Sommelier Talk: Robert Bohr

The wine director for New York's Grand Award—winning Cru restaurant may be young, but he has 20 years' experience
May 15, 2007

Robert Bohr, 33, is the wine director and a partner in New York's Wine Spectator Grand Award—winning Cru restaurant, which opened in 2004. Prior to Cru, Bohr had worked at a litany of New York restaurants, including Washington Park, Daniel, Gramercy Tavern, 71 Clinton, Lupa, Colina and Babbo, as well as a stint at Zachy's retail wine shop, located in Scarsdale.

The Rhode Island native grew up in New Jersey before attending New York University, from which he graduated in 1997 with a degree in political science, but Bohr had worked in restaurants since the age of 13. Today, in addition to his work at Cru, Bohr also consults with individual collectors, helping to locate and purchase wines of all kinds to stock their private cellars.

Wine Spectator: What first got you interested in wine?
Robert Bohr: Tough question. I've always liked wine and my grandparents served me a small taste of wine at holidays since I was five or so. It interested me in a serious professional way beginning at Gramercy Tavern [where Bohr worked while attending NYU]. When Babbo opened, they were looking for someone to help out and a former captain from Gramercy was the general manager [at Babbo] so he hired me for my first sommelier job. Admittedly I was in over my head at first but I learned quickly.

WS: What is your go-to wine-and-food pairing?
RB: Duck breast and red Burgundy, especially a premier cru Vosne-Romanée.

WS: Burgundy always seems to be a top choice among sommeliers for their personal favorites. What do you think it is about the region that resonates with you and your colleagues?
RB: Rather than bore you with the trite terroir argument, what I like about Burgundy is its elegance and finesse in a world of overripe, high-alcohol, oaky wines. Also, the unpredictability is a big thing for me. I know it should be a negative, but Burgundy's charm is elusive. That is to say, it requires work and persistence to be appreciated, and since many people would rather go for the quick, obvious thrill, we [sommeliers] pride ourselves on valuing the difficult-to-understand wines at least subconsciously.

WS: How do you emphasize value on the wine list at Cru?
RB: It's becoming increasingly difficult. As the demand for fine wine increases, the competition to buy great wine is much higher and, unfortunately for restaurants, the competition comes from wealthy private collectors who don't have to resell the wine or moreover don't care what the price is. Nevertheless, we do try to be fair despite the high market. Value for us isn't necessarily about inexpensive wines and, in fact, I think the value at Cru becomes more evident when you are searching for rarer, older wines. Additionally, we intentionally lower prices on more obscure, geeky wines that reward people for meandering off the beaten path.

WS: How many bottles do you have in your own personal cellar, and what are some of your favorites?
RB: I don't really know … a couple hundred I guess. I drink a lot of good, inexpensive "simple" wines at home but my one splurge wine is champagne—Krug Grande Cuvée half-bottles, yum! However it's normally a village Chablis, or Bourgogne Aligoté from Roulot, Bourgogne rouge from great producers like Roumier and Bachelet plus Barbera from G. Mascarello—my pizza wine. Plus a good amount of Riesling for post work winding down on the couch. In fact, I drink a lot more white wine at home unless I'm eating something that requires red. To be honest I tell many of the die-hard red drinkers that the more wine they drink, the more they'll start to appreciate the subtle qualities of whites.

WS: Can you explain what you mean when you say that the more serious someone gets about wine, the more they start to appreciate the subtle qualities of whites?
RB: I know it doesn't seem to make sense, but I think the more people taste wine and become more discerning, the more they appreciate the subtleties of whites. It seems that neophytes like bold reds because the flavors are so obvious. But over time, if they are truly curious about wine and keep climbing the ladder of quality, not necessarily price, and search out reds that are more nuanced, like Loire reds, traditional style Barbaresco and Barolo, red Burgundy, etcetera, then they will [begin to] appreciate the inherent qualities of Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Chablis and so on. At least that is my experience with the collectors that I work with and whose cellars I am in charge of filling.

WS: If you could be one other person in the wine business for one day, who would it be, and why?
RB: Richard Betts, the wine director at the Little Nell in Aspen. He has a great wine list in a fantastic setting, but it isn't the setting that made me answer the question that way, but his skills as a sommelier and wine taster and his overall easygoing demeanor. In short, he's one of the finest sommeliers I have ever known.

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