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I am embarrassed to admit that I find something utterly romantic about sommeliers. I never paid them much attention until my first dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns several years ago. The sommelier at the time, Derek Todd, insisted on pouring “just a splash” of something with each dish so that my friends and I could “fully experience” our meal. He was right, the wines certainly enhanced our food, but it was his theatrics that enhanced the whole dining experience. During a meal at Sona, sommelier Mark Mendoza was so passionate describing wines to go with a six-course meal that I felt like I was listening to a high-school crush read me poetry. I was horrified when my dining companion pointed out that I was blushing each time he poured a new glass.
I developed my most recent sommelier crush last week, when a friend and I dined at the new midtown restaurant Insieme. F&W’s Ray Isle had blogged about its spectacular sommelier/co-owner Paul Grieco, but nothing prepared me for his witty, laugh-out-loud wine list. Insieme’s Web site touts that “there is no publication in the country which covers more celebrity scandal and philosopher’s sandals with as much brio.” I’d have to agree.
He introduces a 2005 Terre di Orazio muscato with a hilarious reference to Paris Hilton. An excerpt: “I cannot express the joy I felt earlier this week with the release of Paris from L.A. county jail. The previous weeks have been a living hell, wondering how she was doing. Was she lonely in solitary confinement? Was she receiving proper nutrition due to a true princess?”
And he praises Thiery Puzelat, saying he’s “making some of the craziest stuff this side of Whitney Houston’s backyard. Le Buisson Pouilleux translates as the lousy bush, and this wild, funky, unfiltered S.B. will make you jump up and down like Bobby Brown!”
I gladly entrusted Grieco with our night’s pairings, which were daring, bold and completely unexpected—yet each a success. And though my sommelier crushes tend to be fleeting, each leaves me with a long, lasting love of some new wine. In this case it was the 2000 COS Scyri, a Sicilian red full of personality that Greico paired with my lamb course – a chop, saddle, breast and sausage with gorgeous spring peas and morels.