As the crisp fall weather rolls in, wine lovers tend to start putting aside the chilly glasses of rosé for hearty, rich reds to pair with cool-weather dishes. But how can you pick the proper accompaniment when the wine list showcases hundreds of bottles? Unless you’re well schooled in pours from all over the world, chances are you could use a little help — which is exactly why many high-end restaurants have a skilled sommelier on hand. Here are three such professionals who bring their joy of wine to the table.
Amanda Smeltz of Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud in New York City
When sommelier Michael Madrigale left this past summer, big shoes and empty cups needed to be filled. Luckily for wine lovers, Amanda Smeltz stepped in and took over the position. Smeltz is keeping the program alive with French wines from the classical regions of Burgundy and the Rhône. “You can drink some pretty famous wines from iconic producers at Bar Boulud,” she said. “But we carry lots of other fun things. I really like wines from lesser-known regions of France, such as the Loire, the Savoie, the Ardèche. There’s always new things to discover, even in such a famous wine country.”
Smeltz has also pushed to deepen the American selections of wines on the list of 400-plus bottles. “Our country is doing such beautiful winemaking on both East and West coasts in many different styles,” she said. “There’s tons to discover.” Fans of Madrigale’s big-bottle program can also rejoice; Smeltz loves the idea of discovering treasures in this format and is continuing to highlight these giant gems.
One wine from the list: “I am head-over-heels in love with Claire Naudin’s burgundies,” said Smeltz. “She is a very small producer and not well-known in the States yet, so I should probably be keeping my mouth shut, but her Côtes du Nuits-Villages ‘Viola Odorata’ 2012 is so aromatic, vibrant, and soulful, I can’t stop drinking it myself.”
Zion Curiel of Farm at The Carneros Inn in Napa
Though this charming Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant is in the heart of California’s wine country, thanks to wine director Zion Curiel you will find bottles from around the world on the comprehensive list as well. Curiel recently joined the team at this rustic property, bringing with him 17 years of experience in the service industry, including stints at Five-Star restaurants The French Laundry in Yountville, Per Se in New York City and, most recently, Coi Restaurant in San Francisco.
But it wasn’t just the high-end restaurants Curiel was exposed to that got him thinking about wine. It was the 30-plus years his father worked at Beringer Winery that first planted the seed. To be fair, inspiration to get into the wine business also came in 2003, when, during service at The French Laundry, the then-wine director Paul Roberts offered a taste of the 1989 Château d’Yquem.
“It blew my mind,” said Curiel. “At that point, I wanted to learn absolutely all I could about wine.” See some of the information the sommelier has picked up by diving into the menu at Farm, which specializes in vineyards growing sustainable, organic or biodynamic grapes and, of course, the bounty of the state as well. In fact, the local section of the menu introduces neighborhood wineries with tasting rooms that you can bike to, giving diners an easy way to learn about the region.
One wine from the list: Domaine Huet, ‘Le Mont’, Moelleux, Vouvray. “Here is a winery that has been making wine for nearly a century and producing possibly the best chenin blanc on the planet,” the wine director said. “These wines age remarkably well and are very aromatic on the nose with notes of spice, pear and melon. They also display a rich texture with great minerality.”
Liz Martinez of The Purple Pig in Chicago
It’s not often that you find a dedicated sommelier who moonlights as a funk DJ, but that’s exactly what Liz Martinez of Chicago’s The Purple Pig does. Her forte comes in the form of Greek, Italian and Eastern European wines, vinos that go brilliantly with chef Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s innovative cuisine.
“For a while now I’ve been in love with the wines of Valtellina, a small region within the larger region of Lombardia in northeastern Italy,” said Martinez. “There is particular care given to these very high, steeped vineyards, showcasing wines made from the nebbiolo grape.”
You can see the sommelier’s European inspiration throughout the 250-bottle list. Her admiration for wine started in her hometown of Denver at Carmine’s on Penn, an old-school Italian restaurant that specializes in labels from Italy. Her position as a sommelier was secured decades later at Topolobampo in Chicago, the place that Martinez credits for the bulk of her education. Becoming the head sommelier at The Purple Pig was the natural next step.
One wine from the list: La Miraja Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato from Piedmont. “The grape, ruche, is a wine that is sometimes a bit of a hard sell, but the guests are always on board once they’ve tried it,” said Martinez. “A lighter red, with a soft perfume of red and purple flowers, this wine can be enjoyed alone or with food. It is a wine that can appeal to someone that loves a lighter style of pinot noir, but is so much more compelling. Soft, integrated tannin and pretty, precise acid, with just a touch of white and black pepper.”