We’re thrilled to announce this year’s class of stellar wine talents, which includes a chartreuse fanatic, several Barolo obsessives, and a sommelier who goes to bat for his “ShamWow wine.”
Carlin Karr
Credit: M. Thurk Photography

Victoria James

Victoria James
Credit: Matt Wilson

Cote, New York City

This up-and-comer has been working in wine in New York City for more than a decade—and she’s not yet 30. An avid student of wine, James cut her teeth at Aureole and Marea before leaving to be the sommelier at Piora in the city’s West Village. Today, her impressive wine list at the year-old, acclaimed Korean steakhouse Cote turns the notion of steakhouse wine on its head, putting youthfully bright bottles, from regions like France’s Beaujolais and Valais, Switzerland, at the forefront. James is also serving all the by-the-glass wines from magnums, working directly with wineries like Vouvray’s Champalou and Neyers in the Napa Valley, to have large-format wines bottled especially for the restaurant. Recently, she added another title to her resume: author. Her book Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé was released last summer.

Victoria's Benchmark Bottles:

2013 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé

"Tempier’s rosé captures the vibrant, intense spirit of Lulu Peyraud, the domaine’s owner. She just turned 100. I saw her last January and she was still swimming in the Mediterranean every morning. This wine’s not so much about the taste for me as it is about that energy."

1966 La Mission Haut-Brion

"I first had this wine when I was working as a cellar rat at Harry’s Café & Steak. Harry Poulakakos is such a super-generous guy. I was just a kid at the time, but he said, “Well, I have a ’66 La Mission Haut-Brion in the cellar. Let’s just open that.” It was so special to have that opportunity."

2012 Cave Caloz Cornalin

"This was one of the first wineries I visited in Switzerland, where Sandrine, a young female winemaker, had just taken over from her father. I liked that the wines there were all so clean and polished. This Cornalin had these pure fruit flavors, with no funk or weirdness."

2011 Domaine La Tour Vielle La Pinède

"I had this on my first date with my fiancé, who works for wine importer Kermit Lynch. I was nervous, because I thought he was going to open a crazily rare wine from their book. But he said, 'Actually, my favorite wine is La Tour Vieille,' this inexpensive red. It was so charming."

Jon McDaniel

Jon McDaniel
Credit: Bethany Fritz

Gage Hospitality Group, Chicago

McDaniel has worked in many aspects of the wine industry – from wine shop sales to distribution. He was even a wine consultant for FIFA during the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. As wine director for one of Chicago’s top restaurant groups, Gage Hospitality, he runs five exceptional, widely varying wine programs, responsible for 1,350 selections overall. He’s a pro at creating lists that both allow guests to stay in their comfort zones or push their boundaries. His list at Coda di Volpe focuses on the wines of southern Italy, while the program at the Dawson is more wide-ranging. McDaniel confesses that he doesn’t sleep all that much, preferring to use his free time to work on his wine project in Santa Barbara, Amos Cellars, and working to promote the sommelier community in Chicago.

Jon's Benchmark Bottles:

1982 Château Calon Ségur

"At the start of my career, I read an article about how Johnny Depp’s favorite winery was Château Calon Ségur and was like, 'Hey, that’s cool.' The ’82 was $350; I’d never bought a wine for more than 30 bucks. But I went for it, and when I tasted it, I thought, 'This is why people dedicate their lives to wine.'"

2015 Kunin Wines Pape Star Blonde

"Vintner and restaurateur Seth Kunin passed away last fall unexpectedly. I just can’t process that he isn’t here anymore. This wine is an homage he did to white Châteauneuf-du-Pape—his quirky sense of humor comes through in the name. So many people in our business really miss him."

2008 Fratelli Revello Vigna Gattera Barolo

"I was in Barolo in Piedmont [Italy] in 2012, when this amazing ’08 had just been released. I got a bottle, sat under a tree at the top of the hill at the vineyard, and drank it. It was a moment where I felt like I totally got why I was doing this with my life."

Paul Einbund

Paul Einbund
Credit: Courtesy of Paul Einbund

The Morris, San Francisco

Last year, this veteran sommelier, who has run top wine programs San Francisco (Octavia, Coi) and Los Angeles, opened his own restaurant—one that's a window into his idiosyncratic wine brain. His cellars (and every available nook and cranny of the restaurant, to be honest) are filled with what he calls “wines of consequence”—a deep collection of vintages that he’s been collecting for nearly a decade from his favorite producers in regions like Chablis and the Rhône. Einbund’s ever-expanding interests have him exploring the wide world of beverages—beyond wine. “I care as much about coffee and tea as I do anything else,” he says. Also of note: a remarkable selection of aged Chartreuse—both green and yellow—which he’s been collecting for 20 years, negronis and Manhattans that he’s been bottle-aging for five years and playful (unaged) Chartreuse slushies that seem to find their way to every table.

Paul's Benchmark Bottles:

1947 Camut Calvados

"Camut is far and away the greatest Calvados producer, but he’s also just so generous. When I visited, we were in this room lined with barrels, and I asked, 'Is that really ’47 Camut?' And he said, 'Hmm, I haven’t had that one in a while,' then grabbed a ladder and pulled out a ginormous snifter of the stuff. It was brilliant!"

Aged Yellow Chartreuse

"Twenty-ish years ago, before I started collecting Chartreuse, a friend knew I’d fallen in love with it and he brought me some Yellow Chartreuse he’d had in his cellar for 30 years. It was just the normal bottling, and yet, it’s one of the best I’ve ever had. A lot of old Yellow drinks are very saffrony, very coconut milk–curry. They’re so exciting."

1961 Pétrus

"I’m fortunate to have had this wine many times, and each time I’ve had it, it tastes like Turley Zinfandel—ripe, sweet, soft, round fruit—but wrapped in a fuzzy, leathery, tobaccoy Bordeaux blanket. It’s crazy. I prefer low-alcohol wines for many reasons, but this is proof that if a wine is made properly, it can handle high alcohol levels and potentially age and be amazing."

Carlin Karr

Carlin Karr
Credit: M. Thurk Photography

Tavernetta, Denver; Pizzeria Locale and Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, Colorado

Taking over the reins of a wine program that’s been long recognized as one of the best in the country is no easy task, but that’s exactly what Karr has done. For the past two years, she’s deftly headed up the wine scene at Frasca Food and Wine, where the wines of Italy’s Friuli, alongside extensive verticals of Burgundy and Barolo take center stage. Last fall, she was presented with another project, creating an entirely new program for Denver’s Tavernetta. Here, she’s put together an impressive list of wines from every corner of Italy. Barolo is there, for sure, but Karr is equally as enthusiastic about her selection of Chianti Classicos, Brunellos and coastal white wines from Le Marche and Liguria. The only departure from Italy is found in Karr’s deep stash of Champagne – including Krug by the glass —which she serves from a cart wheeled through the dining room.

Carlin's Benchmark Bottles

1985 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia

"This Nebbiolo made me weak in the knees the day I had it. At the time, I was working at Sons & Daughters in San Francisco, and a friend brought in this wine. It has all the roses, mushrooms, and secondary nonfruit aromatics that you read about Nebbiolo having, as well as this almost hedonistic fruit. I could smell it for days."

2004 Domaine Roulot Meursault

"This was the wine that made me realize wine was 'it' for me. We tasted it in our wine class at culinary school (I was planning to be a chef) and I dropped out a week later. I was like, “Holy cow, this is just so complete.” Corn nuts and yellow fruit, plus these flinty qualities on the palate—I just could not believe it. It was one of those movie moments: I was instantly hooked."

2014 Pierre Gonon Saint-Joseph

"I love young Northern Rhône Syrah. This one is all purple flowers, like irises and lilacs, and just starting to show hints of a hammy, bacon-y thing, plus those peppery aromatics that I just love. It’s like darker Pinot Noir. And it’s one of those wines that clicked for me as a young sommelier. It always has electricity and a granitic punch underneath, a kind of textural tautness."

Brent Kroll

Brent Kroll
Credit: Greg Powers

Maxwell Park, Washington, D.C.

After managing 15 wine programs at once for D.C.’s Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Kroll set off on his own to create the ultimate wine-geek bar. The ever-changing list at his 36-seat corner spot has a new wine theme every month, two to three sommeliers on the floor at all times, and wines stored at five ideal temperatures. While the wine selection and knowledge of the staff is serious and impressive, the vibe of the wine bar is casual and neighborhoody, with somms in t-shirts and sneakers, and a changing list based around an off-center theme. Last summer’s list was “Anything but Pinot Grigio,” composed of all indigenous Italian white wines. Another, titled “How Big is your Bubble?” offered sparkling wines in a range of atmospheric pressures. Even the name of the place reflects Kroll’s personality and sense of humor. “I named it after a playground I loved as a kid instead of a pretentious wine term,” he says.

Brent's Benchmark Bottles:

2016 Fiorini Terre al Sole Lambrusco Grasparossa Di Castelvetro

"I like to tell people that Lambrusco is the regional pairing in Modena [Italy] for the meat sweats. Fiorini is a small, almost 100-year-old estate, run by Cristina Fiorini and her brother. This wine’s delicious and right to the point. When I figured out that I’d be writing a list for a charcuterie-based restaurant, I thought, 'Oh, I have to have it.'"

2008 Robert Weil Spätburgunder Weissherbst

"Weil doesn’t make this wine anymore, but it was one of the best food-pairing wines I’ve ever had. I used to joke that it was my 'ShamWow wine.' Whenever the chef threw me a disastrous pairing dish, I’d do my best fake infomercial: 'I got your Robert Weil White Pinot. You wax on, you wax off—looks clean. Throw me vinegar, throw me an artichoke—I got it.'"

2008 Sigalas Assyrtiko

"My favorite wine list was at Iron Gate in D.C. I did a whole page dedicated to the Greek island Santorini, particularly the local grape Assyrtiko. The wines have this salted pineapple and lemon thing, but aren’t overly fruity. The Sigalas wines are kind of reductive when they’re young, so you should decant them if you have a current vintage, or wait three years—that’s when they get really good."

Ryan Ibsen

Ryan Ibsen
Credit: Sierra Prescott

Bestia, Los Angeles

Like so many, Ibsen got his start in the restaurant business moonlighting between shows with his rock band. Eventually, the side gig became more interesting to him; wine was an easy fit. “When I was young, I was always looking for music and records that nobody had heard of before. Everyone thought I was crazy; I’d mail away to faraway places and receive these mysterious recordings weeks later and try to turn everyone on to it,” says Ibsen. “Wine, to me, was kind of like that. ‘Here’s this thing you’ve never heard of before – you have to try it!’ I still feel like that today.” A server job at Seattle’s Monsoon restaurant, working with chef Eric Banh, turned Ibsen on to the more natural style of wine he loves today. At Bestia, his ever-changing wine list is packed with bottles that are at once unfamiliar and palate-expanding. After years on both the restaurant and retail sides of wine, he’s now working hand-in-hand with chef Ori Menashe to bend the rules of what an Italian-centric restaurant can be. “I call the list ‘a tribute to chaos,’” says Ibsen.

Ryan's Benchmark Bottles:

2002 François Chidaine Clos Habert

"I had this Chenin right when I was deciding to make wine my career, and there was something about it—honey, acid, viscosity, a little lift of bitter tannin—that was just in total harmony. It’s probably why I can’t ever stop buying that varietal."

1999 Ar.Pe.Pe. Sassella Riserva Rocce Rosse

"I’d love to start an import company with enough money to hide away cases of Nebbiolo to bring back the tradition of cellaring it, rather than trying to clobber people’s taste buds with it when it’s too young. There’s a finesse and sort of an ethereal beauty to this wine—it’s not about power and brawn."

1990 Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Spätlese Riesling

"I’ve had this wine twice; both times it was a tremendous blast of energy. Everything was in its right place: flowers, outlandish amounts of acidity, a whiff of gasoline, and yet this long, delicate finish. I haven’t had it since ’05, but it stays with me."

Jessica Hereth

Jessica Hereth
Credit: Jannie Huang

Olympia Provisions and Op Wurst, Portland, Oregon

While working as an English teacher in France eight years ago, Hereth heard about a new restaurant in Portland, Oregon that peaked her interest—a charcuterie shop with a dining room. And for the past seven years, she has worked in that very restaurant, Olympia Provisions, giving wine lovers thoughtful selections that pair brilliantly with smoky, salty, fatty flavors. “I’m always looking for something that will keep the palate alive and vibrant, wines that are acid-driven, nothing too cloying or intense,” Hereth says. The confessed Europhile balances her menus with Old World-style wines from the Pacific Northwest, in keeping with the old school style charcuterie Olympia Provisions is so well known for. As the company has grown to include a few new casual OP Wurst sausage spots, her mission to pour good wines in unexpected places continues. One such menu lists only Rieslings, rosés and Cabernet Francs — Hereth’s playful way of exerting her wine point of view.

Jessica's Benchmark Bottles:

NV Jean Milan Grande Réserve 1864 Champagne

"I drank this riverside in Hood River [Oregon] with oysters years and years ago. I’d had Champagne before, but this was the first time I had an 'aha!' Champagne and understood why people love it so much. It was so acidic, austere, and beautiful."

2006 Jean Foillard Morgon Côte Du Py

"Once when I was a server, the wine director asked me to describe this wine to the staff. I was super nervous and told everyone it smelled like 'true love in a glass.' I really just couldn’t wrap my head around how amazing it was, and still sort of can’t."

2008 Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Rosso

"This wine has the perfect balance of fruit, brambly berries, wild herb notes, and acid. And then there’s the person behind it, Arianna Occhipinti. She’s a peer and a role model who’s working in Sicily and really breaking the glass ceiling in her region."

NV Hiyu Wine Farm The May Syrah

"Last summer I visited this Oregon winery, which is also a beautiful permaculture farm where they’re raising their own vegetables and meat. I went home and told everyone, 'This is it! Someone in Oregon has finally done something that’s like OH. MY. GOD.'"