Breakfast service is in full swing at Maialino, the jewel of restaurateur Danny Meyer's Italian eateries, when Jenni Guizio arrives. But Guizio has already been "on the clock" for hours, tackling her inbox on her commute from Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Her days spent at the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner in Manhattan's Gramercy Park Hotel are typically busy, but changes at Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) have made them even more action-packed. Just a few days ago, Guizio, who has been the wine director at Maialino since 2016, was promoted to associate director of wine for USHG, adding oversight of Award of Excellence winner Marta, a chic pizza-and-Champagne spot, and its adjacent aperitivi bar, Vini e Fritti, to her responsibilities.
"My email kind of never stops," Guizio says. "Between the time I go to bed and the time I wake up, I probably get 20 or so emails."
In addition to learning the ins and outs of the wine programs at her new charges, Guizio is also tasked with hiring new wine directors to execute her vision at Maialino and Marta. "I'm looking for someone who has passion for Italian wine—especially for Maialino, [where] the goal is to create the most comprehensive Italian program in the country," she says. Until new hires are made, though, it's triple-duty for Guizio, meaning mornings filled with spreadsheets, staff check-ins and lots of caffeine—always with a cold brew to start—to prepare for the day ahead.
Grabbing a latte from Maialino's in-house barista station, Guizio chats about plans for the next iteration of the restaurant's rotating by-the-glass program. "We did a Barolo bar in the fall, Tuscany in winter, and now spring will be an all-Sicily feature." It's a theme Guizio is particularly excited about, having quit a former job to live on Sicily's Mount Etna for months at a time from 2010 to 2012, where she worked in an osteria run by enologist and Etna pioneer Salvo Foti.
At Maialino's wine counter, Guizio meets with assistant beverage director Kim Cavoores to select around 15 wines from the Aeolian Islands, Vittoria, Marsala and, of course, Mount Etna, to pour by the glass. "I have a continuous quest to find older vintages of Benanti Pietramarina; I think it's one of the top white wines of Italy," Guizio says of one wine under consideration, made from Carricante grown high up on the volcano. "I would love to pour it by the glass as one of our more higher-end pours."
While jotting notes about other options for the new list, Guizio and Cavoores also pore over a Sicilian cookbook from the 1970s, filled with old recipes, ideas for wine pairings and funky doodles that will serve as inspiration for Maialino's decor, which changes seasonally to reflect the by-the-glass theme. Guizio points to an illustration in the book and says she'll ask an artist friend to recreate it on one of Maialino's chalkboards. Even a seemingly minor detail like the chalkboard "sets the tone for the season, and it can actually kind of dramatically change the restaurant," she says.
It's after the lunch rush, and Guizio meets up with Maialino general manager Tim Mckevitt to go shopping for glassware to showcase the restaurant's collection of vintage amari, as well as a somewhat surprising newcomer to the cocktail menu. "We've been on a little tiki kick lately, which I think is probably a little unexpected in a super Italian restaurant … but we want to have some really cool glassware for that," Guizio says.
Once upon a time, Guizio was an interior design student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "It's my other, secret passion," she says. "I love antiques. I love old things." Last year, she bought an old house in the Catskills that she's restoring with boyfriend and fellow wine pro George Hock; they head upstate every weekend to work on it—"and drink Champagne on the porch!" she adds.
Today, of course, wine pays the bills; Guizio's sommelier path began at New York's Scarpetta, where she trained with Hock, who is now general manager at I Trulli. (They've been together eight years.) She also had stints at Del Posto and Felidia before joining the USHG team.
Guizio and Mckevitt walk two blocks to Fishs Eddy, a home goods store peddling vintage and eclectic selections of flatware, dishes, glasses and decor. They're immediately drawn to a stack of cheery mugs emblazoned with the phrase, "Enjoy Life," and discuss whether the kitsch factor fits in with their overall vision. Ultimately, it's no dice for either amaro glasses or tiki-drink vessels, but Mckevitt does walk away with a $45 metal trough he says they'll use for holding crushed ice. They head back to Maialino.
Before dinner service, the staff meets for lineup, where management announces changes to the menu, notable diners coming in and additions to the wine list. Tonight, Guizio is bringing in a special guest speaker: winemaker Dan Petroski of Massican Winery, whose new project in Italy, a Friulian white wine called Gaspare, is being added to Maialino's list. "The staff loves to hear the winemakers, so we try to do it at least once a month," Guizio explains.
Guizio finds Petroski already seated at a table full of industry people, including Michelle Biscieglia, former wine director at Manhattan's Blue Hill, and Rajat Parr, partner and winemaker at Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi in California and Evening Land in Oregon. It's a pleasant not-quite surprise for Guizio. "There's so many interesting people who come in on a daily basis," she says. "That's really what this is all about: the connections that we make with people that love wine and love food and love to be here."
After greeting the group, Guizio steals Petroski away to address the Maialino team. The California winemaker explains how he started making wine in partnership with Italy's Ronco del Gnemiz winery as the staff tastes the 2016 white blend. The somms and servers want to know everything about the wine, from optimal food pairings down to details on the soil of the area in Friuli where the grapes are grown.
Then, everyone breaks for "family meal," a fine-dining tradition in which the restaurant staff gathers to relax for a bit and fill their bellies ahead of a long night of dinner service. Over burgers prepared by Maialino's cooks, conversation ranges from commercialization of agriculture to who took the last chocolate croissant. "The somm team is being really polite right now," Guizio jokes. "They're the most ridiculously funny group of people that I've ever worked with."
It's a quick walk from Maialino to Marta and Vini e Fritti's headquarters in the Redbury Hotel, and Guizio arrives just in time to recap the day's events and prepare for the evening with Marta's four-woman wine team.
By 7 p.m., things really pick up. The Petroski wine-people party that was previously at Maialino stops in to Marta for dinner, and Guizio spends the next three or so hours tending to them, opening bottles from the reserve list and supporting her staff. By 10:30, she's in the back office at Marta, checking in with Cavoores about the goings-on with the Maialino somms, who reportedly spent the evening "running around like it was December and opening some pretty serious wines." Jokesters that they are, the somms begin tonight's report for Guizio with a haiku about Soldera magnums.
It's the end of the night, and in the New York restaurant scene, that often means heading out for a drink with fellow industry members. "When I get out of work, I'm thirsty; a lot of the times, I'll want a spritz, " Guizio says. "I'm kind of a creature of habit, so I go to the same few places."
Tonight, it's I Trulli, where Hock is wrapping up and invites Guizio to have a bite. After a spritz and a plate of ceci e tria (Guizio's favorite: fresh and fried pasta with chickpeas and tomato), it's time to head home to hit the hay by 1:30 a.m.
Guizio dreams of one day opening a bed-and-breakfast upstate—a decidedly slower pace of life. But for now, she's happy to put in the work to promote wine from the country that she loves with the people that make it all worthwhile.
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