Best New Sommelier 2017

Douglas Kahn | The Charter Oak, Napa

We asked, and top sommeliers around the country answered with the names of the most talented newcomers to the restaurant scene. They singled out six sommeliers who are making a strong impression after fewer than four years as lead wine buyers.

What does it take to get a vote from the toughest of critics? Enthusiasm, tenacity, grace and professionalism, to start. Couple that with juggling other projects, long hours on the floor, the inevitable grunt work and furthering their own knowledge and educating others. Let us introduce you to our Best New Sommeliers of 2017.

“You can’t learn about wine by yourself,” says Doug Kahn, 28, newly appointed beverage director at Napa’s Charter Oak. He describes wine as “a communal language,” one he’s picked up through a diverse array of restaurant jobs.

He is like a ballet on the floor, and very polished. — D’Lynn Proctor, MS
Growing up just outside of Philadelphia, Kahn recalls that he never loved restaurants, but loved the people who worked in them. During his high school years, he bussed tables for an all-woman crew at Arpeggio, later working as a cook after college, before moving back to the front of the house as a server at Pumpkin, where Chris Kearse taught him how to run a restaurant.

On a visit to New York City, Kahn went to grab a cocktail at Eleven Madison Park with a friend, and knew instantly that he wanted to work there. Three cover letters later, he landed a job as a food runner, and one night, while polishing glasses, a sommelier passed him a glass of ’86 Mouton Rothschild, an experience both humbling and centering. Kahn decided to spend as much time as possible as a cellar rat at Eleven Madison, studying viticulture and vinification on the side. His first sommelier job came at Sixteen in Chicago, before moving to Napa to manage The Charter Oak’s all-Napa-Valley wine list. Now he’s serving a lot of the winemakers who make the very wines he sells.

For Kahn, being a beverage director is about building relationships and expectations, both among employees and winemakers in the community. The draw for him, in fact, was the idea of what chef Christopher Kostow and director Nathanial Dorn view as a “community-orchestrated restaurant,” a place where all the wine and food and most of the clientele are locally based, all brought together under one roof. While at Charter Oak, Doug is gearing up to study for his Master Sommelier exam. When asked what his favorite pairing is, he doesn’t skip a beat before replying “good company.”

His knowledge of wine is magnificent. You can see his passion for this industry. — Frances Leon, Sam’s Social Club, Calistoga

This sommelier was featured in W&S October 2017.
photo by Kelly Puleio