Best New Sommeliers

Best New Sommeliers of 2013

As soon as sommeliers become Master Sommeliers, they often disappear from the dining room, moving on to positions with better hours and less box-hauling and bottle-schlepping up and down stairs. We like to keep track of the new talent, as they’re on the front lines and often lead us to our favorite new wines, from places and producers we’d never known before. So we canvas top sommeliers across the country, networking with wine directors at leading restaurants, members of the Court of Master Sommeliers and the young people aspiring to pass the MS exam. They’ve shared their votes on the most promising new professionals on the floor. With fewer than four years as lead wine buyers, two women and six men received the most acclaim from their peers. We’d like to introduce Wine & Spirits’ Best New Sommeliers of 2013.

Jordan Salcito | Momofuku, NYC

“Travel is the most helpful thing I’ve ever done for understanding how terroir matters. You get a feel for the little things that inform the wine.”

Growing up in Denver, Jordan Salcito would occasionally hear stories about her father’s father making wine—bad wine—in his basement in Waterbury, Connecticut. That she’d end up devoting her waking hours to the beverage never even crossed her mind until many years later, after earning a BA in English Literature and Philosophy and another degree from Johnson & Wales culinary school in Denver. Then she landed an externship in the kitchen of Daniel in NYC, where Chef Boulud poured her a glass of 1978 Jaboulet La Chapelle while he described the influence Paul Bocuse had had on him. It wasn’t long before she began trailing sommelier Daniel Johnnes around the dining room, working with him in the mornings and in the kitchen at night. After helping out at La Paulée des Neiges, Johnnes’s Aspen-based Burgundy event, she was sold. “I was meeting all these winemakers that I’d heard and read about, and getting to try a lot of benchmark wines,” she says. “And I just thought, ‘I would like my life to involve this.’”

From there, she went on to work with some of the best in the New York restaurant world—including Tim Kopec at Veritas and John Ragan at Eleven Madison Park. After a near brush with business school—an option she considered during the economic crisis—she tried her hand at mixed drinks, running the cocktail program at the New York Palace hotel; passed the Advanced portion of the MS exam; and launched her own wine label, Bellus, all while helping out in the wine department at The Lion. When the owners of The Lion decided to open Crown, they asked Salcito to direct the list. She debuted her first wine list on Labor Day 2011, opening day. Earlier this year, she took on a new challenge: running the wine programs for all of David Chang’s restaurants in NYC, as wine director of Momofuku. —Tara Q. Thomas

Working Harvest

I’ve worked every harvest since 2006 except 2011, because I opened Crown a month before harvest started; that year I went to Chacra in Patagonia instead. Why? It lends perspective. It helps complete the picture. For instance, there’s so much talk about natural wine now; sometimes there’s this idea that they just stick grapes in the vat and it becomes wine. That’s not the way it goes, and it’s good to have the knowledge to balance these ideas out.

Mentors

I always had this feeling that I didn’t belong and didn’t deserve to be [at Daniel]; it wasn’t until summer of 2007 that I began to feel like I did belong. That’s when Bonnie Munshin, the GM of Nick & Toni’s, gave me a chance and hired me as a part-time sommelier. She gave me lot of freedom, and the opportunity to experiment with how to talk to people. It was really empowering to have that sort of freedom.

Tim [Kopec, at Veritas] had the best mannerisms and tableside manner; it was amazing to watch him. He has this quiet, calm confidence; I always think of that now. John Ragan [of the Union Square Hospitality Group]—a terrific teacher, and extremely detail oriented. He doesn’t accept anything less than his standards of perfection.


Crush with Robert Bohr

The first year we made wine, we went to Montalcino, where we were supposed to be working with someone who knew what he was doing. But he got sick and ended up in the hospital. So we were sort of in charge, which was interesting…I speak French, not Italian…and we essentially just put into effect what we’d seen in Burgundy. It was wet and rainy…the tractor fell over… That was the learning year.

Site Visits

Travel is the most helpful thing I’ve ever done for understanding how terroir matters. You can do the reading but without travel you don’t have the context. Burgundy is where I go most; I have a godson there. But also it’s interesting to get to go over and over again; you begin to notice the nuances of the weather, learn the histories that don’t get written down, get a feel for the little things that inform the wine.

Somm Must-Have

Curiosity.

Hardest Part of Job

Not being able to choose everything. You have to edit well; you have to have self-restraint.

Recent Discovery

L’Anglore Tavel. I didn’t know about it until I visited Jean Foillard, and asked him what he likes to drink when he’s not drinking Beaujolais. I always like to ask winemakers this question. Foillard said L’Anglore, and when I told him I didn’t know it, he ran to get a bottle. It’s so fresh, alive, textural; fruity but a little bit sour, mineral, pure—it’s a magical wine for me.

The Challenge from Chang

A little after I got here, Dave looks at the wine list and he says, “We need some more options for your wine program.” He talked to his kitchen staff, and they devised this tableside short rib dinner—a first course of little snacks, beautiful with Chablis or Champagne; a second course for a richer white or light red; and a final show tableside: bone-in Niman Ranch short ribs. I brought in the Brunello from Stella di Campalto—these are the best wines in Montalcino. I know I’m supposed to say Soldera is, but she’s terrific. She’s the only biodynamic producer in Montalcino; the wine’s pure, grounded, tannins soft, silky, elegant.

Pick for Pork Buns

A glass of the Leitz Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz 2011 out of magnum.

Will Costello | Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas

After piloting planes to Las Vegas, Costello is now piloting a wine program in Las Vegas.

Ever since he was five years old, Will Costello had wanted to be a pilot. But he discovered a life in flying wasn’t all he’d imagined. “I felt like a bus driver in the sky,” he says of his training in aviation. Instead, he was happier on the floor of Blue Fire Grill, in Carlsbad, California, where he worked when he wasn’t flying planes. It was there he had his wine epiphany.

“A coworker—who was definitely drinking on the job—offered up a taste of the liquid in his coffee mug.” Tasting it, Costello deciphered the grapefruit and cut-grass flavors of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. “It blew my mind that I was able to pick out the nuances, and from then on, I was hooked.” Costello nabbed a job at Addison restaurant at the Grand del Mar hotel in San Diego and after meeting sommelier Jesse Rodriguez (a W&S Best New Sommelier 2007), he started studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers. As maître d’, he had exposure to the restaurant’s deep list and Rodriguez’s impressive knowledge, but he was involved only peripherally in the wine program.

Encouraged by Masters Matthew Citriglia and Greg Harrington, he set his sights on a wine director position in Las Vegas, where there is a strong community of sommeliers and scores of big name chef restaurants. He landed as wine director for the Mandarin Oriental, overseeing the wine program for all five of its restaurants including the flagship, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, the French chef’s sole venture in the United States. Meanwhile, he remains intent on preparing for his MS exam, studying wine each morning for a couple of hours, and hopes to earn his letters next year. —Caitlin Griffith

Diehard Fan

I’ve been a Chargers season ticket holder for 14 years, so it was imperative that when I moved from the San Diego area that I be able to get back for home games on Sunday. The five-hour drive after service on Saturday night speeds by. To be honest, I’ve finally given in and gotten a tattoo for the team.

Lucky Seven

We have this option at Twist where we pair seven varietals from seven regions for each of the seven courses. It’s funny to see how people react to the pours&mdhas;some are incredibly relieved when I pour them something French, while frequently diners are amazed that I am pouring them a glass from Slovenia. We have a crayfish dish with a base of morel cream, braised turnips and a Champagne and onion syrup. It’s a fascinating combination with Zaria, a Slovenian field blend from Batic—an orange wine, aged in amphorae, rich with umami. The textures are rich on rich, harmonious and inspirational.

Favorite Regions

Burgundy holds that number one spot for me, but after spending some time in Mendoza, I was taken by the European charm and tree-lined streets. I’d return for the Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard White Stones, or its sister wine, the White Bones. They’re mineral driven, Chablis-style wines from a place not typically known for this style of white.

Douro Promise

I’m energized about the uptick in dry wines arriving from the Douro Valley. Some of the best I’ve seen are the Niepoort options.

Down Time

I love to cook, both for myself and for dinner parties. The easiest thing is a four-hour Bolognese, which everyone seems impressed by— you just cook it long and low. I add in a few ingredients to amp up the umami flavors, including fish sauce and Maggi.

Desert Gardening

When I was a commercial pilot, Lotus of Siam was my go-to spot for lunch in Vegas. Now I make Thai curries, especially Massaman style. Since I love those vibrant Thai flavors, I started growing lemongrass in my backyard. It seriously grows like a weed! Vegas is a desert so it is a challenge to grow much else.

Lofty Goal

Six times a year, my dog and I will scale Mount Whitney [the highest peak in the contiguous United States, in the Sierra Nevadas] and I’ve ascended peaks in Africa, Alaska and Argentina, but it’d be ideal to summit the highest peaks on all seven continents.

Josh Thomas | Prospect, San Francisco

Thomas was in the wrong place at the right time, getting to take over as wine director of Aqua just one year before it closed. It turned out to be a leg up into Prospect.

Texas native Josh Thomas worked in restaurants all through high school, graduating to Biga on the Banks in San Antonio, where he trained at every station in the kitchen, from salad to fish to pastry. To further his career, he moved to California and took a sauté position at Michel Richard’s Citronelle in Santa Barbara.

But local rents sent him into sticker shock, and he began looking for a part-time job. He ended up selling wine at Lazy Acres Market for two years until he decided to move to San Francisco. He started there at Blackwell’s Wine & Spirits, a small shop on Geary in the Richmond District with a tight collection of high-quality wines. Then he joined Masa’s as a food runner and expediter, where he met Master Sommelier Alan Murray. Murray introduced him to the Court of Master Sommeliers, and Thomas began taking every wine course he could find. By the time he moved to Aqua in 2006 he was able to work his way up from food runner to captain. When the wine director left, Thomas stepped in to manage the wine list until the restaurant closed in 2010.

Meanwhile, Chef Nancy Oakes and her team at Boulevard were readying to open Prospect, near the Embarcadero. They hired Thomas as assistant sommelier. When his boss, Amy Currens, left in December of 2012 to head up the list at Farmshop in Larkspur (profiled as a W&S New & Notable Restaurant in this issue), Thomas took over as wine director. Having passed his Advanced exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers in April of 2012, he’s currently studying for the MS. —Patrick Leveque

California Cuisine

In California, when heirloom tomatoes are around, I eat as many as I can get my hands on. I like to grab some bread to make olive oil–soaked croutons, add some chopped basil from our garden, and cheese.

No Sour Grapes

Traveling to Germany, seeing the steepness of many of the vineyards, the black slate and the danger involved in tending these vines, was truly mind-blowing. It was interesting to hear Johannes Selbach speak about global warming. He believes the wines of the Mosel have never been riper than they have been for the past two decades. The last vintage he can remember that actually had “sour grapes” was ‘87.

The Season for Beaujolais

We did a dish in the spring with three preparations of goat on the plate—a chop, a braise and a roast. The dish had pea shoots, fava bean relish, a vinaigrette—subtle spring flavors. I found that Beaujolais really worked—a 2011 Régnié from Domaine de Colette. The dish needed something with acid and minerality that could stand up to a strong protein while not overpowering the subtle flavors of the dish. It really sang.

Post-Shift

Champagne is always up there. But sometimes after a long day in the restaurant a crisp, lighter beer like a Schrimshaw Pilsner can be really refreshing.

Somm Break

I like to ride and to tinker with motorcycles when I can. I used to have a Harley Davidson Sportster but it was damaged outside of Prospect. Now I ride on a Harley Dyna Fat Bob. For a getaway, rides north through wine country or through the Santa Cruz Mountains are great.

Grant Reynolds | Charlie Bird, NYC

“Grant worked at Frasca in Boulder and has a lot of Bobby Stuckey’s hospitality instincts; for me, that trumps everything else a sommelier should have.” — Robert Bohr

Grant Reynolds hails from Lake Placid, NY, site of the 1980 Winter Olympics and consequently home to a sizeable collection of restaurants and hotels. Like just about everyone else in town, he grew up working in hospitality. (“Not to any pedigree,” he adds. “From cleaning tomatoes to washing dishes.”) When he was 16, he spent a year studying abroad in Italy’s Piedmont, learning Italian and experiencing Piemontese food culture first hand.

He attended college in Boulder, Colorado, and continued to work at restaurants, including a brunch spot that turned out to be a regular haunt of Bobby Stuckey, the Master Sommelier who runs Frasca. Reynolds asked Stuckey about the possibility of working there, and ended up volunteering to put wine away during the day so he could hang out by the wine station at night with Stuckey and sommeliers Matthew Mather and Benjamin Richardson. With Frasca’s focus on Italy, and particularly Friuli, Reynold’s Italian language skills came in handy, and after a brief refresher trip to Italy, he started working the floor.

Since then it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. Eighteen months later, he took a break to focus on passing the Advanced Sommelier exam. Then he headed off to France to work harvest at Domaine Dujac. He also did a stage at Noma in Copenhagen and was planning on returning there when he reconnected with New York–based sommelier Robert Bohr, who coaxed him into settling Stateside to open Charlie Bird this past spring in Manhattan’s Soho—as wine director. —Luke Sykora

Composing the List for Bird

We took all the energy that it takes to have a big wine list and honed the selections down to less than 150, with nothing over $250. We wanted everything to be great and fun to drink—and also have some eye-catchers. So wines from the ‘70s, Bordeaux from the ‘80s, esoteric Italian whites, plus things like Roumier and Dauvissat. We took a lot of the show of a big wine list out of the way: Instead of 10 vintages of one wine, we’ll have one vintage that’s pretty great and drinking well right now. The biggest challenge now is keeping wines in stock. With a smaller list, you can really move through a lot of wine.

The Key Question

“How much do you want to spend tonight?” In the end, money is huge in terms of making someone comfortable with their selection.

Hot Bot

Right now we have the Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba, which is super, super good—and it’s not super expensive.

The Stuckey Factor

Bobby is just a hard worker with incredible amounts of knowledge. When he’s at Frasca, he’s as much a maître d’ as a sommelier, and sometimes even more so. He has an uncanny ability to make people feel welcome.

Dinner at Dujac

Every night we did these dinners—the harvest interns and the Seysses family. They’ve been trading wines with all of the great winemakers in France—wines I’d only read about and dreamed of having, and there’s no concern over whether the wine’s fake or how it’s been stored. It’s been in their cellar for decades. And Jacques and Jeremy Seysses are at the table to answer the most detailed questions and tell stories.

Noma

They’ve created this incredible culture—a group of young kids from 20 different countries. People are working 100 hours a week, there’s no letting up. But they really allow people to have their own personality on the floor, to have fun and let it be unpretentious.

New York Haunts

One of the best meals I’ve had of late was at NoMad. I like to go to Jack’s Wife Freda for brunch, and Pearl & Ash to drink wine. Or Bar Boulud—Michael Madrigale is great. I moved to New York because I genuinely believe it is the greatest place in the world to drink wine.

Carlton McCoy, Jr., MS | The Little Nell, Aspen

“Not only did he just become a Master Sommelier, he is one of the most engaging, customer-oriented sommeliers and all around great guys ever to walk the floor of a restaurant.” —Laura Werlin, wine & cheese consultant, Aspen

“I come from a family where no one drinks wine,” says Carlton McCoy, “so it seems normal for me to speak to guests who don’t know much about it.” McCoy’s route to wine came through food. Working beside his grandmother in a catering business from the age of 12, his interest and experience in the kitchen led to a scholarship at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. After school, he headed to NYC, where he staged in some pretty impressive kitchens—Daniel, Alain Ducasse and Jean Georges—before heading back to his home city of Washington, DC, to take a front-of-house job at CityZen.

It was here that McCoy’s wine career began to take off. He credits wine director Andrew Myers with setting him on the wine path. Myers poured him his first blind taste and encouraged him to enter the Court of Master Sommeliers program. His next big break came when he took the Court’s Advanced-level exam, and met Dustin Wilson (a W&S Best New Sommelier of 2009). Wilson was leaving The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado, and suggested McCoy apply for his job. McCoy was skeptical—“I’m a city kid. I’d never even seen a pair of skis or a road bike,” he says. Somewhat reluctantly he flew out for a series of interviews, and fell in love with the hotel and the wine program. He got the job in November of 2010, and has now fully embraced life in the Rockies as an avid runner, road biker and hiker. Earlier this year, he attained his Master Sommelier certification, and the restaurant promoted him to wine director this past summer. —Stephanie Johnson

A Montessori Approach

Staff education is important but I don’t like talking in front of a group. I try to involve everyone by assigning each person a different region to research and present. That includes runners, back servers, front servers, maître d’s and line cooks, as well as sommeliers. Twice a week we get together and train each other. By the end of the year, each employee has been exposed to every major wine region at least twice.

Wine of the Moment?

I scored a small allocation of Ganevat wines from the Jura and wanted to share one with some visiting somms from New York—Patrick Capiello of Pearl & Ash and Michael Madrigale of Bar Boulud/Boulud Sud. Each of them had also brought a bottle to share. Both were Ganevat.

Hot Spring Refresher

One of my favorite hikes is Conundrum Creek Trail, climbing to over eleven thousand feet in elevation. I take a bladder sack of cru Beaujolais, chill it in a mountain-fed stream, and enjoy it while relaxing in one of the nearby hot springs.

Aspen Adventages

Our clientele is similar to that of New York or DC—lots of wealthy people who know quite a bit about wine. The difference is that when they come here, they’re calmer and in a better mood. That’s even true of our staff, who enjoy a great outdoor lifestyle and tend to be less stressed at work. It’s hard to be uptight in Aspen.

Advice to Aspiring Somms

Pay attention to everything you drink. Stay humble and realize that in the end, you’re just a wine server. Find your own style and figure out what regions you’re really excited about, but don’t neglect other areas, because your guests are going to ask about everything.

Words to Live By

Mike Tilch, the legendary DC wine retailer [of Silesia Liquors] who passed away a few years ago, used to say, “People who don’t understand wine open a great bottle and hoard it for themselves. Real wine lovers open a great bottle and look around for people to share it with.”

Carlin Karr | Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, CO

When Grant Reynolds left to work harvest at Dujac, we didn’t have anyone ready to step up. Carlin is the first person we hired from outside to work with Matt Mather.” —Bobby Stuckey, MS

“If my mom made a sandwich, the mayo was from scratch,” says Carlin Karr. After graduating from the University of Colorado, she intended to go into public health, but detoured into the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco instead. That’s where she took her first wine class.

“I realized that wine was what I wanted to do for sure,” she says—so much so that she left culinary school and “started studying wine books like crazy—Jancis Robinson, Clive Coates, Hugh Johnson, Tom Stevenson…”

Taking day trips to Napa and Sonoma to visit producers, Karr set her sights on a job as a sommelier and happened to befriend another CU alum, Matt McNamara. It turned out that he and Teague Moriarty were opening a small place in San Francisco called Sons & Daughters, and, as she says, “They had about as little experience as I did.” They took a chance on her and hired her to run the wine program. The restaurant opened in 2010, and before she knew it, Karr was GM and wine director at a booked-up, Michelin-starred dining room.

Karr left Sons & Daughters in May of 2012 to take a job that would allow her to focus solely on wine. When she heard that Frasca in Boulder had an opening, she jumped at the opportunity to work with owner Bobby Stuckey, MS, who’s trained many a Master Sommelier in his day. “I came out to Frasca to interview and moved to Boulder three weeks later,” she says. She’s currently Frasca’s assistant wine director. In May, she passed her Advanced Sommelier exam on her first attempt. —Patrick Leveque

Gateway Glass

A 2004 Meursault. It was during my first wine class at the California Culinary Academy, and I was just amazed at how rich it was, while simultaneously retaining such great acidity. It was delicious and I wanted more.

Frifuli

In my opinion these are some of the best white wines of Italy. Ronco della Chiesa, an old-vine friulano from Borgo del Tiglio, is a benchmark wine for me. Grant Reynolds (former Frasca sommelier) and Matthew Mather (the wine director) blinded me on it the night that I signed my offer letter at Frasca. I was torn between calling it really great Premier Cru Chablis or really beautiful Kamptal grüner veltliner. It has intense minerality from the ponca soil of the Collio, and a savory, slightly bitter quality that I find extremely appealing.

Trading South

Great sangiovese can also be transforming. It can be floral, feminine, savory, mushroomy, with a truly Mediterranean essence. Poggio di Sotto is my favorite Brunello—the 2005 is hard to beat right now. I love introducing a lover of Burgundy to a Brunello; when that guest returns and orders a Brunello, I know I have done my job.

A Brush with Rush

The other night the band Rush came in, and they are huge wine guys. We opened six vintages of Soldera—‘91, ‘94, ‘95, ‘02, ‘03 and ‘06. It’s inspiring to see how passionate people from all walks of life are about wine.

Craving

My favorite thing in the world is soft-shell crab. My mom and I actually would call each other when we would see them in the store: “They are here, go get them!” I would keep it simple, pan-fried with a little egg wash and flour and a squeeze of lemon. Paired with a Dauvissat Chablis.

Andrey Ivanov | Elaia and Olio, St. Louis

How does the kid from Yakutsk become the young wine tsar of St. Louis?

After immigrating to the United States with his family in 1992 from Yakutsk in northeastern Siberia, Andrey Ivanov embraced his adopted hometown of St. Louis, earning a dual degree with honors in International Business and Russian Studies from St. Louis University in 2007. After graduation, he aimed to find a job in sales, but the economy was bleak. So he stayed in the hospitality industry, where he’d worked throughout high school and college, and began to realize that wine melds all the topics he likes to nerd out to—history, geology, sociology, chemistry and food. Working at Vin de Set, a Provençal-inspired restaurant in St. Louis, he threw himself into wine studies, and passed the Certified Sommelier exam in 2009.

Louis’s top wine haunts—Brasserie by Niche and 33 Wine Shop and Tasting Bar—and passed the Advanced Sommelier exam in August 2011—receiving the Rudd Scholarship and Johnston Medal for having the highest score for the year. Ivanov briefly flirted with the idea of moving to a larger city to gain more exposure for his palate, but ultimately decided to stay on: In fall of 2012, celebrated local chef Ben Poremba opened the restaurants Elaia and Olio, and tapped Ivanov as GM and beverage director. Both wine lists have become showcases for Ivanov’s adventurous tastes. His current passion is wine from Galicia, where he spent time last summer visiting winemakers, such as Gerardo Mendez of Do Ferreiro. You can read about the trip at postphylloxera.com, a site he launched with some wine friends to chronicle their travels and explore wine cultures around the world.—Caitlin Griffith

First Love

The wine that hooked me: a buttery, rich Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay.

Trending

Santorini, Greece’s answer to a quencher. I like to pair it, specifically the Estate Argyros 2011 Assyrtiko, with charred octopus, and a cauliflower panna cotta to bring out the celery notes in the wine.

Favorite Bottles

I’m super excited about Madeira, and we always have a bottle open at the bar. There are so many cool, old vintages—right now we have a 1969 d’Oliveiras Sercial open for tasting or by the glass.

Non-Wine Drink

Now that Anheuser-Busch is no longer headquartered in the Gateway to the West, a vibrant beer culture is back in a big way. My go-to? A classically sessionable ale that refreshes and quenches like water, the Civil Life Brown Ale.

Adivce to Aspiring Somms

Geek out. All of those qualities that made you nerdy and unsure of yourself in high school? Those are exactly the qualities that make you a cool, interesting person in adulthood. Let them over take your personality.

Lady in his Life

My five-year-old pup, Lyra. She is an American Staffordshire Terrier, and gets me out of the house and into the park. I need her to remind me to take a bike ride from time to time.

Chad Zeigler | RN74, San Francisco

He stumbled into sommelierdom—on the floor of The French Laundry—when he’d just reached legal drinking age.

Chad Zeigler’s father was a pilot in Los Angeles. His uncle was the chief mechanic for Warner Brothers’ corporate jets. By the time he was 16, Zeigler had earned his own pilot’s license and was planning to enter the Air National Guard in Fresno, where he would learn to fly F16s. At the last minute, though, he started to have reservations. So instead, when he finished high school, he moved back to Pensacola, where he’d grown up before his family moved west.

He ended up tending bar at a place that had a solid wine program, and the manager suggested that he learn more about wine. “I was 21 at the time. I started reading wine books and tasting as much as I could,” he recalls. “I did the [Court of Master Sommeliers] intro course, then the Certified, and the hooks were set.”

Soon he was moving back across the country to intern at The French Laundry in Napa Valley. When Sur Lucero (a W&S Best New Somm in 2011) left to work under Bobby Stuckey, MS, in Colorado, Zeigler found himself on the floor as a full-fledged sommelier at one of the country’s most distinguished restaurants. He was still 21.

After that, he was hired by Jared Heber to run the wine program at the new Gordon Ramsay restaurant in L.A., where he stayed for several years before settling in San Francisco on the team at RN74. Last October, Rajat Parr, who runs the Michael Mina Group’s wine division, promoted Zeigler to head sommelier, putting him in charge of a wine program loaded with blue-chip bottlings, particularly from Burgundy and the Northern Rhône. —Luke Sykora

Starting out

I just tasted everything I could get my hands on. I was reading about wines like pinotage, some people talking favorably about it, some trashing it, so I would say: I’m going to find some pinotage. For the first year, I didn’t have favorites, because I was always trying something new. I got into Bordeaux for a while. I liked the savory, earthy flavor profiles—although I still wanted something full. And then I started gravitating toward the Southern Rhône, then the Northern Rhône. And then riesling and Champagne—those are some of my favorites now.

The red sheep

I think I baffle most people in my family: Wine, how does that even happen?

Basic Bourgogne

Marsannay is showing some promise, especially producers like Sylvain Pataille. And Savigny-lès-Beaunes—tasting there in February with Patrick Bize of Domaine Simon Bize, some of the Savigny were just incredible. Even basic Bourgogne is becoming quite good. Roulot’s Bourgogne Blanc: for the money, it’s incredible.

SF Haunts

I go to NOPA because they’re open late and their wine list is awesome. We also find ourselves at Zuni a lot for lunch on Sundays. It’s been a tradition we’ve had since I started [at RN74]. We call them Department Meetings. We bring a bunch of wine and drink and taste, for someone’s birthday or just because we haven’t done it in a while.

Flying Again

I would still like to get back to flying after I finish my studies with the Court of Master Sommeliers. I haven’t flown for several years, but I want to for sure.

photo of Jordan Salcito by Sara Brittany Somerset

This feature appears in the print edition of October 2013.
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