Monday, May 11, 2009

The World Champ Wins Again

Aldo Sohm is the current World Champion Sommelier and the wine director of Le Bernardin restaurant in New York. And, as of last week, this Austrian-born expert can also claim to have the Best Restaurant Wine Service in America -thanks to the judges of The James Beard awards. When I chatted with him recently, Sohm still sounded amazed at this turn of events. “It came out of the blue,” he insisted. How could that be? I replied. You’re the World Champion, after all. This was different, Sohm insisted. “I’ve only been at the restaurant for five years. And we were up against some stiff competition- Patina, Bin 36, The Blackberry Farm- which has been nominated many times.”

But Sohm is not only incredibly talented with a remarkable palate – as his credentials would prove- but also quite approachable, easygoing and open-minded (words that don’t come too often attached to a top sommelier). I’ve eaten at Le Bernardin several times in the past year and found his recommendations always spot- on and his demeanor unfailingly warm.

What was his secret? What makes the wine service at Le Bernardin particularly special? “We focus on people,” Sohm replied. “And we focus on tasting menus and we really make sure to explain the wines to people and why they are matched to particular dishes. “ Sohm has also started Saturday afternoon seminars for clients, offering tutorials on various varietals. “We did a global Pinot Noir tour. We did Chardonnay,” he noted. This week’s tour is Syrah. The cost is $125 per person, all-inclusive. “Everyone does wine dinners but no one does seminars,” Sohm observed. (

By the way, what wine did he celebrate his victory with? “I think we started with Pommery Champagne,” Sohm replied. “Then we went to The Modern and drank some’90 Lafite, ’90 Beaucastel and some Billecart Salmon Champagne.” There was Gruner Veltliner somewhere along the way ‘til it was around 4:30 in the morning. That’s when Sohm finally went home.

Note to would-be Le Bernardin diners: Sohm’s favorite wine on the list right now is the 2007 Karthauserhof Riesling Auslese S trocken ($150). “It’s not cheap but the wine is a killer,” he says. But don’t just take his word for it- try it yourself!

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