The changing of the seasons brings a fresh crop of amazing sommeliers rocking the wine lists at respected restaurants across the country. That’s why you should cozy up this winter with a beautiful glass at one of the following three superb establishments.
Whether you’re looking for a little vino after hitting the slopes or a robust red to pair with steak, these talented tasters can recommend something special.
Christopher Dunaway of Element 47, Aspen
It’s only natural that we highlight one of the bright stars coming from Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Little Nell’s Element 47. After all, it is ski season.
Head to this fine Five-Star dining establishment for wine director Carlton McCoy’s spectacular vino program. The 28-year-old Dunaway became a part of McCoy’s team in late 2015 after an impressive tenure at spots around New York City (Corkbuzz), but his path to becoming a head sommelier wasn’t a straight shot.
The Kentucky native had his heart set on a career in the medical field, but all that changed in 2010 after meeting a winemaker from Napa one night during a special wine dinner at a restaurant where Dunaway worked.
“The ambience, the conviviality, the warmth of good company and even better stories told at the dinner table left me smitten and eager to learn more about wine and how I could re-create that night,” the sommelier said. “It was one day walking through the grapevines at my grandparents’ house that it clicked, and I mustered up the nerves to tell my parents that I was moving to New York City to learn how to become a sommelier.”
His family wasn’t thrilled with the idea at the time, but now it’s clear that Dunaway found his calling. And his position of head sommelier at The Little Nell, a Colorado property with one of the country’s most respected wine catalogs, certainly confirms this.
One of his favorite wines at Element 47 is the 1945 Château Lafite, a bottle touted as one of the greatest vintages of the 20th century.
“So much history has unfolded in the years following, but also in the year of its production,” said Dunaway, who loves the story behind the vintage as much as the actual taste. “In 1945, World War II came to a close, gas was 15 cents a gallon, Ted Williams was swinging for the fences and Ernest Hemingway was in his prime and probably still celebrating the liberation of Paris.”
Other pours have a similar tale behind them and it’s Dunaway’s pleasure to share them with you.
Tristan Prat-Vincent of The Living Room, New York City
When you thumb through the wine list at The Living Room inside Five-Star Park Hyatt New York and see almost 700 bottles, you might feel a little overwhelmed. But there’s no need to worry because wine director Tristan Prat-Vincent is there to guide you to the perfect pour.
Overall, the wines offered at The Living Room primarily focus on small-production American vintages that utilize sustainable and organic practices. Every bottle and glass on the list is food friendly and meant to enhance chef Chad Brauze’s menu of elevated contemporary American classics, but fans of international options will find plenty to love on Prat-Vincent’s list.
He has a gusto for old-world wines as well. “Right now,” Prat-Vincent said, “I’m most captivated by the wines of Georgia, especially those made in clay qvevri, with their unique and distinctive character, and over 8,000 years of winemaking tradition. They are appearing on the world’s greatest and most innovative restaurant wine lists.”
The sommelier’s love of wine goes all the way back to his childhood, when he spent summers visiting his relatives’ small house in Champagne and traveled through France’s wine regions. A lot of his knowledge was honed from famed sommelier Rubén Sanz Ramiro, whom Prat-Vincent met while working at New York’s Veritas. His early exposure to the wine world continues to work for Prat-Vincent.
The Living Room offers many great pours, but the standout for this sommelier is Enfield Haynes Vineyard Syrah 2011. “This wine comes from the newly minted Coombsville AVA in Napa Valley,” said Prat-Vincent, who will lead the wine program at soon-to-open Bevy in Central Park South. “The vineyard always produces complex and age-worthy wines with the artisanal, elegant hand of Enfield. It is also very rare, with only 65 cases made in this vintage.”
Branden Bidwell of Angel Oak, Santa Barbara
With nearly 12,000 bottles decking out the cellar at Four-Star Bacara Resort & Spa’s Angel Oak restaurant, Brandon Bidwell has a lot in his glass to deal with. Not only is he the establishment’s general manager, but he serves as the head of its wine program as well, lending a hand to curate the roster of old- and new-world wines available.
But don’t worry much about rare vintages or remote vineyards scaring you at Angel Oak. Bidwell has made sure his eatery’s selections are as approachable as possible. “I’m most excited that the celebrity of the ‘obscure wine’ seems to be slowing down,” said Bidwell, a graduate of the Santa Barbara Culinary School and a certified sommelier. “I love trying new and interesting wines, but lists were becoming so obscure that some of the fun of finding new wine was replaced with intimidation for a lot of people.”
Bidwell’s most recent favorite is the Jonata La Sangre de Jonata Syrah from Ballard Canyon. “I love the wines coming out of Santa Barbara County, and this is one of my favorites for our steakhouse,” he said. “It’s big, it’s smoky and it comes from a place and a producer that puts vast amounts of love and labor into every bottle.”