Have you ever been handed a wine list in a restaurant and been completely overwhelmed and confounded? Never fear, Talia Baiocchi is here to help. In her role as the US Editor-in-Chief of WineChap.com, Talia will help you demystify NYC's wine lists and find the right wine for any taste—whether you're looking for a first date wine, a great value, or something to please your entire table. Talia took a break from her WineChap duties and her guest column over at Eater NY to share her wine wisdom.
Name: Talia Baiocchi
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Occupation: US Editor-in-Chief, WineChap.com
When did you develop your love for wine and how did you gain your extensive wine knowledge? My father is Italian-American and my mother is of Spanish decent so wine was always a part of my life from a very young age—but it wasn't until college that I took a serious intellectual interest in it. I went to NYU, and after a year of requisite Bud Light consumption, I rediscovered wine through staff education sessions at the restaurant I worked at. I had a memory for it. (In fact, outside of art history, it's the only thing I have a memory for. What's your name again?)
After that, everything seemed to happen quite fast. I graduated, went to Italy, worked a harvest in Piedmont, and traveled until I ran out of money. Hopelessly in love with Italian wine, I came back to the states, buried myself in books, and got a job at Italian Wine Merchants. I stayed there for almost three years, eventually managing private collections and becoming exposed, very fortunately, to a lot of great wine.
Do you think people are more intimidated ordering wine in restaurants than buying it in a wine shop? What's your advice to getting past this? Sure, of course. In a wine shop you generally don't have an audience. It's a lot easier to lurk around the store reading descriptions of the wines and flipping bottles over to see who imports them. In a restaurant, you're on the spot with the vinous version bible in front of you.
My advice for overcoming stage fright: 1) don't take yourself too seriously; it's okay to make pronunciation mistakes and ask questions; taking a step outside of your comfort zone is the only way to learn. 2) Come with an idea of what you like (try and catalogue a few whites and reds that can use as examples). 3) Talk to your sommelier! They are only dangerous if provoked.
What are your top three tips for approaching a restaurant wine list?
1) Think about what you're eating, but don't go too crazy here. Most pairing is intuitive (i.e. white wines usually go with light colored foods, and vice versa)
2) Come with a few basics memorized; little knowledge can go a long way in preventing panic attacks.
3) Turn choosing the wine into a conversation instead of a nerve-wracking solo gig. Talk to your sommelier and the rest of your table.
Any advice for Serious Eaters who want to learn more about wine generally? Go visit Greg Majors at Cru on any given Thursday or Friday at 5:30pm (call ahead to book, of course). He leads wine classes that are an incredible value for the price (generally $40 all inclusive). Outside of that, find a wine store that you trust and someone who can help you gain knowledge region by region. Chambers Street, Crush, Brooklyn Wine Exchange, and Burgundy Wine Company are favorites of mine.
Have there been any NYC restaurant wine lists that have completely surprised you (in either a good or bad way)? Alta. It's this unassuming tapas joint on West 10th that functions as a neighborhood joint more than anything else. You'd expect to find an innocuous list of Spanish wines and Sangria, but it happens to have an incredible collection of back vintage Rioja, Burgundy, Barolo, and Bordeaux at prices that often dip below wholesale.
Create a three course meal for us from three of your favorite NYC restaurant dishes, with wine pairings, of course! Marea: Astice (lobster and burratta), with Mataossu 'Vigneto Reine' 2008, Punta Crena $63; Franny's: Pizza with Clams, Chilies, and Parsley, with Coenobium 2008, Monastero Suore Cistercensi $38; Balthazar: Carmelized Banana Ricotta Tart, with Coteaux du Layon 'Les Aunis' 1996, Château de la Roulerie, $12/glass.
What is in your fridge that you'd be embarrassed to tell us about? I am sure I have some sour cream in there that's got an arm growing out of it by now.
What's your favorite hidden gem in NYC? Bar Henri, owned by the Bar Henry folks. Super secret stash of back vintage wines at really cheap prices, but you'll have to endure dismal crepes to drink them.