Tylor Field, 44, started his career at Morton's, The Steakhouse nearly 20 years ago as assistant manager in the chain's Boston location in 1990. He moved up to general manger and then West and East Coast regional manager. In 1999, Field became director of beverage operations and was recently promoted to vice president of wine and spirits in 2005. In his current role, he is responsible for purchasing, marketing, training and development for beverage programs for Morton's restaurants nationwide.
So how tough is it to keep on top of the competition in the world of American steak houses? Field knows great wine makes a difference. Under his leadership, Morton's has picked up the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 79 of its restaurants (their 80th restaurant, in Coral Gables, Fla., opened this past June). Always furthering his knowledge of wine, Field recently passed the first level certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, and plans to continue toward obtaining his Master Sommelier certification. He even took his love for wine to new heights, literally: In June 2005, he worked with Foster's Wine Estates to develop the world's largest wine bottle—4 feet, 5 inches tall; 130 liters—to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Morton's. The bottle was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest ever. Field recently talked to WineSpectator.com about adjusting wine lists to regional tastes, some tried and true steak house wine brands and how to pair wine with different cuts of steaks and other steak house favorites.
Wine Spectator: What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue a career in the wine industry?
Tylor Field: I grew up in the Navy, and we lived right next to vineyards in Italy when I was very young. Then, during my teenage years, I lived in a part of Rhode Island where they grew grapes, so I worked on the vineyards just to make money. I never thought it would turn into anything else, but then when I started my restaurant career in the mid- to late-'80s, that's when the American wine boom was happening. I started paying a large amount of attention to it and tasting as much wine as I could and learning as much as I could about it.
WS: What are some of the challenges of running the beverage program for a chain like Morton's?
TF: Chain kind of has a bad connotation. It's what we are, but one of the things we have to be careful about doing is creating this cookie-cutter wine list that looks the same everywhere. One of the great things for a wine program is to have a sense of adventure. When you walk in and look at the wine list, you want to find that special little winery that might only make 100 or 200 cases of something.
WS: Describe your typical wine list at Morton's.
TF: On our general wine list, we have anywhere from 230 to 250 wines; 80 percent is red, 20 percent white. We offer 25 still wines by the glass and two sparklers, and they are different from what's on the [by-the-bottle] wine list. On the list, 70 percent are wines that we are carrying everywhere. These are the wines [customers] want, and they are made in good enough supply.
I look individually at the market for the other 30 percent, and we work with local management to come up with the rest of the wine list. For instance, in Miami there's a big proliferation of people from South America, and they love wines from Argentina and Chile—Malbec and so on. In Oregon, which is the Pinot capital, we're going to have more Pinot Noir. Also, when we look at our major metro areas like San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas and New York City, we have much busier guest base and they are actually larger restaurants, so we customize up to 50 percent of those lists. I spend a lot of time with different dealers who can find those Screaming Eagles and Harlans of the world that might be highly allocated.
We change our wine by the glass every six months, and we change our wine list every year. One thing that surprises me a lot is the kind of iconic steakhouse brands like Caymus, Silver Oak, Kendall-Jackson; these prove year-in, year-out, to be very popular wines. Sometimes there's safety in brands.
WS:What are some of your favorite food-and-wine pairings at Morton's?
TF: Steak is paired based on fat content. The more marbling in the cut of beef, the more full-bodied and tannic you want the wine, if you are looking for a complementary pairing. For a filet, I would recommend a Barolo, Chianti Classico, a Merlot-based Bordeaux, Tempranillo, Grenache or a Pinot from the Russian River. For a ribeye, you need huge wines such as Cabernet, Malbec or a Bordeaux blend. Cabernet Franc is also exceptional with our Cajun ribeye. I don't like to mention brands, because so much can change year to year. For seafood appetizers, I prefer sparkling wine and Champagne, with a preference for a good Chablis if I am having oysters. Riesling is also a great pairing with our tuna tartare.
WS: What is your favorite wine region?
TF: This changes every year, but last year I was solidly Priorat. One of my favorite wineries [in Spain] that we carry is Vall Llach. In America, a winery that I am hot on now is Cornerstone Vineyards in Napa. California is great, but I don't want to get my friends in Burgundy mad. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is my benchmark wine. But I tend to move around and taste 50 to 60 wines per week. Don't get me started on Italy; there are some amazing wines, especially in Campania, like the Feudi di San Gregorio winery; they have a wine called Serpico that's amazing. Fortunately, my job is to find wine for a steak house.
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