisco and had a Pascal Clement white Burgundy, Les Narvaux. Wow. It was delicious, especially for the price. That same day I got an offering in Vegas and picked it up.
I went to New Zealand before the pandemic—to Central Otago. Specifically, there’s a winery called Rippon which was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. They make a pinot noir called Rippon Mature Vines from old pinot noir vines. And then, Burn Cottage and Felton Road are great. I love Central Otago pinot. I feel like the style has changed dramatically in terms of becoming much more elegant, refined and pretty.
Champagne excites me. But also, other sparkling wines. I like Gusbourne—it’s an English sparkling. They recently came out with a cuvée called Fifty One Degrees North. Absolutely cool. Super delicious. There was very limited allocation for Nevada but we were able to scoop up a little bit. Another alternative sparkling I love is Henskens Rankin from Tasmania. If someone doesn’t want to pay the money for Champagne, but they’re open to trying something new, it’s great.
If Burgundy, Champagne and California wines are major focuses at Delilah, do you have favorites your list right now?
I love discovering new producers like Philippe Livera. He makes a range of wines located in Gevrey-Chambertin. I carry the ‘Clos Village’, ‘En Champs’ and ‘Les Évocelles’. They’re really delicious, they have some flashier cuvées and ones that are a little bit more elegant. I try to look for these kinds of wine because Nevada gets about one quarter, maybe one tenth of the allocations that California gets.
I was able to get some Dom Perignon P3 for the first time. It was the 1971—it’s cool because it’s going to be at least 20 years on the lees. Also, 1982 Salon. [When I opened it] it was yellow, which is terrifying as a wine professional when you look at the glass and hope it’s still good. But it was beautiful, absolutely life changing. My client who bought it was texting me weeks later still thinking about that bottle. If someone wants something a little more affordable in a richer style, I love bringing them to Gosset ’12 Ans de Cave a Minima’. It’s twelve years on the lees and three hundred on our list.
For California, Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville in Napa Valley sells really well. [The vineyard is named for its rich, red soil.] It’s a small family business and the winery neighbors Screaming Eagle. They make high end wines, but their philosophy is to keep them inexpensive. It’s one of the best values in Napa that I’ve experienced. Also, Hundred Acre came out with a line called Fortunate Son which has been flying off the shelves because they have a really approachable price point and are made by the Hundred Acre team.
Are there any new categories you’ve been building this past year?
Australian wines. I’ve been building up the grenache and syrah on the list, and getting cool stuff from Torbreck, Penfolds and Wynns Coonawarra, like John Riddick Cabernet. Actually, Hundred Acre has a Bourassa project they’ve made for a few years called Ancient Way. That sells. When I moved to Vegas, someone told me that Rhône varietals don’t sell. I think that motivated all of us to sell it even more, because it’s easy to just take an order for a cabernet. But it’s another thing to take somebody on a new journey.
What’s the most unique thing about working in a high-volume Las Vegas restaurant?
We’re always sourcing these unicorn bottles and just throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks because I’m not going to get three or four bottles of Screaming Eagle; I might get just one. So, we have a selling challenge every day. Today, we’re going to sell the Cos d’Estournel Blanc or 1982 Penfolds Grange. We can then focus on that and move product. It’s super easy for a sommelier team to just sell the same three wines every day.
We’ve also been selling a lot of six-liters of first growth Bordeaux. I thought it was a cool focus and I wanted to see if we could do it. We sold nine six-liters in a week! Or a six liter of Champagne. You can’t do Michelin starred service on some of these oblong, unique-shaped tables. Have you ever served a six liter? You can’t pour it on the table. It’s a two-person job; you have one sommelier pouring and another person picking up the glass for each guest and putting it back down on the table. We don’t have one of those stands because, while that sounds cool, I have six guests sitting on purse stools because they’ve increased their reservation and there are fifteen people on a table that should seat ten, and you’re trying to pour a big bottle. It’s not gonna happen.
This is a W&S web exclusive. Get access to all of our feature stories by signing up today.