When Patrick Cappiello, wine director at New York's Gilt restaurant, won Wine Spectator's Grand Award in 2011, he made sure he'd never forget: He got a tattoo of the three-glass logo on his left leg. But he's always been serious about wine. Having honed his skills at Tribeca Grill and then at Veritas, both Grand Award winners, Cappiello arrived at Gilt with the intention of growing its 900-bottle list to 2,000 bottles, and has since built it to 3,000 selections. Keeping in mind his goal of making the list creative, affordable and unique, he has no intention of slowing down. Cappiello recently spoke with Wine Spectator editorial assistant Lizzie Munro about collaborating with collectors, discovering forgotten regions, and what's on his wish list.
Wine Spectator: What were some of your goals for Gilt's wine list?
Patrick Cappiello: As much as I was focused on chasing the trophy wines that I'd needed to make the list great, I really focused a lot of energy on the geeky wines, the culty wines, the really unique wines, the great value wines. ... They don't fly off the shelves, but when I do get sommeliers that come in to have a drink or have dinner, they're thrilled that they have the ability to choose these great value, unique, culty wines. I want to have a wine program that's a wine program for everyone; whether you know a little about wine or a lot about wine, there's always going to be a great glass of wine for you to drink that you can afford.
WS: Are there any regions that you tried to focus on in particular?
PC: Red Loires are a really untapped resource, I think, and also such great value. Some of those wines are as great as third-growth Bordeaux, and for a fraction of the price. The Catherine & Pierre Breton wines are awesome, Bernard Baudry from Chinon ... they're just small-production stuff. Not a lot of it comes in, but those were definitely focuses for me on the culty side. Those and great older German wines. I've had so many magical experiences with German wines, especially with food.
WS: What about your selection of Sherries?
PC: I do a lot of Almacenistas through Lustau, which is great because all these little guys that are producing the wine, representing them and bringing them in. ... these are guys that never would've had the reach to hit the New York market and thankfully now Sherry is definitely on the upswing. I mean, I love Sherry. There's always a bottle of Sherry in my fridge, whether it's an old Oloroso in my wine fridge or a Manzanilla in my real fridge. I think it's a great aperitif. It's on the sweeter side so it can be a great dessert wine, but I think it's fairly misunderstood in this country. For me growing up, Sherries were something that your grandmother would drink or your priest would drink. They weren't wines that you associated with great wine and food, but I think that this next generation of wine kids who are coming in are rediscovering these areas that have been almost forgotten, or missed by my generation or the generation before mine.
WS: How has your focus changed, if at all, since winning a Grand Award?
PC: I've been working with two really great collectors in New York, and I have two new ones in the wings. Finding consignors for a wine list right now is not a problem—there are plenty of people who want to sell their wine—but it's great because these are guys who come to the restaurant and they get excited because they're part of it. I think it inspires them, and it's so great that they all see my vision in keeping the wine list affordable. I'm just now in negotiations with these two new collectors, one of whom has one of the biggest Loire Valley collections I've ever seen. It's going to be a great opportunity to see old Cotat Sancerres. He's got a ton of Clos Rougeard as well. He's got a lot of old Muscadet, which is really cool. I mean, they're not wines that people are banging my door down for at Gilt, but I know that if you keep creating something that's exciting, that people can enjoy, people are going to come.
WS: Can you tell us about your Grand Award tattoo?
PC: The tattoo is on my left leg. It's the three glasses with the issue date under it. I also have a half-sleeve tattoo of St. Vincent of Zaragoza, the patron saint of wine, and a few others.
WS: What are your picks for wines to drink on special occasions?
PC: Champagne. What better way to celebrate? And right now it's just such an exciting time for grower Champagnes in this country. In any other country, especially in Europe, Champagne's not just a celebratory thing. It's a way to start a meal. Great producers like Bouchard and like Jérôme Prévost are making single-varietal Champagnes, single-vintage Champagnes, single-vineyard Champagnes that are very much like wine. They're almost like Burgundies.