Interview with New Orleans Rising Star Sommelier Reno De Ranieri of Link Restaurant Group

by Caroline Hatchett
February 2016

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start with wine?
Reno De Ranieri:
 It’s always been a part of my life. My parents drank wine with every dinner. We would dunk our bread in wine. My grandfather made wine and we still have his wine barrel!

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
RDR:
 Though not enough, we get involved as we can with events like TEXSOM and Rieslingfeier. Joe [Briande, GM at Herbsaint] was in New York for Fete de Champagne.

CH: What's your biggest challenge?
RDR:
 Setting up the systems and helping the people around me grow as well. Down to the servers, to the guy shucking oysters, everyone is passionate. The whole kitchen line is tasting the wines. That’s what makes it fun. We have an incredible group that presses you to grow.

CH: How do you manage pairings across several restaurants and bars?
RDR:
 I have great teams. I oversee the buying. Every one of the people doing day to day, has been with the company for years. Thursdays, we all get together. We can bounce ideas off one another, when we can get together and discuss the best fits for each restaurant. These tastings ensure a similar line of thinking and palate. Lists stay consistent, with few products that make it onto more than one list. 

CH: What’s your pairing philosophy?
RDR: 
The style and philosophies of our wine lists—while suited to each set of restaurants—are cohesive. All Old World centric. In broad strokes, they're high-acid, low-alcohol wines that speak of the place they’re from. This city has a Francophile tradition. In the group, we have the Cajun concept, Cochon, and then Herbsaint, our bistro. While they use local flavors, there’s an emphasis on French and Italian technique that lends itself to Old World wines. Lists are very fluid, and we print them three to four times a week. It keeps it interesting. I love it when we can find something spectacular and suited to a guest's palate—to find something in a lower price range, for example, so they can try new things. New Orleans market isn’t anything if not very open, so while we do pride ourselves on having classic regions of Europe represented, the curveballs stay on the list for a long time.