Sommelier Talk: Guy Goldstein

A self-taught sommelier oversees wine lists at nearly a dozen Manhattan restaurants
Apr 4, 2007

Guy Goldstein, 34, is the wine director for Chef Driven, the Simon Oren-owned restaurant group that includes nearly a dozen New York restaurants, including Nice Matin (where he was responsible for the restaurant's acquisition of the Kennedy Collection), Marseille and Café d'Alsace.

Born in Israel, Goldstein has been the wine director since 1998, and in 2006 he also opened his own wine shop on the Upper East Side, called Cellar 72. Anything but laid back, Goldstein somehow manages to fit 25 hours into each day. His nearly hyperactive personality fits in perfectly with the bustling atmosphere of the group's various restaurants. He also trains the staff in wine service, and each restaurant has a floor sommelier as well.

Goldstein is primarily self-taught, proving that desire and energy are as good a way as any to break into the wine business.

Wine Spectator: What first got you interested in wine?
Guy Goldstein: It was a visit to a winery in Israel at 19 that got me hooked. Beit Jala is an old Canaanite city just west of Bethlehem. It is the home of two theological seminaries and several old churches and convents. The Church of St. Nicholas, with its square tower and glittering dome, is the most famous. The Salesian monastery of Cremisan, housing a school and a library, is reputed for its excellent wine. I visited the winery and tasted through the range of wines and brandy the monks were making. I was captivated by the winemaking process and, needless to say, the geographical setting in which the wine was tasted took us to a "higher ground."

WS: And how did you become a sommelier?
GG: Through self study mostly—reading the Sotheby's and Oxford wine books and other publications. Eventually I got my American Sommelier Association diploma in 2000, and I've even taught the course since graduating.

WS: What is the hardest dish on the dinner menu at Nice Matin to pair with wine, and what do you pair with it?
GG: A pan-seared snapper over a bed of artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes, in olive oil and lemon sabayon. So far the best match I've gotten is with a Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé or a Georges Vernay Condrieu.

WS: What is your favorite wine region?
GG: It's a split between Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône.

WS: So, non-French wine regions need not apply?
GG: Well, I love pretty much all wine from Old to New World. My personal favorites vary every so often, especially according to the meal I am having. My favorite style would have to be the older wines!

WS: What region do you feel you need to learn more about?
GG: Greece [Note: Goldstein assembled a predominantly Greek wine list for Barbounia, the Mediterranean-themed restaurant in the Chef Driven group.]

WS: So that wine list at Barbounia was a tough one to put together, eh?
GG: The list at Barbounia took a good amount of effort for two reasons. First, the range of obscure varietals that are native to Greece took some studying. Second would be the language, which is difficult for pronunciation reasons.

WS: How do you emphasize value on the wine lists that you assemble for the various restaurants?
GG: We simply try to charge as little as possible in relation to the market, regardless of the wine being a limited production/availability item in the market.

WS: What's in your personal cellar?
GG: I have a private cellar which consists of about 7,000 bottles. My personal favorites are Château Lafite 1900, Romanée-Conti 1945 and Beaucastel 1962.

WS: What is your go-to wine-and-food pairing?
GG: That's easy. Château Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape with rack of baby lamb chops and fresh truffles. The 1962 Château Beaucastel!

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