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Christie Dufault, Wine Director of GARY DANKO Interview with Christie Dufault, GARY DANKO
by Kylene Keith

Kylene Keith: Your passion for wine began at the tender age of sixteen when you visited the famed Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux, how did this trip influence you?
Christie Dufault: I was definitely mesmerized the first time I went to Bordeaux when I was a teenager. Just seeing all the vineyards and the incredible chateaux intrigued me. We visited many properties in the Medoc and one of my favorites was Chateau Prieure-Lichine, a fifth growth in Margaux. At the time, the great wine gentleman Alexis Lichine was still alive and he invited my parents and me into his home on the estate and we tasted together. I was only sixteen and very impressed. Years later, and still today, I use Mr. Lichine's books (he was a great writer and proud supporter of the wines of Bordeaux).

KK: Itís obvious that you have a natural affinity for French wines, what do you believe sets them apart from all other wines?
CD: It is true that I have an affinity for French wines. There are many reasons for that. It is the history of wine-making in France, the diversity of appellations and wine styles, and the fact that the most incredible and legendary wines that I have ever tasted all came from that country. After visiting every wine region in France, I can say, for myself, that no other country excites me for their wines the way that France does. This has been said before, but the wines truly speak of the place from which they come. It is terroir.

KK: In your opinion, what are the up and coming wine regions to look out for?
CD: I went to Australia last year and spent ten days on Tasmania. The wines were delightful. They have some idea growing conditions (and some limestone soils as well) to produce lovely wines. And they do. We just haven't yet seen the small, top-quality producers here.

KK:What is the one type of wine on your list that you wish people would stop overlooking and give a try?
CD: People should try more wines from Austria. We have beautiful Rieslings and Gruner Veltliners on our list and generally they pair extremely well with food. Whenever wine and food professionals dine at Gary Danko, they tend to order at least one wine from Austria.

KK:Youíve worked at a number of top restaurants throughout the country, what do you particularly enjoy about working at GARY DANKO?
CD: What I love most about Restaurant Gary Danko is the energy that is created nightly by the presence of our guests and their interaction with all of us. I also feel that at RGD, we offer our guests the complete experience - from the amazing food and wines to the comprehensive and genuinely friendly service.

KK: GARY DANKO opened in 1999 and your wine list is 1,400 bottles strong and growing. How were you able to build such an impressive wine cellar in such a short time?
CD: We are fortunate to have a sizeable subterranean wine cellar that can hold over 10,000 bottles. So gradually, over 3 1/2 years, we have augmented the collection. We find great wines by research and effort.

KK: What is the toughest challenge you face as a professional sommelier?
CD: It is not that there is one tough challenge that I face everyday as a sommelier. It is more like there are little things -- having more time to taste wines professionally, giving more staff training, being able to visit more wineries to learn about winemaking and new wines. I think that the number one priority of being a sommelier should be to be there for the guests. Wine service is what being a sommelier is all about. So perhaps a challenge for me is trying to be there for every guest.

KK: What is the biggest mistake that people make when pairing wines with food?
CD: Too often I see people order wines that are too big, too heavy, well, just too much for their food. I like to recommend lighter, brighter wines with food so that the palate gets the "cleansing" benefit of the wine to prepare you for the next bite of food or the next sip of wine. That way, one can really taste the food and the wine. There is a time for big wines, but that time is not all the time.

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