Best New Sommelier 2017

Rory Pugh | Jean-Georges, NYC

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.

Rory Pugh is a hospitalitarian at his core, having honed his craft at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego.

He’s incredibly knowledgeable and opinionated, but still puts the guests’ needs first. — Andrea Morris, Nix, NYC
He was there for nearly three years when he met Michael Scaffidi, the chef sommelier at Jean-Georges in NYC, at a wine tasting in southern California. The two hit it off, and a week after the tasting, Pugh was on a plane to NYC to interview. He started as a sommelier at Jean-Georges in August 2015. It took Pugh only a little over a year to move up, and in February of this year, he took over as chef sommelier—heading up a six-person team and a cellar full of treasure in Burgundy and Bordeaux; vintage Champagne going back to the ’80s; Château d’Yquem spanning 35 vintages; and an impressive selection of Madeira and Alsatian late-harvest wine. Yet Pugh quickly identified some areas to enrich, and has since amped up the selections from the Loire Valley, Austria, Germany and less-heralded appellations of Burgundy.

Rather than pinpoint a moment, job or bottle that turned him on to wine, Pugh’s says his transition from earning a German Studies degree at San Diego State to diving into hospitality came through understanding the importance of the dining experience.

“We only have 168 hours in the week, and that’s not a lot of time,” says Pugh. “Restaurants are one of those places where you should be able to come in, lean back and feel absolutely taken care of, at any level.” Dining out, for Pugh, is a release from the workweek, a time to spend with his wife and friends. “When I understood the power of that is when I wanted to focus one hundred percent on hospitality.”

He’s a young guy who has a great team of sommeliers under him and is very kind and humble tableside. — Amy Racine, Dovetail, NYC

This sommelier was featured in W&S October 2017.
photo by Mike Rush