Best New Sommelier

Scott Woltz | Babbo, NYC

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.

“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…’

Payoff
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 fi rst 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.

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