Wine on Starchefs

Featured Sommelier Claire Paparazzo of Blue Hill Restaurant, New York City
By Jim Clarke
December 2006

Young actors who come to New York looking for stardom may end up turning to the bottle instead, but for a few, “the bottle” isn’t a drinking problem, it’s a career in wine. Claire entered the classic “actor working as a server while they wait for the big break” life when she took a job at Larry Forgionne’s An American Place in 1994. At the staff’s weekly wine tastings she discovered her strong palate and began to catch the wine bug.

When she moved to Jean Georges’s Vong a few years later, her interest really took off under the double tutelage of Susan LaRossa (now at Polaner Selections, a wine distributor) and Annie Turso (now at Asiate in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel). Susan arranged for Claire to visit some wineries in Sonoma, and Annie then turned her on to studying with the American Sommelier Association. During the twenty-week course she moved on to help open Tom Valenti’s ‘Cesca as Assistant Sommelier to Patrick Bickford, which gave her the chance to explore Italian wine intensively.

She stepped back from the wine side to work for Dan Barber and Philip Gouze opening Blue Hill at Stone Barns, eventually taking over as Private Event Manager there. While not directly involved, she kept her eye on the wine program, and when the Wine Director position opened at the original Blue Hill location back in Greenwich Village, she jumped at it. She’s made herself at home there and also finds time to be an active member of the Vino Vixens, a weekly tasting group dedicated to fostering the careers of female wine professionals.

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