For most of my adult life, I have been scared of sommeliers. Scared of their esoteric knowledge and superhuman tasting powers. Scared they'd make me feel like a fool. And convinced wine was one of those left-brain subjects that would remain forever inscrutable to me, like dystopian fiction or jazz.
So it was with some nervousness that I accepted Food & Wine's challenge: to see if I could get a little smarter by having dinner at three New York City restaurants with excellent wine programs and grilling the sommeliers, just as any customer might. Before embarking on this project, I asked a sommelier friend how to get the most out of such conversations. Her advice made sense: Ask questions, be specific, be honest. "We are all in this business because we love wine, and we love to educate people about it," she said. It all sounded so straightforward!
But when I saw the decidedly Gallic-looking sommelier Kilian Robin approaching at Eli's Table, I wasn't so sure. Eli's Table, the newest restaurant and shop in Eli Zabar's mini empire, is known for its formidable cellar of 16,000 bottles (with 1,200 on the list at any time) and vast collection of Burgundies. Since Eli's Table also offers wine classes, I figured it was a good place to begin learning.