Letter from the Editor: Somm Swag in D.C. Vol: 116

December 2014

This summer, we met more somms in D.C. than we’ve met in previous markets, and found a thriving wine culture in the Capital, a city that is deeply supportive of them. D.C. somms can do anything that they want, and they’re doing it with style and personality.

Washington’s sommeliers surprised us with their daring. At Charlie Palmer Steak, we Sommelier Nadine Brown has been curating a dynamic all-American list for more than a decade, with close to 6,000 bottles from boutique vintners in South Dakota to staples like Beringer. Many D.C. Somms are pouring wines from unexpected regions in and outside the U.S., raising glasses to Albania, Serbia, and small-production wineries everywhere.

Over at Ripple, if it’s “earthy, dirty, and stinky,” it’s on Danny Fisher’s list. Fisher prefers to concentrate on small, biodynamic producers. And, at Red Hen, co-owner and somm daredevil Sebastian Zutant has a list that highlights Slovenia, Croatia, and the nearly extinct Kisi varietal from the Republic of Georgia.

In addition to fun with esoteria, somms are also just having good ole fashioned fun. They’re even upping the cocktail game with wine as the base. Chantal Tseng’s Oloroso Float at Mockingbird Hill made our Top 5 Capital City Cocktails. And at Estadio Wine Director Max Kuller and Chef Haidar Karoum concocted a Sherry float—Pedro Ximenez, vanilla ice cream, chocolate pearls, and housemade maraschino cherries—transporting us back to childhood while keeping one wobbly leg in the adult world.

Somms like Brent Kroll of Neighborhood Restaurant Group know that a good pairing highlights the food, but a great pairing highlights the wine. From fizzy Peloponnese Moschofilero to Sicilian Nerello Mascalese, he’s taking his guests on a joyride, fearlessly serving wines not only from fringe regions, but also choosing lesser-known grape varieties from the mainstream regions. Fellow Sommelier Julian Mayor of Bourbon Steak is all about being as eclectic as possible to ensure his guests always have options. He’s also finding innovative ways to speed up slow nights. For off-nights at Bourbon Steak, Mayor put the super successful F(l)ight Club into place, where Chef Joe Palma creates a special five-course menu for dinner and sommeliers pair each dish with a wine of their choice—ultimately adding to the excitement of a Monday and to the restaurants bottom line.

Appropriately, both the somm and the sommelier in D.C. have the freedom and liberty to shape a wine program and their wine city in their own image. They’re including the world of wine in its entirety, in a place that is a global microcosm and one that the rest of the world is watching.

Antoinette Bruno