Chalk Hill Winery Sommelier Guide To Restaurants in America
Chalk Press 2004 (third edition)560 pages. Soft cover. $19.95
Chalk Hill Winery Sommelier Guide to Restaurants in America is ostensibly aimed at consumers, but restaurant professionals will love it.
Chalk Hill Winery is the publisher of record. They’re also listed as one of six “sponsors.” Ten pages of editorial on the sponsors’ wineries appears in a section near the front of the book, but nowhere else will you evidence of their participation. The sommeliers speak for themselves—their own attitudes and preferences and those of their restaurants are reflected in their responses.
Ron Wiegand, M.W., M.S., Editor of Restaurant Wine and Yves Sauboua, Estate Sommelier for Chalk Hill, penned the introduction and presumably have had much to do with the concept of the guide and with its editing. Six brief initial chapters are written by some of the country’s most noted wine professionals, with each one addressing a topic such as Maximizing Your Wine Adventure in Restaurants or Wine Prices in Restaurants.
The guide devotes 495 of its 560 pages to profiles of American restaurants and their sommeliers, mostly as one page question-and-answer expositions. Categorized alphabetically by state, there’s information on restaurants from Alaska through Wyoming. Most of space is devoted to more populous states, of course, but there’s a definite attempt at inclusiveness. For the consumer who travels, it’s a great resource. Pertinent data such as restaurant locations, phone numbers and web addresses are included, but the careful reader can intuit much more about the house through the sommelier’s responses.
Not all respondents are answering the same questions, though there are recurring themes. Bits of personal information that might never be disclosed in a typical server-diner encounter can be fun.
The question “What Inspired You to Pursue a Career That Involves Wine?” elicits mostly predictable responses, but “What Information Would You Like Your Customers To Know About You?” yields comments more revealing (“I was born in Brooklyn, so don’t mess with me!” David Gordon, Wine Director, Tribeca Grill, or “I worked as a carpenter for fifteen years while moonlighting in this business.” David J. Penner, Maitre D’ and Sommelier, Palm Court Restaurant at the Westfield Conference Center, and “I have a surprisingly small wine collection at home because I think that great wine is made to drink. I have no patience for waiting.” Stewart M. Smith, General Manager and Sommelier, Elephant Walk Restaurant at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort).
Much more of a feel for the styles of the restaurants and of the palates of the sommeliers comes when they offer suggestions to pair with their signature dishes. They can be basic and straight forward (“Osso buco with Brunello di Montalcino.” Armando Dawdy, Corporate Sommelier, Tony’s, and “Cowboy rib-eye with California Cabernet Sauvignon.” Janet M. Easterling, Sommerlier, Ruth’s Chris Steak House), though many are esoteric (“Lobster and scallop-stuffed corn crepe with vanilla bean beurre blanc paired with New World cool-climate Chardonnay.” Thomas P. Burke, Sommelier, Friends Lake Inn. “Branzino al Sale, a whole Mediterranean-style sea bass with a California white blend like Coppola’s Blancaneaux” John E. Aylward, Director of Café Operations and Sommelier, Niebaum-Coppola Café.)
Value to the prospective diner comes in answers to questions about wine list emphases, wine-by-the-glass programs and best value wines. While most readers will appreciate Sommelier Guide to Restaurants in America’s practical information, others may enjoy the personal—and sometimes quirky—revelations of the sommeliers. How else would you discover that, were they not in their current profession, these people would admit to wanting to be “A used car salesman.” (Mark C. Cromer, Assistant General Manager, Buckhead Diner), or “ . . a jazz drummer, writing novels or designing shoes.” (Jeff Morgenthal, Wine Director and Sommelier, Drago), or simply “A clown!” (George Passot, Sommelier, Wine Buyer and Manager, La Folie Restaurant).
--reviewed by Dan Clarke