A Day in the Life of a NYC Sommelier
Michael Madrigale rips a page out of his daily diary and shares it with Wine Enthusiast.
10:00 am: The alarm jolts me awake. The pounding matches that of my head. Long one last night. Closed the restaurant at 1 am and celebrated a line cook’s new job. We had barbecue and karaoke in Koreatown–and I got home at 4 am. I can tell my girlfriend is upset as she’s giving me the silent treatment this morning. This is going to be a long day.
11:00 am: Arrive at restaurant. I check my stock of wines by the glass and place orders for tomorrow. Family meal is up. Most of the line cooks were out late with me and the family meal we share is the true barometer of how they are feeling. In the restaurant biz everyone works so much together that it becomes a second home, so one or two people are assigned to cook a meal each shift. If they aren’t feeling well (or are hungover) it shows. This morning we have hot wings and rice (not something I want to eat at 11 am).
12:00 pm: Lunch service begins. Not so great for wine sales but a chance to talk to tables and work the floor in a less frenetic pace. A wine rep stops by and we taste six of his new imports from the Languedoc. His Syrah-based wines from Larzac are impressive—fresh, earthy, peppery with a fruity roundness that are a dream to pair with the food at Bar Boulud. There is a new pâté made of morels, sweetbreads and pork. It would pair amazingly. I place an order of five cases of one of them to pour by the glass.
2:30 pm: Lunch service ends. Go downstairs and my heart drops. I see 35 cases of wine stacked in the hallway like the Great Wall of Burgundy. I forgot my allocations of ’08 Roumier, d’Angerville, Ramonet and Niellon were coming. Have a half-hour before I have to conduct a blind tasting with staff. Luckily, Fabien, my assistant sommelier, arrives early and we move like tornadoes, putting everything away in 30 minutes flat.
3:00 pm: I conduct blind tastings every Wednesday with the staff. I enlist a wine rep; instead of me tasting by myself I have the rep bring in six to 10 samples for the group. When he arrives I give him tin foil to wrap the bottles and a sharpie to number them. He is the only one who knows what the wines are. We taste the wines together and I act as the M.C., asking the servers what they think. I try to play devil’s advocate. When they say “I think it’s Burgundy,” I ask them why. After they speak I give my assessment. I want them to hear how I came to my conclusion in hopes they can learn something. I confused Grüner Veltliner with Côtes du Rhône blanc. But, all in all, I went five for seven. You can see the passion for wine in its beginning stages on a few of the servers’ faces. I love this part of the job.
5:00 pm: Pre-theatre seating. “Tosca” is playing at the Met and we expect a packed house by 6 pm. I open bottles of Côtes du Rhône and Sancerre. Everyone is in by 6 and out by 7:30. A smash-and-grab first seating.
8:00 pm: The second seating is when I can truly practice my craft. I feel almost like a psychiatrist and a detective. Listening. Asking questions. Probing. Diagnosing symptoms. Prescribing the medicine. One table says they want something like a Pinot Noir but also like a Cabernet. I have to figure out what they mean. A lot of guests use certain terminology or wine speak that they really don’t understand. My job is to figure out what style of wine they want. The table that wants Pinot/Cab really wants a Pinot with ripe fruit. I give them an ’08 Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir that is amazing.
9:00 pm: I open a Jeroboam of ’95 Château de Beaucastel and pour it by the glass for $25. The bottle is empty within an hour. Good soup doesn’t last long in the pot.9:00 pm I open a Jeroboam of ’95 Château de Beaucastel and pour it by the glass for $25. The bottle is empty within an hour. Good soup doesn’t last long in the pot.
10:30 pm: Take off. Exhausted. Have three-quarters of a bottle of Côte-Rôtie that was given to me. Should be a good match with moderately spicy lamb, so I place an order for Indian delivery during my cab ride home. I pick up some flowers on the corner. Should get me off the hook for coming home so late last night.
Michael Madrigale is head sommelier and wine director at Bar Boulud in New York, NY. Follow him on Twitter @barboulud.