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
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?’
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Champagne. There is an influx of producers who sold their fruit to larger houses in the past and are now making their own wines.
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.
If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Scott Woltz | Babbo, NYC
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’?
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.
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
Greece, where my family is from. I have a dream that the air in Greece smells like assyrtiko.
The fact that I’m not going to get it right one-hundred percent of the time. You can’t please everyone.
Introducing guests to new wines and watching their own ‘aha’ moments.
Be a forever student. As soon as you ever think you’ve got it, you’ve limited yourself.
Lambrusco. We pour Barbolini Lambrusco di Sorbara by the glass. It’s not over-thought; it’s simply delicious.