2015 Sommeliers of the Year
Here, seven extraordinary wine professionals and the bottles that tell the story of their lives.
In this Article
Dana Frank, Ava Gene’s, Portland, Oregon
Why She Won
She has amassed a remarkable collection of wines from natural and organic producers all over Italy. In fact, she is so committed to Italy that she won’t even serve the Oregon wines she and her husband make under their Bow & Arrow label.
2002 Domaine Du Closel Clos Du Papillon Savennières
Once you experience Chenin Blanc, you become a believer for the rest of your life. I love the story behind this particular Chenin, the fact that the estate has been passed down through the matriarchal line of the family. I really credit this wine for my obsession with natural wine and the people who grow grapes the way we want food grown.
2004 Clemens Busch Marienburg Fahrlay Spätlese Riesling
Clemens makes crazy organic wines in the middle Mosel on three different kinds of slate. He does several wines from the Marienburg vineyard, and they are just stunning examples of how, from one part of the hill to the next, the wines can be so varied.
Nv Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes De Montgueux Champagne
I didn’t really understand the terroir and the geography of southern Champagne and the Aube before a lovely visit with Emmanuel Lassaigne. He’s up on this plateau in the Aube, where a vein of chalk runs through the land, which makes extraordinary Chardonnay—eye-opening for me.
Molly Wismeier, Restaurant R’evolution, New Orleans
Why She Won
An exceptional talent scout, she stocks her 10,000-bottle cellar with impressive old vintages from lesser-known talents as well as superstars.
1985 Domaine Grand Château-Chalon
I had formed a wine study group, and for our Christmas get-together my mentor brought this vin jaune (an oxidized white) from the Jura. All the sommeliers were like, “Oh! We’ve heard about that!” It was the first time I experienced total oxidization other than in sherry.
1989 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
One Sunday at a friend’s house, we had an Italian-themed afternoon, with prosciutto and rabbit Bolognese. And the wine became much better with the food. Barolo can be such a contradiction: so powerful but also so delicate.
1945 Taylor Fladgate Port
In my first week at Charlie Trotter’s, a table ordered this port. Another sommelier, Justin, said, “Get the port tongs!” We heated them in the stove, and I cleared a path to the table so no one would get burned. Justin put the tongs on the bottle and crack! The top came right off!
Photo © Anjali Pinto
Richard Hanauer, Rpm Steak, Chicago
Why He Won
He raised the bar for the modern steakhouse wine list, allowing guests to drink decades-old California Cabs and older-vintage Bordeaux for less than $100 a bottle.
2002 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Premiers Crus
I had such a great time falling in love with this entire vintage from this producer. White Burgundy is better juice than any other juice on this planet.
2008 George Hansen Vineyards Pinot Noir
I may be a Francophile, but I’m always impressed by American wines that are as unique as this one. The Hansen vineyard is surrounded by dairy farms, and you can really smell that in the wine.
2013 Soliste Lune Et Soleil Sauvignon Blanc
I heard that this California winemaker, Claude Koeberle, scattered crushed oyster shells in his Sauvignon Blanc vineyard. They bring out an incredible maritime brininess in the wine, a delectable saline quality.
Photo © Yoni Nimrod
Steve Wildy, Vetri Family Restaurants, Philadelphia
Why He Won
Not only does he create some of the most brilliant Italian lists in the country, but he also oversees exceptional beer lists. Plus, he’s just as excited as guests are when they choose a bottle he thinks they’ll really love.
Rodenbach Classic Sour Ale
In college I spent a term in Belgium. I’d studied French for a long time, so I walked into a bar and proudly ordered a beer in French. The bartender replied in English: “What do you want?” Sheepishly, I said, “Uh, a beer.” He gave me a Rodenbach, a Flemish sour, and I was rapt. It was wine-like, cola-like, fruity, earthy. I went down a serious rabbit hole after that. Beer was my first love.
My very first night at Vetri, we hosted a wine and white truffle dinner with Piero Incisa della Rocchetta from Sassicaia. We poured the ’85, ’88, ’97, ’98, ’01. The staff was so kind to me. I thought, I like these guys and I like truffles and I like ’88 Sassicaia, so I’ll be all right if I don’t mess it up.
1995 Soldera Intistieti Brunello di Montalcino
This was the first wine I opened in a restaurant that changed the ambience of the room. A few tables turned around and were like, “What’s that incredible aroma?” That scent never went away; it was in the air and in my head and all around me. I knew: This is Italy. This is great Italy. This is what Italian wine can be.
2001 Littorai Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay
I met Ted Lemon at Vetri and was so moved by his biodynamic philosophy. Later, my wife and I visited him in Sonoma and he showed us everything—the compost, the peas for biodynamic treatments, the apiary. He is so humble and generous.
1999 Radikon Oslavje
My first junket with other wine pros was to Friuli, where I got to learn more about orange wine. Radikon was especially memorable—they make orange wine in a unique way, by blending white grapes, and the result is so full of life, so layered.
Photo © Joanna Soon
Taylor Parsons, République, Los Angeles
Why He Won
He creates a new wine list every day, based on the dishes that chef Walter Manzke puts on the menu. The wines are geared precisely to the food.
1997 Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay
I begged my dad to take me to Patina for my 18th birthday, and he let me order a bottle of wine. Chris Meeske was the sommelier, and his service was so on point. I remember this wine being present at our table; it became a fulcrum of the conversation. That memory colors a lot of my approach to wine now. I like to select wine that maybe people pay attention to for a moment, and then the wine just becomes a quiet presence, but a comforting one.
1971 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
My first restaurant gig was at Barolo in SoHo. I was in college and I had no business being a waiter, but the sommelier poured me some of this Barolo. I remember asking another server, “What is this sensation in my mouth of intense dryness? And why is my mouth watering so much?” That was a formative exposure to structure in wine—and also to etherealness, because that is an ethereal wine.
1996 Raveneau Valmur Chablis
When I was at Campanile, a guest brought a bottle of this in. I took a taste with me to the cellar, and I sat with it and watched it evolve through different shades of power and balance and crystalline structure and intensity and acidity. And I thought, Oh, God, I gotta start buying Chablis!
1959 Huet Le Haut-Lieu Vouvray
I tried this Chenin while at Campanile. It had so much happening in it. Fruit-wise, it was unctuous, like rotting apples, and it was super-nutty. I remember thinking that I could never describe this wine to anyone in any way that makes sense. There’s a chimera of complexity that you can’t really describe; it just hovers there.
1971 Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva
When I was at Mozza, [general manager] David Rosoff always hammered into me how great Sangiovese was, and I was always like, “Whatever.” But then I had this Chianti, and it blew me away. The ’71 is an epic vintage in Italy, especially in Tuscany. I’ve since become a total Sangiovese diehard.
2007 Keller Dalsheimer Hubacker Grosses Gewächs
My buddy Ted Vance poured this for me, and it made me vibrate. I thought, I didn’t know Riesling could do that. I’d certainly had great Mosel Rieslings, but the compressed potential energy of that wine was so intriguing.
Photo © Nathan Rawlinson
Thomas Pastuszak, The Nomad, New York City
Why He Won
He has the same amount of respect and enthusiasm for a current-release Riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes (in fact, he’s collaborating on a wine there) as he does for a 40-year-old bottle from a star Burgundy producer.
1993 Château Lagrange
In college I was at a friend’s house for dinner, and her dad was a wine collector. He’d heard that I was getting excited about wine and opened this up. It was my first experience with old Bordeaux, and it was unlike anything else. The tannins were really silky and supple, and I thought, How can Cabernet be this soft?
2007 Ravines Argetsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling
I was living in Ithaca [New York] when I tasted this wine from one of the oldest vineyards—more than 50 years old—in the Finger Lakes. It has a very linear, precise style that reminded me of some of the great dry Austrian Rieslings. I didn’t realize Finger Lakes wines could be this good.
1959 Chave Hermitage
In 2011 I took my first wine trip to Burgundy and the northern Rhône with a group of sommeliers, and we visited Jean-Louis Chave. This wine was profound. I just remember a very humble setting, eating pizza, on the hill of Hermitage. The wine had been there for 52 years at that point, and it made me realize how much a wine can change when it’s disturbed, when it’s moved.
1985 Domaine Dujac Bonnes Mares
When I was in Burgundy, Jeremy Seysses of Dujac invited my friends and me for dinner. He made this great roast pork, and then he pulled out this magnum his father had made. To experience that hospitality and have a home-cooked meal with one of the world’s greatest winemakers was amazing.
1971 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo
I finally proposed to my girlfriend, Jessica, in 2011, and after she said yes we decided to drink this Barolo. It was gifted to me by a collector friend. It’s a very special bottle, and a very expensive one. Whenever my wife and I drink Conterno together, it reminds me of taking that step in my life.
Photo © Buff Strickland for laV Restaurant & Wine Bar
Vilma Mazaite, LaV, Austin, Texas
Why She Won
Although she’s excited to introduce customers to obscure grapes like Fendant, she’s a master of Burgundy, sourcing wines from all the best crus.
2001 Prager Achleiten Smaragd Grüner Veltliner
My first mentor, Rajat Parr, sent me on wine trips all over Europe. Visiting producers like Prager and Pichler in Austria, and eating the local food, totally changed my wine perspective—and turned me on to Grüner.
2001 Movia Ribolla Gialla
This wine is from Slovenia, right on the border of Italy, and it was completely different from all that I knew about Italian whites. It was minerally and rich, and there was so much going on texturally, and it had a little skin contact, so it was weird and funky, too.
1998 Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander Pinot Noir
I worked a harvest at Au Bon Climat in Santa Barbara, California, with Jim Clendenen in 2004, and I got the chance to try some older Pinots. They were so stunning, I thought they were Burgundy.