Sommelier Cat Silirie, 47, likes to say that her passion for wine began when Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, spoke to her in a dream. The real story, however, is not grounded so much in mythology as it is in dedication. More than two decades ago, Silirie began working as a waitress at Boston’s Grill 23 & Bar, where in her spare time she volunteered as an apprentice to the restaurant’s wine buyer. Before long, she had become a sommelier.
In 1998, Silirie joined her friend chef Barbara Lynch as beverage director at No. 9 Park, the first restaurant in what would become the Barbara Lynch Gruppo, which has since expanded to include outposts such as B&G Oysters and the Butcher Shop. Silirie recently spoke with Wine Spectator about her love of Old World wines and her vision for the wine list at the duo’s 14-year-old flagship, No. 9 Park, an establishment that Silirie characterizes as classic and enduring.
Wine Spectator: When did you become interested in wine?
Cat Silirie: I was a frustrated college student who wanted to be in the arts. I studied painting and music and writing, but never really had the discipline or found the technique that I needed. Meanwhile, I was working in restaurants, getting through college, paying the bills, and I learned that I could memorize wines very easily and describe them, and the same with cuisine and dishes, so I got a reputation as the waiter who could always sell wine, and I decided to make that a career path.
WS: How would you describe your taste in wine? CS: I don’t like to limit myself, but I’m so drawn to the Old World. I love Burgundy, and also Champagne, Chianti, Tuscany, Sicily. I am fascinated by terroir, I believe in minerality deeply, and I think that France and Italy have profound terroir and minerality. That’s my idée fixe—the returning idea—that I love. I believe Chablis tastes like fossilized, ancient Kimmeridge oysters. It’s poetic to me, but also very tangible. I also love working with families and being connected to generations of agriculture. … I’ve always loved the Coulée de Serrant wines. Traveling there and actually seeing why it’s been a famous vineyard throughout French history is incredibly moving, and when you see it, you understand why it’s grand cru. It’s this perfect voluptuous hill facing south-southeast, right on the Loire, with an incredible outcropping of Savennières slate.
WS: Have your tastes changed over the course of your career? CS: I don’t think I’ve changed, but I’ve definitely stretched. Classic things that I love, like Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, Tuscany, Sicily, they’re getting more intense. There are also really interesting phases. I’ve always been a perfume person. The thing I love most about wine is the aromatics, but sometimes I’ll be in a real texture phase. For example, this spring I wanted more unctuous whites. I’ve been drinking white Burgundy and Mâcon and Pouilly-Fuissé from Cheveau. I’ve surprised myself.
WS: What’s been your focus in building the wine list at No. 9 Park? CS: Barbara [Lynch]’s cooking has always been formed by France and Italy, so the wine list is French and Italian, but we can’t resist Austria, Spain and Germany. [Barbara and I] think of No. 9 Park as our family, and we feature people in the trade whose wines we love and we want to know for the rest of our lives. We’re on our 25th vintage with Bob Lindquist of Qupé, and Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat is on the 14th vintage of our house red and white. We love things that endure. No. 9’s right on the park at the foot of the State House ... and it looks like it’s always been there in this old Beacon Hill townhouse. We wanted to have that classic, enduring feeling like the restaurants we love so much in France and Italy that feel like they’ve been there for generations.