What have been the classic wine restaurants of New York? One might count the number of selections on wine lists, or the number of years in business, to try to find an answer, but a more powerful indicator is alumni. Some restaurants have spawned numerous top sommeliers who have gone on to notable careers of their own, while some restaurants, even with a lot of wine on their lists, have had little or no legacy. So what have been the most influential wine restaurants in New York over time, and how do the various tribes of New York sommeliers relate? It turns out that a small handful of restaurants have supplied a great majority of the city’s sommeliers. What are those names?
Windows on the World
Even with the many intervening years that have passed since we lost Windows on the World and Cellar in the Sky, they still stand tall in their outsize influence on the wine business. Few restaurants anywhere could match their alumni roster for accomplishments.
Who worked at Windows on the World?:
- Kevin Zraly, whose success with the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, a wine book that was on the short list of anyone studying beverages in the 1990s, may ultimately have had as much influence as his wine list on the people he hired for Windows, some of whom also went on to write professionally
- Michael Skurnik, who went on to found an important wine distributor and importer
- Andrea Immer-Robinson, who has since written several wine books, in addition to consulting for corporate clients and teaching
- Jan Petrow, who today helps lead a significant wine importer
- Bruce Sanderson, who has long been a Senior Editor of Wine Spectator
David Bouley has over time exhibited a strong gravitational pull on the foodie imaginations and pocket books of New York, pulling his cuisine from France, Austria, and Japan and his clients to Tribeca. When you look at who worked with wine at Bouley, you see a lineup of people who have particularly gifted palates (not always a given in the sommelier world).
Who worked at Bouley?:
- Ned Benedict, who was later the sommelier at Aureole before working at retail for Zachy’s and now in wholesale
- JeanLuc Le Dû, who later went on to be the Chef Sommelier at Restaurant Daniel for many years before opening his own retail shop
- Brad Hickey, who is currently making wine in Australia
- Michael Madrigale, who is today the Head Sommelier at Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud
The epicenter of the American Burgundy boom, this restaurant once occupied the space that is now Bâtard. Would Burgundy prices be what they are today if this restaurant had been located further away from Wall Street? We’ll never know.
Who worked at Montrachet?:
- Daniel Johnnes, Mr. Burgundy, who would later become the Wine Director for Daniel Boulud's Dinex Group
- Bernard Sun, who was until recently the Corporate Beverage Director for Jean-Georges Management
- Tim Kopec, who would become the Wine Director at Veritas
David Gordon's team at Tribeca Grill was another part of what was once the Myriad Group's dominance in American wine programs, with Drew Nieporent's group at one point owning Rubicon in San Francisco as well as Tribeca Grill and Montrachet in New York. Unlike those other two restaurants, Tribeca Grill is still alive and wine focused today.
Who worked at Tribeca Grill?:
- Yoshi Takemura, who would later work at Veritas under Tim Kopec and who now sells wine in Japan
- Patrick Cappiello, who would eventually join Yoshi Takemura and Tim Kopec at Veritas, and who currently is a partner at Pearl & Ash
- Shawn Paul, who would go on to work at Alto with Eric Zillier before a tenure in the auction world
- Ryan Mills-Knapp, who is today the Beverage Director at Colicchio & Sons
Now gone, it is hard to overestimate Veritas' influence on American wine lists during its run. Veritas notably brought to bear a large wine list through its active use of bottles consigned by its private collector owners. That model of consigned wine lists would become a commonplace in New York, as would larger sommelier teams. Back when Anthony Bourdain wrote about Veritas in Kitchen Confidential, it was unusual to have three sommeliers working the floor, as Veritas did. Now that size of team is normal if not small at many wine restaurants.
Who worked at Veritas?:
- Tim Kopec, Yoshi Takemura, Patrick Cappiello, and Eric Zillier, who have already been mentioned, but also
- Jordan Salcito, now the Beverage Director for the Momofuku Group
- Kelli White, who went on to be a sommelier at PRESS in St. Helena
Gramercy Tavern is the great American tap room, and many restaurants today owe something of their antique strewn, rustic throwback look to Gramercy. For beverages, Gramercy Tavern has long had a run of innovators associated with it, whether it be Steven Olson's bet on Rhône wines for the opening list, Paul Grieco's intensive approach to staff training, or Jim Meehan's cocktail program before he left for PDT.
Who worked at Gramercy Tavern?:
- Steven Olson, who now consults and fills ambassador promotional roles for various wine regions
- Paul Grieco, who would go on to open Hearth and the Terroir wine bars
- Robert Bohr, who would open Cru and eventually Charlie Bird
- Richard Luftig, who is now the wine buyer for Cookshop, Five Points, and Hundred Acres
- Juliette Pope, who is the Beverage Director of Gramercy Tavern today
Probably no restaurant is more associated with pre-2008 spending than Cru, but when it opened it offered a keenly priced assemblage of yes, the big names of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and California, but also strong depth in Austrian wines and one of the great Italian collections outside of a Italian restaurant. There was even cru Beaujolais, Loire wines, and representation from the Jura. It was, in other words, one of the first prominent lists to look like today's lists, only much, much bigger and expansive.
Who worked at Cru?:
- Robert Bohr, who after Cru would go on to oversee wine programs in Tom Colicchio's group (hiring Thomas Pastuszak, now of The NoMad, at that time) and then to open Charlie Bird
- John Slover, who now does private consulting
- Joshua Nadel,
currentlyformerly General Manager of Lafayette, now Beverage Director for Andrew Carmellini's entire Noho Hospitality Group
- Michel Couvreux, now the Head Sommelier of Per Se
- Raj Vaidya, now Head Sommelier of Restaurant Daniel
Early adoption of wines that were beyond the mainstream may not have yielded Il Buco the same regard that a younger generation pays to some of the Natural wine stalwarts, but the Il Buco wine ethos has always placed it outside the crowd. It is a wine culture that has never needed to try to be iconoclastic. Several of the alumni have gone on to distinctive projects in the years since their tenure there.
Who worked at Il Buco?
- Roberto Paris, who has a done multiple stints as the Wine Director of Il Buco, including currently
- Savio Soares, who today has his own wine import company
- Jonathan Nossiter, who has written and directed controversial movies and books centered on wine
- Bill Fitch, who now edits the wine list for Vinegar Hill House and others