Beltrami: Your wine list at NORMAN'S
is already strong in some refreshing places, such as Alsace, where you
offer a superb lineup of over a dozen Zind-Humbrechts. You've said that
you are currently expanding certain sections of the list, notably Germany,
Austria, Burgundy and Spain. Why those regions?
Laura De Pasquale: Germany, Austria and Burgundy are areas we want
to emphasize because the wines are so compatible with the style of food
that we do. I feel in general that those wines are much more food-compatible
than some others, but specifically with Norman's cuisine, which is classical
cooking but with some Norman-esque twists to it, those wines are natural
pairs. I'm concentrating on Spain because I just came back from there
and loved it! (laughs). Actually, I think Spanish wines offer tremendous
value. The wine-making techniques over there have modernized tremendously,
and the vintages we're just starting to see, 1998 and '99, are spectacular.
The same goes for Italy, actually.
AB: Yes, they've had quite a run, especially in Piedmont.
LDP: 1996, '97 and '98 have all been tremendous. Italy was the
first area that I tackled and really expanded here, because the excellent
'97s were just coming out at the time. But I'll continue to expand the
Italian wine representation.
AB: Regarding Spanish wine, I see you have two vintages of Dominio
de Pingus, a highly-sought-after Ribera del Duero, on your list.
LDP: Ah, the Pingus! It's a true boutique wine, made from the
Tempranillo grape by Peter Sisseck, a Danish oenologist. Frank Prial
mentioned it in The New York Times a couple of months ago in
an article on the so-called 'garage wines.' It's made in tiny quantities,
and virtually none of it is imported into the U.S. It's a tremendous
wine. I'm waiting for the '98 right now. I'm in a very fortunate position
in that I get offered wines like that because of the restaurant that
I'm in. For me, the challenge is not finding those wines, even though
they're spectacular. That's just a privilege. The challenge for me is
finding the really good value wines that are different and unusual.
That's the fun part.
AB: Are you looking to regions such as Argentina and New Zealand?
LDP: I do have some New Zealand selections. I have stayed away
from South America for now, although I have tasted some great Malbecs
recently that will probably go on the list. I've been concentrating
more on old-world, classic wines; when I started here, the list was
very heavy on new-world, and it needed to be more rounded out.
AB: So it's interesting∑you really have new-world cuisine with
LDP: Yes. It works. Here in South Florida, where we have virtually
no wines growing anywhere near us, we have no tradition of matching
wines with the foods of the region, which is in a sense quite liberating.
At the same time, it's also pressure, because it is NORMAN'S, and people
in the industry look to what we're doing here. I approach the wine list
with a sense of integrity towards what the food is all about, and to
what the wines are all about, and to find those marriages is another
super-fun, super-interesting part of my job.
AB: Do you find that you have to educate the customer, or that
people come in feeling adventurous and ready for new things?
LDP: Both. I find that people coming here for the first time,
or who maybe come in once a year, come here with an open mind. They
want to be wowed. And then people who come here on a regular basis are
looking to see what we've got up our sleeves now-- what's Norman going
to pull out of the kitchen, what's Laura going to pair with it? There
are not a lot of sommeliers that work the floor down here [in South
Florida], so when I approach a table and ask if they have any questions,
people are usually receptive. So there is a lot of education that goes
AB: What particularly impresses me is that you don't seem to
cater to the dining public's expectations that a serious wine list at
a world-class restaurant should be heavily skewed towards Bordeaux,
Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay. In my conversations with other sommeliers,
I've frequently heard the sentiment that you have to give the customer
what they want, even if it's not the right type of wine for the cuisine.
It seems that you've taken a different approach, and I wonder if your
customers have different expectations than most.
LDP: Certainly, some customers come in here and wonder where
the Bordeaux are. We don't do Bordeaux, because we can't afford to do
it the way I would like to and because it doesn't really go with our
food. I don't want to do it if we can't do it well. But I try to steer
them to something they might be familiar with-- Rioja, for example,
and if they don't like it we'll take it back and keep opening bottles
until we find something they like. I honestly can't say I've heard from
a single customer over the last year and a half who was less than enthusiastic
about the wine.
AB: Do you allow customers to bring their own bottles?
LDP: We invite people to bring in their rare wines. It's a privilege
for us to have someone come in with a bottle of '61 Margaux or '66 Latour
or something like that, because it's stuff that we can't get and we
don't see. We do charge corkage, but it's on a case-by-case basis. Of
course, if somebody's coming in with something they just ran down to
the liquor store and bought, then of course we charge corkage. But for
our friends at the restaurant who have collections, and bring in fabulous
bottles of wine, we never charge corkage.
AB: And I imagine you're offered a few sips?
LDP: Absolutely. That's the deal! They have to share. In fact,
we started our Tuesday Tastings program to bring collectors together,
because sometimes collectors here feel isolated. It's a fledgling community
down here that is growing, and it's amazing to find out that people
whom you never expected to be collecting, are.
AB: You are currently studying towards the Master Sommelier diploma.
What is the benefit in obtaining that credential for someone such as
yourself who is already Beverage Director at a top-level restaurant?
LDP: Well, there's certainly the challenge of it. One of the
reasons why I love being a sommelier is the learning and teaching aspect
of it, and having that goal in front of you forces you to study. I like
the fact that the wine world covers culture, history, geology and geography,
and it gives you a chance to study everything, and that's one of the
reasons I'm going after it. I also see the Master Sommelier program
as a way to move the restaurant profession into a more professional
light. There's still the attitude out there that 'I can go wait tables
for six months and earn some extra cash,' which at this level is not
the case. Almost the entire wait staff at NORMAN'S could pass the certificate
course right now.
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