I am super excited about this week’s featured sommelier, Aviram Turgeman, who I first read about in Eric Asimov’s New York Times article, “At Nice Matin, a Wine List That Hits All the Marks.” A choice excerpt:
As exciting as it feels to pick up a wine list already well known for its great bottles, it’s even more electrifying to have few expectations and to be knocked back in goggle-eyed surprise.
Goggle-eyed! Personally, I’m most goggle-eyed that this neighborhood restaurant with a phenomenal wine list is in the Upper West Side, a detail that immediately elated me given it will be my new ‘hood this August. (See you this summer, Aviram.)
SO, let’s talk more about Aviram (pictured at right with a small bottle of wine), beverage director at Nice Matin. He’s a relatively young sommelier with a penchant for old, mature wines. His wine list won’t resemble the (IMHO) more impatient, intensely-fruit focused bottles you might see on many other menus…he seeks wines that are more developed and I’d imagine with more interesting tertiary layers. Aviram was born in Jerusalem, came to the U.S. in 2001, and has since become beverage director at Tour de France NYC, a family of French restaurants in New York, which includes Nice Matin. Find out more below the jump!
When and how did you fall in love with wine?
I don’t know that there was a particular moment in time that I can pinpoint; as a family I grew up with wine always being around the table. My aunt even had a grapevine in her backyard! I guess I would say the importance of flavors in food and wine have always been around me.
How’d you end up a sommelier?
I’ve been in the hospitality business since I was very young. Food and beverage were always a large part of the positions that I held at all the various stages of my career in the front of the house. I started as a bartender and slowly worked my way up through the ranks to become a sommelier in the restaurant group I work for now.
What type of training or experience prepared you to become a sommelier?
Most importantly, I have always believed in disciplined self study as there is no one standardized path for education. But the classroom is important which is why in my early years I did Viticulture & Vinification and Blind Tasting with the ASA and subsequently went through the Diploma program with the WSET which I recently completed. But no amount of classroom time can make up for the value of dedicated hours on the floor and constant tasting.
How did you end up at your current job?
See question #2
Tell us something interesting about your wine program.
We feature more mature and old wines than anywhere else I know in New York. Commonly one would encounter a list with wines that are too young or not ready to drink. We believe in offering wines that are mature, ready to be drank and are given at a great value to the customer; especially France and the classic regions of Europe.
If you could only pick one bottle, what would you order off your own list — and why? In case it makes a difference, pretend you’re not paying for it.
I have a bottle of 1865 Chateau Latour that is pre-phylloxera and from the year of Lincoln’s assassination. It was way before Chateau bottling so that means that this very bottle could have been bottled elsewhere in Europe (we don’t have exact bottling location but we do know it was held in JFK’s cellar). I have always been impressed by the longevity of Chateau Latour; even in difficult vintages.
Well aged wines from the classic regions of Europe. Most likely you will find those on our wine list at retail or market value pricing. Also I believe each and every wine of the wines by the glass offers great value ~ commonly you find wines by the glass that are overpriced and not worth the money. I work on tighter margins and deliver a better and more interesting wine for the price.
Forget about your wine list. What wines are you most excited about right now? And why?
Rosés from Provence. First of all it’s the time of the year and secondly quality has improved overall. It’s also much easier to find value these days. The wines are fresh, juicy and deliver a saline-like minerality that is a true expression of their Mediterranean origin and I love it! I also find them food friendly across the board.
Who is the most famous person you’ve ever served — and what did they order?
Chevy Chase dined with us and had the 1983 Chateau Lynch-Bages.
What do you like to drink?
Champagne. Grower, Grand Marque, Vintage, Rose – all bubbles I could drink every day.
Do you enjoy beer? What about hard liquor?
Very much so. I love crisp pilsners from the Czech Republic or Germany. Café d’Alsace, one of the sister restaurants in the group I am Beverage Director for, has over 100 beers from all over the world and I also find there is a fun challenge here for dining experiences and food pairings.
For hard liquor, I can do the occasional fresh margherita with reposado tequila, fresh lime and cointreau or a compari with soda splash of grapefruit. Very occasionally a great single-barrel bourbon with one cube.
Having to serve two different groups of serious collectors simultaneously and completely unassisted. The continual need of opening old bottles (each with its own unique cork challenges), decanting, and entertaining while answering questions about the wines all while trying to stay on top of general service was a unique challenge. It sounds like most nights on the floor, which are fun, but this was especially challenging because of the intensity of the situation.
What is most rewarding about your job?
Having people stop me on the way out and tell me they had a great dining experience and thanking me for helping them to learn something new.
What’s least rewarding about your job?
Long hours of being on my feet constantly.
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing?
Definitely a chef. I love to cook and I always love combining flavors and experiencing the different results.