Philippe Marchal, 37, is the head sommelier for Daniel Boulud's eponymous restaurant in New York, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since 2002. Born and raised in the northern Alsatian town of Marlenheim, France, Marchal began his journey in wine working his family's farm and vineyards.
His professional career began with apprenticeships at his hometown Michelin two-star restaurant, Le Cerf, and at Julien located is Strasbourg. In 1993, Marchal moved to Cannes and worked at another two-star restaurant, La Palme d'Or at the Hotel Martinez. He left there seven years later as a sommelier and made a solo journey across the Atlantic to work at Daniel. This summer he's returning to Marlenheim to marry his fiancée, who also works in the wine industry in New York.
Wine Spectator: What first got you interested in wine?
Philippe Marchal: From the time I was 5 years old I worked the harvest at my family's farm with my grandfather. I loved spending the time with my grandfather, and I loved being allowed to skip school! In May and June we picked raspberries for Framboise. In July we picked plums for Mirabelle, and then we picked the grapes. We were doing everything, from the harvest to making the wine. We even used the old basket press back then. My mother now oversees the farm, and my dream is to one day return and work on the farm.
WS: How did you become a sommelier?
PM: I was working as an apprentice at Le Cerf when I met David Kaminski, who was the Meilleur Jeune Sommelier de France at the time. I was impressed with his passion, how he spoke with the guests and his knowledge. This was the first time someone taught me to taste wine. Working the harvest as a kid was also instrumental for me. I already knew how to make wine, so I didn't need a book to be in the mind of a winemaker.
WS: How do you emphasize value on Daniel's wine lists?
PM: Within each region, I try to represent multiple price levels. But I also look for wines from regions that are lesser known, as well as representing regions that are still undervalued such as the Rhône, Languedoc and Provence. I worked in the south of France for seven years, I like the wines very much and they're much cheaper than Bordeaux and Burgundy.
WS: What is the hardest dish on the dinner menu at Daniel to pair with wine, and what do you pair it with?
PM: The Pennsylvania Squab: leg and foie gras pastilla with young radishes, and broiled breast with vadouvan and avocado chutney. It's very complicated, with the spice from the curry and the acidity from the chutney. The Domaine Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001 matches well with its spicy and earthy qualities and the acidity of the wine balances nicely with the dish.
WS: What is your personal go-to wine-and-food pairing?
PM: Foie Gras with Gewürztraminer … I love it. In northern Alsace you get Gewürztraminer with more acidity and minerality, and that really comes through on the finish of this pairing. I also prefer the dry style. I'm coming from the very north of Alsace, so I don't have a sweet palate.
WS: What is your favorite wine region?
PM: Alsace! I especially like Riesling because of its minerality. I recently drank the 1990 [Trimbach] Clos Ste.-Hune. I had it along side a Montrachet, but the Clos Ste.-Hune was better. The purity of the wine is really unbelievable.
WS: How many bottles do you have in your own personal cellar, and what are some of your favorites?
PM: I have 150 bottles in my apartment in New York, and I have a few hundred at my parents' house in France—the number of bottles in France depends on how much my parents drink, when I'm not there! Some of my favorites are Rayas 1989, Mouton-Rothschild 2000, Albert Mann Riesling Schlossberg 2005, Roblet Monnot Volnay Santenots 2005, Fx Pichler Gruner Veltliner Kellerberg Smaragd 2006…
WS: You're getting married soon and your fiancée works in the wine industry too. What wines will you two serve at your wedding?
PM: Alsatian, of course! We're serving Riesling, Pinot Noir and Crémant d'Alsace from Albert Mann. The wedding will include typical Alsatian food and dance too.
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