How a Sommelier Helps

As the Gramercy Tavern Beverage Director, Juliette Pope manages every aspect of the restaurant’s wine program from selecting wines, to meeting budgets to the logistics of cellaring, all with an eye toward delighting their eclectic clientele. She chooses wines for a busy casual tavern, a more formal main dining room, locals who frequent the restaurant three times a week and tourists with no fine dining experience. Juliette knows how a list full of unfamiliar wines can make guests anxious, since Gramercy Tavern never pours your typical pinot grigio by the glass.  Here she offers advice on how to make your interaction with a sommelier a success.

SM:  When should you ask for the help of a sommelier?

JP:  Any time you don’t see a bottle that rings a bell or fits your budget, ask for help. If the only sauvignon blanc by the bottle is $100 and you want to spend $50, you need to talk to somebody.

SM:  How can a sommelier help you?

JP:  A sommelier can direct you to a wine that is stylistically up your alley, even if it is unfamiliar. For example, I find people who typically drink sauvignon blanc to be good candidates for grüner veltliner from Austria. The wine may sound Germanic and unlike anything they are used to drinking, but it often lines up well with their tastes and budgets.

SM:  What is the point of tasting a wine before it is poured?

JP:  Technically, it is to see if the wine is flawed, but for the restaurant guest, the point of tasting a wine before it is poured is to see if you like it. Our crew is trained to taste each bottle before it goes out to ensure flawed wines don’t reach our customers. If you don’t like the wine, you can send it back. We believe this is an important part of service, because we don’t want people to sit at a meal with a bottle they are not going to enjoy.

SM:  Do you have any advice for getting the most out of your interaction with a sommelier?

JP:  Don’t be shy about budget. The best way to indicate your budget is to use your finger to point to a price on the wine list and say, “I am looking for something along these lines.” The number doesn’t get verbalized, but the sommelier knows where to take you based on your price requirements and the style of wine you described enjoying.

Wines for Marcus Samuelsson’s New American Cuisine

At Marcus Samuelsson’s iconic Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster, culinary director Joel Harrington executes New American Cuisine, defined as flavors representative of the vast mosaic of cultures and ethnicities that constitute the fabric of America. For Samuelsson, these foods are also a highly personal expression of the ethnic and cultural influences in his own life.

Born in Ethiopia, Samuelsson lost his parents to tuberculosis and subsequently was adopted by a couple in Sweden, where he discovered his passion for cooking in his grandmother’s kitchen. His early career took him on jaunts throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas to study and work, until he became one of the most celebrated chefs of his generation. Samuelsson has earned three stars in The New York Times as the chef at Aquavit; won Top Chef Masters in Season Two; prepared the meal for the first State Dinner of the Obama administration; and published the memoir Yes, Chef!

When it came to designing a wine list that would straddle gravlax and jerk chicken, oysters Rockefeller and blackened catfish, his first priority was seeking out accessible wines that go well with a wide variety of foods. Toward this end, the Red Rooster list features an impressive array of pinot noirs in styles spanning from overtly fruity to delicate and textured. A current favorite among guests and staff members is the OPP (Other People’s Pinot) from Mouton Noir, the Dundee, Oregon winery owned by the sommelier André Hueston.

In terms of bolder reds, the Ridge, petite sirah is the go-to recommendation for the steak-for-two and Caribbean pork chop. Recently, more South African wines, such as the Raats, Western Cape, cabernet franc, are making their way onto the list in honor of the memory of Nelson Mandela.