Manhattan’s much-lauded restaurant, GILT located inside of the New York Palace Hotel, manages to be both formal and glitzy, with its ornately carved wood walls (intact from the Villard Mansion days), grand marble fireplace and bursts of pink backlighting. The décor seems fitting for the mix of mergers and marriage proposals that are made here, signed, sealed and delivered with a glass of Champagne.
Of course, winning two Michelin stars in the competitive New York dining scene is no easy feat—nor is cultivating a wine list that is approachable and will impress the restaurant’s exacting clientele.
Yet the earnest, bespectacled Patrick Cappiello has done just that, creating an admittedly “geeky” encyclopedic wine list of over 2,100 bottles—with 50 selections for under $50 and 250 for less than $100. Cappiello’s passion for vino and pleasing the palates of his sometimes picky diners is downright infectious. WE spoke to Cappiello about his approach to creating a wine list, the cult wines he loves and his idea of a perfect last meal on Earth (with wine pairing).
Wine Enthusiast: Tell us how you became interested in the world of wine and became a sommelier at a young age.
Patrick Cappiello: I have had an interest in wine for as long as I have been legally able to drink it, maybe even a little before that. Also, I was really lucky to be in the right restaurants at the right time. Getting involved with the wine program at the Tribeca Grill in New York when they were expanding the wine program gave me the unique opportunity to get real experience with a great mentor—David Gordon—that has propelled me to the place I am now.
WE: What is your approach to creating/updating a wine list?
PC: I think you have to consider all of your potential clients. I truly desire to create a wine list that has something for everyone. It is important to cater to the high-end connoisseurs, the lover of obscure and geeky wines, as well as those who have limited knowledge but still have every right to be comfortable with the wine aspect of their dining experience. I want to have people struggling because there are so many things that they want to have off the list, and never feeling like there is nothing interesting to drink. In the end, my approach is to create a wine list that I would want to order from.
WE: What did you drink in your early years? What does your palate gravitate toward now?
PC: I definitely had a lot of beer, especially in my youth. But even as a young man, I was drawn to wine. I remember always getting excited to go to the Finger Lakes’ wine country to visit wineries and learn about the differences in wines being produced there.
WE: What are your favorite places to drink wine?
PC: I love Ten Bells in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, an excellent wine bar focusing on “natural wines.” I also frequent Paul Grieco’s Terroir; it’s not uncommon to see several sommeliers pulling corks on some killer Rieslings there. When I’m not in a wine mood, I can be spotted at Sophie’s or Lakeside lounge, two dive bars in my neighborhood [the East Village in New York].
WE: At GILT, what are customers’ favorite/most often requested wines?
PC: The clientele at GILT is so diverse given our hotel and midtown location, so it’s really never the same. We have many Europeans who are interested in American wines; we often get midtown businessmen celebrating deals over First-growth Bordeaux; sometimes it’s couples sipping Champagne to celebrate an anniversary and other times it’s those interested in lesser-appreciated—although on my list, well represented—Loire Valley reds.
WE: What trends do you see emerging in the food and wine sector for 2011?
PC: I think, mainly due to the current economy, people are interested in wines that represent a good value.
WE: What are your favorite regions?
PC: Burgundy, Loire Valley and Germany.
WE: If you could give a wine lover one piece of advice, it would be…
PC: Just have an open mind!
WE: Which cult-y or “geeky” wines are you into?
PC: Here are a few to try: Domaine de l’Aujardière’s Fié Gris, a vin de pays from France’s Loire Valley; López de Heredia’s Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva rosé from Rioja, in Spain; and Coquelet’s Vieilles Vignes Chiroubles, from Beaujolais.
WE: Describe your perfect last meal on earth, with wine pairings.
PC: Steak frites and Clos Rougeard’s Le Bourg from Saumur Champigny in the Loire.
WE: What was the last book you read?
PC: The Catcher in the Rye (third time)
For related articles on New York wine bars, visit http://www.winemag.com/Wine-Enthusiast-Magazine/November-2009/Best-Wine-Bars-of-New-York-City/