Sommelier Ania Zawieja
Fiamma | New York
Ania Zawieja did not set out to become a sommelier. Born in Poland, the daughter of an Olympic sailing coach, she had a nomadic youth – moving from Poland to Mallorca, Spain, to Miami. Despite all the moving and traveling, she hadn’t decided what she was going to do when she went to Philadelphia to attend Temple University. But the fates had something in mind for her.
Taking a bartender position at one of Philadelphia’s premier wine restaurants, Ristorante Panorama, was the first step in the direction of her career and her passion. Panorama’s extensive wine program, which included 150 wines by the glass and 27 flight selections, exposed her to the world of wine (literally!), and she’s never turned back. Zawieja traveled to Miami to design the 200-selection list of Soco Restaurant and then become director of wines at The Ritz-Carlton, Miami. Her next move was to New York, where she immediately became a part of the city’s top wine programs. Zawieja began at Café Gray as sommelier then moved to The Modern, where, as assistant director of wines, she managed 1,200 selections. She next became the opening wine director of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at the Four Seasons Hotel, and in [DATE TK] joined Chef Fabio Trabocchi at Fiamma.
At Fiamma, she recast the all-Italian wine list with selections from the classic wine regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Spain and beyond, to complement the rich, regional Italian cuisine that Trabocchi interprets through a modern lens.
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Heather Sperling: How did you develop an interest in wine?
Ania Zawieja: I started with wine at the age of 16 – some of my best memories are from that time. I was working at a restaurant in Mallorca, where I’m from. It was pretty international and the Italian owner was into international wine. Sometimes we’d offer ten different Barolos – it was quite an immense cellar.
I went to college in Philadelphia and worked at a wine bar called Panorama that had 120 wines by the glass – it’s the largest cuveeneer (wine keeper) ever built and they would change the wines once a week. I started as a bartender and eventually moved up to assistant sommelier. I did the wine program at the Ritz-Carlton in Miami for 2½ years, then was at Café Gray and then The Modern. I went to L’Atelier as wine director when it opened in August 2006, and to Fiamma when Fabio [Trabocchi] started.
HS: Do you have any formal wine education?
AZ: I haven’t taken any classes. I’ve passed the intro and the certification for the Court of Master Sommeliers, but I’ve never taken a class. I read a lot, and drink a lot!
HS: What is your favorite wine resource?
AZ: The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil – it’s one of the first books that I read, and that I actually still use. It’s great for teaching because it’s about keeping things really basic. When I was doing a wine class (for the F&B managers at the Four Seasons and the L’Atelier staff) I recommended it to all my students.
HS: What is your philosophy on wine and food?
AZ: I like wines to complement to the food. At Fiamma, Fabio’s food is Italian, but it’s also influenced by France and America. So why have an all-Italian list? The first thing I did when I came here was expand the list – now we have wines from all over the US, including Long Island, and from Spain, France, and so on. We have a small section of Mallorcan wines – because that’s where I’m from!
HS: What is a perfect wine and food match that you discovered?
AZ: Cod poached in olive oil and basil paired with Baigorri Tempranillo which has carbonic maturation – it’s like the pinot noir of Spain. It’s very delicate and perfect with the fish.
HS: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
AZ: My first boss (in Philadelphia), who is still a great friend of mine. I owe him a lot for believing in me and teaching me a lot – and keeping it simple and fun.
HS: Are you involved in any wine organizations?
AZ: I did Vino Vixens (a group for women in wine) for a bit but right now I don’t belong to any. I’ve opened most of the restaurants I’ve worked with, and it’s definitely a full time job!
HS: If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing?
AZ: I’d still be in restaurants. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I like the structure of hotels – they’re very corporate, but are focused on learning and achieving goals, which is right up my alley.
HS: If you could drink any wine in the world, what would it be?
AZ: I’d like to be invited to drink the first harvest of Domaine Romanée-Conti. If I could drink anything at all, it would be that.
HS What wine trends are you seeing in New York?
AZ: Pinot Noir is huge! Guests are also a lot more willing to listen to a sommelier and be involved with a sommelier. That’s a really nice trend. I try to keep the wines by the glass very international – people are now familiar with wines like Grüner Veltliner and Albariño
HS: What are your ultimate career goals? Where are we going to find you in 5 years?
AZ: I want to rule the world! Ha, no I’m kidding. I’m toying with the idea of going to the production side of wine someday. I’d like to go to Barolo to do a crush. If I was going to make wine in the US, it would definitely be in Oregon.
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