One of America's greatest restaurants, The French Laundry in Napa Valley, has hired a new sommelier, who has already moved to extend the range of its wine list beyond California and France.
Bobby Stuckey presided over the wine cellar at The Restaurant at the Little Nell in Aspen, Colo., when it earned a Wine Spectator Grand Award. He started at The French Laundry in early July and immediately added several pages of Austrian and German wines to the list, including Kracher Grand Cuvee TBA #12 1995 and J.J. Pr|m Graacher Himmelreich Spdtlese 1982.
In the coming months, he plans to add a substantial number of Italian, Spanish and Australian wines, including Vega Sicilia vintages from the 1960s and Gaja Barbarescos from the 1980s. He is also actively seeking older California bottlings.
Chef Thomas Keller and general manager Laura Cunningham, who had been handling wine duties, hired Stuckey to "build a word-class wine program," Cunningham said.
The French Laundry already has a solid list that excels in hard-to-find California cult wines, including Marcassin and Harrison Chardonnays, Littorai Pinot Noirs and Cabernets such as Dalla Valle, Colgin and Abreu. However, the list was short on more mature wines and only listed 12 Bordeaux bottlings when Wine Spectator rated the restaurant No. 2 in the country in March.
"I understand my assignment, but I don't want to just go out and buy a ton of wine," Stuckey said. "I want to see what Thomas does with his fall and winter menus. But whatever we do, I'm going to concentrate only on the top producers, whether it's Burgundy or Piedmont or the Barossa."
One reason for the wine cellar's limited size was lack of space in the restaurant. "The biggest problem is where to put all the wine," Stuckey said with a chuckle. "I come from a hotel where there was plenty of space. Here we have to scramble." The French Laundry's owners are considering several options, he said, one of which would be to convert a separate building that currently houses offices to a wine cellar.
For Stuckey, who got married in June, deciding to leave Aspen was difficult. He had been sommelier at The Little Nell since 1995. (The Little Nell has since hired Richard Betts from Janos in Tucson to be its new sommelier.) "I had a real nice situation, but I was ready to make a move if it was to a really great restaurant. It's a lot of pressure for me, but I'm already having fun," said Stuckey, who added that he spent a day during his first week helping out in the kitchen by cleaning lambs' tongues. "I now have an even greater respect for what they do back there."
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