Best New Sommeliers of 2013


Jordan Salcito, Momofuku, NYC

"Travel is the most helpful thing I've ever done for understanding how terroir matters. You get a feel for the little things that inform the wine."

Growing up in Denver, Jordan Salcito would occasionally hear stories about her father's father making wine—bad wine—in his basement in Waterbury, Connecticut. That she'd end up devoting her waking hours to the beverage never even crossed her mind until many years later, after earning a BA in English Literature and Philosophy and another degree from Johnson & Wales culinary school in Denver. Then she landed an externship in the kitchen of Daniel in NYC, where Chef Boulud poured her a glass of 1978 Jaboulet La Chapelle while he described the influence Paul Bocuse had had on him. It wasn't long before she began trailing sommelier Daniel Johnnes around the dining room, working with him in the mornings and in the kitchen at night. After helping out at La Paulée des Neiges, Johnnes's Aspen-based Burgundy event, she was sold. "I was meeting all these winemakers that I'd heard and read about, and getting to try a lot of benchmark wines," she says. "And I just thought, 'I would like my life to involve this.'"

From there, she went on to work with some of the best in the New York restaurant world—including Tim Kopec at Veritas and John Ragan at Eleven Madison Park. After a near brush with business school—an option she considered during the economic crisis—she tried her hand at mixed drinks, running the cocktail program at the New York Palace hotel; passed the Advanced portion of the MS exam; and launched her own wine label, Bellus, all while helping out in the wine department at The Lion. When the owners of The Lion decided to open Crown, they asked Salcito to direct the list. She debuted her first wine list on Labor Day 2011, opening day. Earlier this year, she took on a new challenge: running the wine programs for all of David Chang's restaurants in NYC, as wine director of Momofuku. —Tara Q. Thomas

Working Harvest

I've worked every harvest since 2006 except 2011, because I opened Crown a month before harvest started; that year I went to Chacra in Patagonia instead. Why? It lends perspective. It helps complete the picture. For instance, there's so much talk about natural wine now; sometimes there's this idea that they just stick grapes in the vat and it becomes wine. That's not the way it goes, and it's good to have the knowledge to balance these ideas out.

Mentors

I always had this feeling that I didn't belong and didn't deserve to be [at Daniel]; it wasn't until summer of 2007 that I began to feel like I did belong. That's when Bonnie Munshin, the GM of Nick & Toni's, gave me a chance and hired me as a part-time sommelier. She gave me lot of freedom, and the opportunity to experiment with how to talk to people. It was really empowering to have that sort of freedom.

Tim [Kopec, at Veritas] had the best mannerisms and tableside manner; it was amazing to watch him. He has this quiet, calm confidence; I always think of that now. John Ragan [of the Union Square Hospitality Group]—a terrific teacher, and extremely detail oriented. He doesn't accept anything less than his standards of perfection.

Crush with Robert Bohr

The first year we made wine, we went to Montalcino, where we were supposed to be working with someone who knew what he was doing. But he got sick and ended up in the hospital. So we were sort of in charge, which was interesting...I speak French, not Italian…and we essentially just put into effect what we'd seen in Burgundy. It was wet and rainy...the tractor fell over... That was the learning year.

Site Visits

Travel is the most helpful thing I've ever done for understanding how terroir matters. You can do the reading but without travel you don't have the context. Burgundy is where I go most; I have a godson there. But also it's interesting to get to go over and over again; you begin to notice the nuances of the weather, learn the histories that don't get written down, get a feel for the little things that inform the wine.

Somm Must-Have

Curiosity.

Hardest Part of Job

Not being able to choose everything. You have to edit well; you have to have self-restraint.

Recent Discovery

L'Anglore Tavel. I didn't know about it until I visited Jean Foillard, and asked him what he likes to drink when he's not drinking Beaujolais. I always like to ask winemakers this question. Foillard said L'Anglore, and when I told him I didn't know it, he ran to get a bottle. It's so fresh, alive, textural; fruity but a little bit sour, mineral, pure—it's a magical wine for me.

The Challenge from Chang

A little after I got here, Dave looks at the wine list and he says, "We need some more options for your wine program." He talked to his kitchen staff, and they devised this tableside short rib dinner—a first course of little snacks, beautiful with Chablis or Champagne; a second course for a richer white or light red; and a final show tableside: bone-in Niman Ranch short ribs. I brought in the Brunello from Stella di Campalto—these are the best wines in Montalcino. I know I'm supposed to say Soldera is, but she's terrific. She's the only biodynamic producer in Montalcino; the wine's pure, grounded, tannins soft, silky, elegant.

Pick for Pork Buns

A glass of the Leitz Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz 2011 out of magnum.

Photos by Sara Brittany Somerset