While bartending in Ithaca to help pay his way through Cornell, Thomas Pastuszak got to know the local wineries of the Finger Lakes. His studies were leading him toward neurobiology and classical piano, but he ended up switching career paths after graduating. He moved to NYC to become Wine Director at Colicchio & Sons in 2011, then took charge of the wine program at The NoMad in 2012.
On three sparkling wines among NoMad’s ten top-selling wines
Chef’s food is so acid-driven; if guests are having fruits de mer or lighter appetizers, sparkling is the definitive thing to start with. We’ve promoted our sparkling wine program to the staff, particularly with by-the-glass wines.
Cremant de Bourgogne, as a category, is interesting for guests who want to drink a high-quality sparkling wine, want it to taste good, but don’t want to pay a lot for it. With Cremant de Bourgogne, you have a great, established region like Burgundy combined with a technique similar to Champagne, so you get tremendous quality at a great price point. The Parigot & Richard Cremant is our least expensive sparkling wine by the glass. When people come in and say, “I’ll have a glass of prosecco,” we say, “We prefer to focus on this category.”
There continues to be an increasing demand for Champagne at lower prices. People want to drink real Champagne and we’re in this beautiful era of having importers and distributers who are finding and bringing in Champagnes from outlier areas like the Aube, or villages people did not look at, like Cramant. We’re seeing more of them, and they give people like me the opportunity to sell true Champagne at a more comfortable price than the price of a grand marque. It’s like having more ingredients to cook with. Today, there’s better value in Champagne and people more excited to drink it throughout their meal. We have people who want to drink extra brut non-dosage blanc de blancs to start, then go to a blanc de noirs, then to a richer, solera-system wine like Selosse, but at a better price point. There are producers offering these styles at a price point that is less rarified.
On cabernet franc
Bourgeuil is a classic bistro wine. We get behind it; we have our server team really excited about it. It’s a conversation. We have a well-rounded by-the-glass selection, some things that are familiar, some not. The selection is built to give them a point of comfort, and a place to step out of their comfort zone and have a conversation. If they like French wines, Côtes du Rhône or something more vibrant, Breton’s Bourgeuil allows us the way to say: Here’s a wine you would see at a bistro in Paris. You can bring in the conversation of biodynamics, you can keep it simple or have a more elaborate conversation.
Cabernet franc as a category is something people are getting more excited about. People used to think, when they saw cabernet franc, that they would get the same thing as cabernet sauvignon. Now they’ve tasted enough that they realize they would get something different. Also, guests are thinking more consciously about what they are drinking. People who want organically grown wines, when they see Loire Valley, they have this association that it’s a hand-made wine, better for you, less chemicals. That’s changed in the past three years; people have access to more information; they read more.
There’s not a dinner service that goes by when we don’t have a guest asking for a recommendation and they will ask: Is this wine organic? Biodynamic? What about sulfites, is this a non-sulfured wine? They’re reading about the natural wine movement. Not only are they worried about what they are putting into their bodies, but also want to taste whether there’s a difference in these wines. They’re calibrating their palate based on the interesting wines that are out there.
On New York wines gaining traction
It used to be very rare that I would have a conversation with guests about Finger Lakes wines that wasn’t started by me. Now, it’s more frequent that guests are asking about New York wines and Finger Lakes wines. I used to flinch when a server said a guest wanted to ask questions about Finger Lakes wines; I thought, ‘You’re pulling my leg.’ But I’m seeing a lot more enthusiasm and excitement about the region. It’s exciting, because I’ve been promoting those wines and it’s great to see people getting it. They’re interested, as opposed to starting off defensive and unconvinced. Now there’s more conviction among guests for the Finger Lakes.