Best New Sommelier 2011

Pascaline Lepeltier | Rouge Tomate, NYC

There are plenty of contests and exams these days that highlight the greatest talents in the sommelier world. Are any contests, however, as discerning as the judgment of one’s peers? These are the people who see their colleagues in action, conversing with guests, choosing bottles to complement an esoteric dish while juggling wine keys, waiter duties and cellar inventory. We’ve asked the top sommeliers across the US to name the most promising new talents in the business today—the people they want working for them or waiting on them. Meet the Best New Sommeliers of 2011.

Though Pascaline Lepeltier grew up around wine in Angers, France, she was a latecomer to the industry. She’d already completed a Masters in philosophy when she decided restaurants were more her thing. She went back to school for a Masters in hospitality management and ended up working an event at Château d’Yquem. When the 1937 was poured, she knew that she would make wine her career.

Her apprenticeship at L’Auberge Bretonne in the Pays Nantais made her certain of it, working with a 30,000-bottle wine cellar and a chef whose friends and clientele included Leflaives and Roumiers. And there was her wine theory teacher, Patrick Rigourd. “I was in a class with all guys who were 18 and I was 24,” recalls Lepeltier, “and because I was the oldest in my class, [Rigourd] often took me on trips to visit producers. He really taught me that wine was made in the vineyard.”

So when Rouge Tomate was looking for someone with a background in organic wine to help out with their beverage program, Lepeltier was ready. She began working for the company in Brussels in 2007 and then moved to New York in April 2009 to work at the branch on East 60th Street. By November, she’d been named the wine director, in charge of all buying decisions, and had made a name for herself as a maven of natural and organic wines. “I’m lucky because I work in a place that’s very in line with my personal philosophy,” she says. “Less additives, freshest is best for you. Wine with personality that says something about the winemaker and terroir.” —Chris Hallowell

Day Off
I’m super excited to be in New York so I try to go to a lot of exhibitions and see art. I’m also a very big wine geek so if I get a few days off I really try get to vineyards.

Shift Drink
I really like vin jaune—dry, oxidized white wine. I’m rediscovering American beer, but I always go back to gueuze. If I can find Cantillon Gueuze, I buy it.

Advice for Future Somms
Be open-minded. Trust your palate. Travel as much as you can. Respect your classics. Do your inventory every month. Always take care of your guests first before satisfying your personal preference. And remember you are nothing without the vineyards and the winemakers or your chefs at the restaurant!

Philosophy and Wine
Do you find that conversations around a bottle often move to more philosophical subjects? One night a guest at the bar ordered a bottle of Dugat Py Coeur du Roy ‘06 and then started to speak to me about how he could perceive the philosophy of Heidegger and Deleuze in the wines—and he didn’t know I studied philosophy.

New Find
I recently put Els Jelipins, a small Penedès producer on the list. It was a revelation for me in terms of Spanish wine—one of the most amazing old school wines I’ve had. There are five cases in the US and I got six bottles, so I’m very happy.

This sommelier was featured in W&S October 2011.