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New York's Top Sommeliers Talk Changes, Challenges, and the Best Wine Discoveries of 2014

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Part one of a a two-part look back on the year in wine.

Looking back on 2014, what wines have found the attention of New York sommeliers? What have their favorite discoveries been? And what have they been choosing to drink themselves? Eater reached out to several notable sommeliers to find out what their exciting finds have been, what they were most fond of drinking, and what challenges have kept them busy this year. Their answers, below:

What did you BYO in 2014? What was a favorite of those bottles you brought for yourself to drink?

Michelle Biscieglia, Blue Hill New York: On September 1, I got married on a yacht that circled around Manhattan. I was able to bring all of my own beverages and decided on the Comte Abbatucci Vin Gris Imperial Rosé for cocktail hour. It couldn't have been any more perfect for the occasion. That wine is so fresh, pretty, and delicious... and also looks so great in all of the pictures! We brought a ton of it expecting to bring at least a case home, which definitely didn't happen.

Michael Madrigale, Bar Boulud & Boulud Sud: Most memorable was smuggling a bottle of '85 DRC Montrachet and drinking it on top of the Eiffel Tower.

Amanda Smeltz, Roberta’s: Lubentiushof, a teensy estate in the Mosel, makes two beautiful Alte Reben cuvées that were delicious with lo mein. I drank probably four bottles of Yann Bertrand's biodynamic Fleurie and Morgon just at my kitchen table alone, which is mostly where I eat nachos. And I've brought bottles of Bellwether Riesling Pet-Nat from the Finger Lakes nearly everywhere I've gone this year!

Patrick Cappiello, Pearl & Ash: Raymond Trollat, St Joseph "VV" 1994 — a really hard wine to come by. It was perfect with the food at Peking Duck House (my favorite BYO spot)!

Jack Mason, Marta: A ’67 Paolo Scavino Barolo was the BYO of choice. Made by the man himself, Paolo, this wine showcased the heights that this estate’s vineyards can reach. To no one’s surprise, it was delightful, enhanced by the simple fact that wine tastes better when shared and enjoyed in the company of others.

This wine, brilliant and so focused, was magical, and contained everything I want to taste and feel in a white wine.

Pascaline Lepeltier, Rouge Tomate: I brought a lot of older Chenin Blancs this year — Huet, Closel, Foreau, Coulee de Serrant — from the 70s, 80s, 90s, because you can still find them around if you look for them, and there are still affordable. I brought a lot of younger Chenin too. Loire Valley, always. The most fascinating, and really, really great was Les Jardins Esmeraldins 2000, a Chenin made in Breze, aged more than five years before bottling and release. This wine, brilliant and so focused, was magical, and contained everything I want to taste and feel in a white wine.

Jordan Salcito, Momofuku Group: My most memorable BYO was a bottle of '82 Gentaz-Dervieux Côte Brune Côte-Rôtie that we brought to dinner when a winemaker friend was visiting from Burgundy. Our friend had visited Gentaz several years ago, and part of what made that bottle so memorable is that as we drank the wine, he recounted his experience of that visit. Apparently, Marius Gentaz's winery was situated very close to the train tracks, and every twenty minutes the entire winery — and all of the old bottles inside of it — began to shake and rumble as the result of a passing train. The wine was magnificent.

Bill Fitch, Vinegar Hill House: Vincent Quirac's Clos 19 Bis Graves from 2012. Brought it to a dinner of Bordeaux loathers at Abri in Paris, and won a begrudging but frank approval.

Jeff Porter, B&B Hospitality Group: I tend to always bring Champagne and/or some form of Nebbiolo. My current favorite has been the 1998 Brovia Barolo.

Jessie Kiefer, Terroir Tribeca: A bottle of 1985 Dom Perignon that I rescued from my grandmother’s coat closet about five years ago. Who knows where it came from or where it had been stored prior to that. When she passed away this year I decided to open it for the whole immediate family at her memorial. The joke was that even if it was corked, flat, or vinegar I would have drunk it anyway, but it was pure perfection.

Charlie Bird

What non-wine beverage were you fond of in 2014? A distillate, beer, cider, soda, or bitters?

Michelle Biscieglia, Blue Hill New York: Switchel! The combo of apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and fresh ginger seems to be my new go to anytime I need a pick me up. I even do shots of it after service on occasion... it's not as weird as it sounds.

Maine Beer Company is making the best beer in America right now.

Grant Reynolds, Charlie Bird: I think Maine Beer Company is making the best beer in America right now. While many breweries have gone the route of making bigger, hoppier beer, these guys are making dry, smart, super easy-to-drink stuff. The Peeper Ale is where it’s at.

Jordan Salcito, Momofuku Group: Cidrerie du Vulcain's lineup of Swiss ciders is gorgeous, and I'm especially fond of the "Poiré Doux". Jacques Pérritaz, the cider maker, is a former shepherd and biologist.

Patrick Cappiello, Pearl & Ash: Two of my favorite beers this year both came during visits to California: Trumer Pils and Pliny the Elder. It sucks that we can’t get them on the east coast, but that makes them all the more delicious when I’m out west!

Jeff Porter, B&B Hospitality Group: I am super excited by the Colicchio & Sons special brew beer called "Shift Drink".

Bill Fitch, Vinegar Hill House: Three of note: 1.) Cigar City "Jai Alai" IPA, from Tampa, Florida. Heady cannabis nectar. The riesling of beer, -ish. 2.) A Serrano chile and lavender vermouth from Uncouth Vermouth. 3.) The magic vinegars of Didier Chaffardon in Anjou.

Aldo Sohm, Le Bernardin & Aldo Sohm Wine Bar: A Stiegl beer from Salzburg — crisp, clean, and fresh!

Amanda Smeltz, Roberta’s: Grimm, the brewers out of Brooklyn, I've fallen for 'em. I think their riff on Trappist Ale ("Bees in the Trappe") is outstanding. I also discovered Off Color from Chicago this year. I've liked almost every beer of theirs I've tasted, but their dark honey ale "Scurry" is my favorite. Malty, balanced, delicious stuff.

Jack Mason, Marta: LoverBeer BeerBrugna Sour Ale with plums. Brewed with brettanomyces and macerated with Regina Claudia green plums for over eight months, this beer is truly in a class of its own. This sour ale has more similarities to traditionally made wines from this area of Italy than similarity to other beers! And it is delicious.

Michael Madrigale, Bar Boulud & Boulud Sud: Cappellano Chinato continues to occupy a fixed place in my drinking rotation.

Bue hill

Over the last year, what has changed on your list? What has changed with your program?

What were deemed 'fringe' wines are clearly not so 'lunatic' anymore.

Bill Fitch, Vinegar Hill House: We seem to be selling more wines above 100 dollars, so one feels freer to have a few more on the list. Also, what were deemed "fringe" wines are clearly not so "lunatic" any more. So the tacit distinction between mainstream and geek has mercifully evaporated, and diversity can reign supreme.

Michael Madrigale, Bar Boulud & Boulud Sud: Most recent is my reignited curiosity for the genuine wines of Napa Valley. Cabernets from both the valley floor and mountain areas. Wines like Smith Madrone, Forman, Corison, Robert Sinskey, Diamond Creek, Mayacamas, Matthiasson, etc.

Thomas Pastuszak, The NoMad: Champagne has always been a major focus of the NoMad wine list, and this year we brought in even more small-producer Champagnes than ever before. It seems with each year that people are becoming more and more likely to drink Champagne throughout their meal, from aperitif to after-dinner drink, which is extremely exciting!

Jeff Porter, B&B Hospitality Group: At Del Posto we have focused even more on Barolo, at Lupa we have introduced some more selections from the Lazio (that are tasty), and at Babbo we have focused on all the gems hidden in our cellar.

Patrick Cappiello, Pearl & Ash: We have put a significant focus on the new generation of California winemakers, there are some very exciting things happening out there.

Michelle Biscieglia, Blue Hill New York: I definitely began to branch out a bit more than I have before. I was turned off by a lot of natural wines over the past few years since the whole trend of it happened... but that's definitely changing now as so many producers are making better, cleaner, more polished wines in a more natural way. It's exciting to have these wines and their stories on the list to echo the stories of the culinary philosophies that I (and the restaurant) believe in.

Jessie Kiefer, Terroir Tribeca: I have added a lot more California wines. There is a great representation of what California really tastes like out there and it is not over oaked or overripe. With producers like Le Clarine Farm, Dirty & Rowdy, Vinca Minor…I feel like I have only begun to discover what we can do here in the United States.

Amanda Smeltz, Roberta’s: We hired a couple of fabulous floor somms, so now there's a wine person on the Roberta's floor every night of the week!

pearl & ash
What is the biggest challenge for you, right now?

Pascaline Lepeltier, Rouge Tomate: With the move of the restaurant, the challenge is to rethink, or more exactly to bring new perspectives to the previous list, especially in this new neighborhood. Being uptown was, in a certain way, an advantage, because we were a little bit alone, but it won't be the case anymore. So I am working on building the base for a more exciting list, at every level, in a city where you have an incredible amount of really precise and focused, less expensive wine programs happening.

Bill Fitch, Vinegar Hill House: Competing with larger volume places for small production wines once much easier to obtain in Brooklyn...which seems a good thing, as complacency in the wine hunt is lame, and the at-large availability of interesting (at least to me) wines is improving.

Michael Madrigale, Bar Boulud & Boulud Sud: Keeping my wife from hating me for working so much.

Jeff Porter, B&B Hospitality Group: Finding old Brunello.

Patrick Cappiello, Pearl & Ash: Sourcing older vintages for the list is always the biggest challenge, but it is one I love and am committed to.

Aldo Sohm, Le Bernardin & Aldo Sohm Wine Bar: Allocations.

Aldo Sohm

What was your favorite discovery this year?

Grant Reynolds, Charlie Bird: Fiano d'Avellino with some age on it. These are wines people usually drink up and rarely hold on to for any years after release. But with some time in bottle they can be lively, complex, still cheap, and incredibly delicious.

Michael Madrigale, Bar Boulud & Boulud Sud: Wines from Niagara, Ontario. They've got the foundation to produce great wine: cool climate, limestone, and a group of risk taking winemakers. People like Norman Hardie, Malivoire, Tawse, Hidden Bench, etc.

Jeff Porter, B&B Hospitality Group: That old Corvo can be awesome!

Aldo Sohm, Le Bernardin & Aldo Sohm Wine Bar: Australian Wine! Such as Wendouree or Lance’s Vineyard.

Bill Fitch, Vinegar Hill House: The Muscat Sec des Roumanis of Le Petit Gimios of the Lavaysse family in Saint Jean de Minervois and all the wines of Domaine Sainte Croix in Fraïssé-des-Corbières.

Michelle Biscieglia, Blue Hill New York: Napa Valley. I went for the first time this year and was blown away by what is going on there. I am really excited to see what will happen over the next few years. I never really gave the wines a chance after tasting so many over priced, overripe wines, but I was turning my nose up too prematurely. I had a Ridge "Langtry Road" from the 1979 that blew my mind and plenty of Napa Cab that was true to terroir and so pure.

Jordan Salcito, Momofuku Group: My favorite winemaker discovery was without question the great Ulli Stein. I'd never heard of him before traveling to Germany in April. He is a philosopher, winemaker, activist and a phenomenal person. His wines are as pure as his motives, and he has a fantastic sense of humor to boot. If the world were full of Ulli Steins, I am pretty convinced we as a human race could accomplish anything. And we'd drink well to boot. Particular favorites: his "1900" Alfer Hölle Riesling and the sparkling "Rosecco" made from Spätburgunder.

Jack Mason, Marta: Trinchero "Vigna del Noce" Barbera d’Asti 2004. Made like a serious, traditional Barolo, this Barbera is unlike any other I have ever had. Though most would say Barbera is a secondary grape to the noble Nebbiolo, the Vigna del Noce will definitely help to challenge that thought! Quite a discovery for sure.

The stunning wines of Andreas Tscheppe knocked me on my ass this year...Styria: who knew?

Amanda Smeltz, Roberta’s: The stunning wines of Andreas Tscheppe knocked me on my ass this year. Never seen anything like them. Styria: who knew?

Thomas Pastuszak, The NoMad: While I've been a big fan of Corsican wines for several years now, I was finally able to visit the island this past spring, and what a cool trip it was! The wines of the various appellations are so very different, it is really remarkable to find such a diversity of wine styles on such a small piece of land in the middle of the sea.

Pascaline Lepeltier, Rouge Tomate: The old Portuguese white wines of the Dao from Porta dos Cavaleiros, they are stunning. Also, Sato's wines in Central Otago. Those are a revelation for me in terms of New Zealand.

Jeff Kellogg, Maialino: Canonica sticks out when I think of favorite discoveries. I may have discovered the wine before 2014, but I really got to know and love their Barolo this year. Chad Zeigler introduced them to me as the "Allemand" of Barolo, and I can’t get that description out of my head, they are so expressive.

George Hock, Barchetta: Late to the party, but the wines of Alice and Olivier De Moor.

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