Sommeliers of the Year

The seven sommeliers honored on these pages have created incredible, forward-thinking lists at restaurants launched in 2009. The eclectic group of men and women includes industry veterans and new talents, ex-chefs, an ex-cheesemonger, and even one beer fanatic.
Sommeliers of the Year

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Rajat Parr

© Ethan Hill

1. Rajat Parr: RN74, San Francisco

Why he won: Because his 2,500-bottle list not only includes 47 pages of verticals from Burgundy's top producers but also a seasonally changing selection of 100 excellent, diverse choices for $100 or less, like a Slovenian Riesling.

Experience: A trained chef, Parr has spent the past eight years creating spectacular wine lists for the many restaurants in Michael Mina's restaurant group.

Favorite value: "You can get great Beaujolais for $25 retail, like Jean Foillard's unbelievable old-vine Morgon ($58 on my list). Beaujolais ages well, too. I recently had a 1929 Moulin-à-Vent that made me consider writing a Beaujolais book."

Favorite Pairing: "I could drink the 2006 Reynard Cornas from Thierry Allemand ($155) every day for the rest of my life. The earthy Syrah is great with chef Jason Berthold's roast chicken with runner beans and Swiss chard."

Stephanie Caraway

© Cathy Kovach

2. Stephanie Caraway: Chef's Table, Iowa City, IA

Why she won: Because she finds amazing wine values from southern France.

Experience: After working as a cellar assistant for Arizona restaurant impresario Peter Kasperski, Caraway sold wine for distributors in Colorado and Iowa. Realizing she was much happier in restaurants, she came to Chef's Table.

Favorite value: 2005 Château des Tours Vacqueyras Rouge ($32 at Chef's Table), a stunning value from Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer Emmanuel Reynaud of Château Rayas. "It has spice and a pretty burnt-orange component."

Favorite pairing: Fruity 2006 Château du Donjon Minervois ($25) with chef Eric McDowell's bison rib eye with mushrooms and root vegetables confit. "The bison has a nice peppery bite, and the wine just plays that up."

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Greg Engert

© Powers and Crewe

3. Greg Engert: Birch & Barley, Washington, DC

Why he won: Because he's bringing the same seriousness to beer that other sommeliers bring to wine, sourcing 555 artisanal brews (500 in bottles, 50 on tap, five cask-pumped).

Experience: The four-year beer pro works the floor at Birch & Barley and oversees all the beer lists for Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

Best pairing: WinterCoat Vildmoseol, a funky Danish peat-smoked ale, with chef Kyle Bailey's smoky charred octopus with capers.

4. John Wabeck: Inox, McLean, VA

Why he won: Because he's compiled an incredibly thoughtful, food-friendly list that's heavy on Burgundy.

Experience: A chef for almost 20 years, mostly in Washington, DC, Wabeck became both chef and wine director at Washington, DC's Firefly seven years ago. Inox is his first job working exclusively on the wine program.

Biggest influence: Lenny Lancaster, a friend and Burgundy importer. "He's exposed me to ridiculously good wines and even taken me with him on some scouting trips to Burgundy. One of the wine highlights of my life was with Lenny: We met with my favorite producer of wine on this planet, Freddy Mugnier, and drank his Les Amoureuses Chambolle-Musigny together."

Favorite pairing: 2005 Bodegas Carrau Amat Tannat ($54) and chef Jon Mathieson's decadent, spice-crusted venison with foie gras. "This big, chewy Uruguayan Tannat is perfect with the Madeira sauce in the dish."

Emilie Garvey

© Rebecca Stepler

5. Emilie Garvey: Sho Shaun Hergatt, New York City

Why she won: Because she's created a beautifully edited list of small-production wines.

Experience: A former cheesemonger, the French expat has been overseeing wine lists for five years at New York restaurants like L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.

Wine she's watching: "New Zealand Syrah is big right now. The 2006 Man O'War ($65) tastes like it's from the Rhône—like spicy, delicious, cool-climate Syrah."

Favorite pairing: 2006 Mas d'En Compte Priorat white ($90)—"a rich, nutty white"—with chef Shaun Hergatts's cinnamon-dusted rabbit loin.

Ercolino Crugnale

Courtesy of The Allison Inn & Spa

6. Ercolino Crugnale: Jory at the Allison Inn, Newberg, OR

Why he won: Because his list has the perfect balance of local Oregon wines and terrific selections from the rest of the world.

Experience: Crugnale worked for 30 years as a chef (sometimes overseeing the wine list as well) at places like Aspen, Colorado's Hotel Jerome. Now he creates the list for this inn in the heart of the Willamette Valley wine country.

Most memorable wine purchase: "When I turned 18 in 1976, I went to the wine shop and bought a 1970 Lafite, a '70 Mouton, a '70 Haut-Brion, a '70 Latour and a '70 Château d'Yquem. They were only $25 a bottle back then."

What the locals drink: "A lot of Oregon winemakers eat here, and not one of them drinks Oregon wine. They all want Burgundy!"

Favorite pairing: 2005 Soter Brut Rosé ($58) with the gnocchi with lamb and beef ragù from former chef Nathan Lockwood.

David Mokha

Courtesy of Hakkasan Restaurant

7. David Mokha: Hakkasan, Miami Beach, FL

Why he won: Because he tastes through thousands of bottles to find wines that will work with every dish on the refined family-style Chinese menu at Hakkasan, a branch of Alan Yau's vaunted London restaurant.

Experience: For eight years, Mokha created wine lists for places like Miami's Casa Tua and Emeril's. He now buys wine for all eight restaurants at the Fontainebleau Resort. In addition to Hakkasan, there's an offshoot of New York City's Scarpetta and a Gotham Steak from chef Alfred Portale. Guests can pick wines from any of the lists at any of the restaurants.

Favorite pairing: 2007 Huet Clos du Bourg Vouvray ($75)—"It has a wonderful smokiness"—with chef Wen Sian Tan's jasmine-tea-smoked ribs.

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