As the longtime wine director at New York's Le Bernardin, Aldo Sohm oversees a 15,000-bottle wine collection. But at his namesake wine bar, located just across the courtyard, he keeps things more casual—and more affordable. That's also the approach he's taken as guest curator of Tasting Table's Fall Wine Cellar, which he's stocked with plenty of value-driven bottlings from top regions like Bordeaux, Piedmont and Burgundy.
We asked Sohm to describe his philosophy on building the wine list at Aldo Sohm Wine Bar and for his tips on how to find a great bottle without breaking the bank.
Tasting Table: Tell us about the wine list at Aldo Sohm.
Aldo Sohm: The idea was to have a 200-selection wine list that's easy and affordable. It's not a restaurant; it's a true wine bar, and you should be able to pick a nice bottle of wine that's interesting within five minutes.
TT: Why five minutes?
AS: Because if I go out with my girlfriend and it takes me longer than five minutes to pick a wine, the first two courses have a frosty atmosphere. When someone sits across from you while you're thumbing through a wine list, it's annoying. It's like when someone is on their cell phone at dinner. But you know, creating a 200-bottle wine list is really challenging. It's much easier to get depth with a 2,000-bottle selection than with a 200-bottle selection.
TT: What's the best way to find value when you're buying wine?
AS: Look for a top producer and pick its entry-level wine. It's actually really fun for me to seek those bottles out. Working at Le Bern, I sell wines that are way more than $20 a bottle, but when I'm at home, do I drink $100, $200, $300 bottles of wine? I wish. Last night, I drank a wine that was $18 retail. You know, to pick a great bottle of wine for $100 is not very difficult, but to pick a good bottle of wine for $20 takes some thought.
TT: What are some of your favorite bottles in the Wine Cellar?
AS: Champagne goes with everything, and there's one that I've added that I say that is a wine for "chilling in the late afternoon with your beloved one." It's the 2008 Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Heurtebise Blanc de Blancs Brut. It's my absolute favorite Champagne right now. There's only one hook: It's hard to find. But it's absolutely undervalued. He's a grower that's really under the radar.
TT: You've also added a pretty inexpensive Bordeaux to the mix. Can you tell us about it?
AS: Bordeaux is obviously known for Lafite Rothschild and Pétrus, for all of those big-name bottles. But there are so many Bordeaux right now that don't have those big names and can't ask for those big prices. The 2009 Château Greysac Médoc is based in Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It's not Lafite, but, for the price, it delivers a lot of value. You can't go wrong with this wine at a cocktail party. And in general, you want wines that are easy-drinking; not everyone's a wine connoisseur. But you also want wines that challenge you, especially if you're a wine freak. Finding that balance can be really fun.