Best New Sommeliers

Best New Sommeliers of 2018

A good wine list is only part of the measure of a good sommelier. There’s also strength, speed, modesty and enthusiasm. So, when we asked sommeliers across the country to name the top new talent, we wanted to know: Who would you trust to take care of your friends? Who has turned you on to a new, memorable bottle? Meet the Best New Sommeliers of 2018—five lead wine buyers with fewer than four years under their belts. Pay them a visit on your next outing in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Philadelphia or New York.

Kaitlyn Caruke | Walnut Street Café, Philadelphia

“She’s a powerhouse, with a love of wine that is infectious. As soon as she hit Philadelphia, she was influential.” —Ray Gazdzinski, Vernick Food and Drink, Philadelphia

Kaitlyn Caruke landed in Brooklyn in January 2012 after graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in nutrition and food science. While pursuing a secondary bachelor’s degree for dietetics, she picked up a restaurant job, as one does when trying to make it in NYC. After working for a year and a half at a Columbian restaurant in Brooklyn, she decided to go all in with hospitality. A chef-friend suggested she stop by Pearl & Ash, which sommeliers Patrick Cappiello and Kim Prokoshyn had made into a magnet for wine geeks. By September, Caruke was waiting tables there; by February, she’d made the wine team. Fast forward to 2017, when the Pearl & Ash team opened Walnut Street Café in Philadelphia, and Caruke grabbed the head sommelier position. Having been confined to only French and American wines at Pearl & Ash, Caruke is now exploring the globe via her 100-bottle list. Can’t commit to a bottle? She pours about half of her selection by the glass and offers anything under $150 in half-bottle format. —Deanna Gonnella

Eureka Point
We did a family meal for Thanksgiving at Pearl & Ash and Kim [Prokoshyn] opened a magnum of Pépière Muscadet. I was like, ‘Is this what wine is supposed to taste like? Have I never had a good glass of wine before?’

Current Obsession
Mick Craven’s wines from Stellenbosch. I opened the restaurant pouring his Clairette Blanche by the glass, but I hadn’t been able to taste through his entire lineup until he visited last month. We pour his cinsault right now and I am just gaga for it: It’s light bodied, a little peppery, violet, kind of tart.

Long-Distance Relationships
I go up to New York a fair amount to see the Pearl & Ash crew. There is a group text between about 22 of us; it’s kind of ridiculous because it never stops. We do a wine tasting usually once a month: we give it a theme and spend the day together.

Philadelphia Wine Scene
There are definitely some heavy hitters here: Mariel Wega, who won this recognition a couple of years back, and Tim Kweeder, who has a reputation in Philly as being the city’s wine guy. It has been great joining them, among others, and widening the scope of what we do with wine in Philly.

Jhonel Faelnar | Atomix, NYC

“A genuinely warm and nice person who has excellent taste in wine. It’s that simple.” —Andrea Morris, Intersect by Lexus, NYC

Five years ago, Jhonel Faelnar gave up a career in Japan’s fashion industry to move to New York. Originally from Manila, he’d been swept up in the rise of wine culture in Japan and wanted to take his interest further. Without any experience under his belt, the closest he could come to a sommelier position was a gig as a barista at Amali, a Mediterranean restaurant with a strong wine list. He took the job, and meanwhile enrolled in the Intensive Sommelier Training program at the International Culinary Center. It wasn’t long before he passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier exam and began working with wine-industry luminaries such as Roger Dagorn, MS, at One Five Hospitality, and Thomas Pastuzak at The NoMad. (Full disclosure: Faelner also fit in a stint as an intern for this magazine.) Now he’s the wine director at Atomix, responsible for choosing wines to match the high-end Korean-influenced cuisine of celebrated restaurateurs Junghyun and Ellia Park. —Rachel DelRocco Terrazas

Current Obsession
Portugal. So many different styles, and they age so well. There’s a good amount of Portuguese wines on the list right now at Atomix because they work so well with food.

Clark Kent
It’s an underappreciated art, to be able to haul cases of wine and then appear on the floor looking good and calm and fresh.

Pay Off
When you hit that spot where there’s something you know they’re going to like and they have it and their face lights up as it works well with food.

Somm Homily
Be humble. Don’t use your knowledge to make people feel bad—whether it’s people you work with or people who are eating.

Ryan Bailey | The NoMad, Los Angeles

“Have you seen the Champagne List???” —Daniel Veit, Carbon Beach Club, Malibu

Thanks to a fake ID, Ryan Bailey started his wine studies early, frequenting tasting rooms in Sonoma, where he grew up. There he learned how they “spieled” their wines so that he could become a more effective server at The General’s Daughter. “When I turned 21, I moved to Sacramento, but on the weekends, I would head down to San Francisco and spend a good portion of my tips at RN74, drinking wine and asking Dustin Wilson and Raj Parr questions about wine.” In 2013, Bailey packed his life into three suitcases and ventured east to join the wine team at The NoMad in New York City. In his free time, he worked every event he could get invited to, from Barolofest to La Paulée, Burdigala and La Fête du Champagne. Saturday mornings were spent tasting with a group of top-level wine pros at Union Square Café. Soon NoMad’s wine director, Thomas Pastuzak, promoted Bailey to head sommelier; then he offered him the chance to become a wine director at the restaurant’s new Los Angeles outpost. Now Bailey is back on the West Coast, stocking The NoMad’s cellars in LA with all the grower Champagne he can get his hands on, as well as vintage wines he gleans from private cellars. —Karen Moneymaker

Eureka Wine
The 2005 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Clos de la Maréchale. It was the first big bottle of Burgundy I ever bought, the first wine that was just a little bit too expensive. My context of pinot noir was from the Russian River Valley, so I was used to tasting pinots that were 14.5 percent alcohol.

Current Obsession
Champagne. There is an influx of producers who sold their fruit to larger houses in the past and are now making their own wines.

Biggest Challenge
The hours. People see you on the floor having fun, talking to guests, but for every hour on the floor, there are three spent doing inventory, taking care of invoices and answering emails.

Best Advice
If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Scott Woltz | Babbo, NYC

“Former Eleven Madison Park captain turned sommelier turned beverage director of one of the best Italian wine lists in the country.” —Hannah Williams, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, NY

Scott Woltz came to NYC in 2009 hoping to make it as an actor, and soon found himself distracted by the food scene. “My wife and I, we like to hop on a train, decide how many stops we’re going to hit, and walk around. You’re bound to find something amazing,” he says. After dinner at Eleven Madison Park one night, Woltz decided to aim for a career in fine dining. He honed his skills working at Colicchio & Sons, then snagged a position at EMP, which he describes as “a PhD in hospitality.” It’s there he decided to focus on wine, leaving to take a position as floor sommelier at La Sirena. When the beverage-director role opened up at Babbo last year, he jumped at it, eager to work with a cellar of wines that’s taken 20 years to amass, and a list that goes deep into every corner of Italy. —T.Q.T.

Eureka Point
At EMP, lunch shifts are quieter, so the captain is in charge of wine pairings. I found myself talking about wines, and it was fun and exciting. I thought, ‘If I can expand this, do this full time…’

A lot of somms want to sell the big bottles, but, for me, wine is an opening to create an experience—the same way a tablecloth is, or a piece of silverware. It’s not about the wine sold: Are the guests leaving, thinking, ‘I can’t believe the experience I just had and can’t wait to come back’?

MS Advantage
We are 100 percent Italian at Babbo, but how many times are people asking for an Italian wine? They aren’t. They are saying, ‘I want a sauvignon blanc’ or ‘I really like California chardonnay.’ The knowledge I get from the Court [of Master Sommeliers] allows me to sell more wine. Most people don’t know what to expect from rossesse, but if you can compare it to a pinot or gamay, the lights turn on. Then they are excited—because
75 percent of people are afraid of somms in the first place; they think they are going to talk over their head or upsell them. And our list can be very intimidating. So if you can give them information they can relate to, they’ll be more comfortable.

Current Obsession
Sicily. The wines of Etna are amazing—Italy’s answer to Burgundy, with a little Mediterranean influence. The rossos can play towards Burgundy and nebbiolo, and the whites can get this honeyed, rich minerality that Chablis can sometimes do.

When you’re not working, you’re…
If you’d asked me over the last nine months, I was studying. But last week our son was born. I used to be one of those people who would roll my eyes at new parents…and now, the second I put him to bed, I think about him waking up in the morning.

Elizabeth-Rose Mandalou | Allora, Sacramento, CA

“A daring and eclectic all ItalianGreek wine list.” —Kristy MacDonald, Per Se, NYC

When Elizabeth Mandalou isn’t taking care of the wine program at Allora in Sacramento, you might find her tap-dancing to hip-hop. The young restaurateur had been working her way to a career on Broadway when she got sidetracked by her job at Ella, in her hometown of Sacramento. There, sommelier Jeremy Reed inspired her to look at wine as a career path, and she joined him in studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Just this past summer, Mandalou passed her Advanced exam; and, in the last two years, she’s opened three restaurants—Woodlake Tavern, Uptown Pizza Kitchen and Allora, with her husband, chef Deneb Williams. Allora is her most wine-focused, her list filled with off-the-beaten-path selections of Italian and Greek wines and forging the way for other non-conventional wine programs in the city. —K.M.

Prime Destination
Greece, where my family is from. I have a dream that the air in Greece smells like assyrtiko.

Hard Truths
The fact that I’m not going to get it right one-hundred percent of the time. You can’t please everyone.

Daily Rewards
Introducing guests to new wines and watching their own ‘aha’ moments.

Best Advice
Be a forever student. As soon as you ever think you’ve got it, you’ve limited yourself.

After-Shift Drink
Lambrusco. We pour Barbolini Lambrusco di Sorbara by the glass. It’s not over-thought; it’s simply delicious.

photo of Kaitlyn Caruke, Jhonel Faelnar and Scott Woltz by Mike Rush; Ryan Bailey by Tony Garcia; Elizabeth-Rose Mandalou by Rachel Valley

This feature appears in the print edition of October 2018.
Like what you just read? Subscribe now