The elite NY restaurant Eleven Madison Park only opened in 1998, but its accolades include four stars from the New York Times, three stars from Michelin Guide, five stars from Forbes Travel Guide, and a Five Diamond Review from AAA. S. Pellegrino also ranked the restaurant one of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Wine Spectator gave the restaurant their Grand Award, and the restaurant has been listed in Les Grandes Tables du Monde.
Eleven Madison Park’s globally-recognized executive chef, Daniel Humm, also co-owns The NoMad and NoMad Bar at The NoMad Hotel. With cuisine focused on locally-sourced New York ingredients, the talented chef focuses on the simple and the seasonal. Born in Switzerland, Humm began working in kitchens when he was 14. While executive chef at Campton Place in San Francisco, he earned four stars from the San Francisco Chronicle. With his partner Will Guidara, restaurateur, he co-authored Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook, and I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes.
Eleven Madison Park’s Wine Director, Dustin Wilson (MS), has worked in restaurants his entire working life, and he feels right at home in New York. He brings a youthful perspective to his work, and at Eleven Madison Park he has built an elaborate, 163-page wine list comprised of nuances and revelations for the luxury-minded connoisseur and others. Wilson took time out of his day to discuss his experience as a sommelier on both coasts with Vinfolio.
Vinfolio: What made you want to get involved in the wine industry and become a sommelier?
Wilson: I had worked in restaurants my entire life. I got into wine while in college and I was working at a steakhouse that had a pretty large wine program. It began as a hobby and grew from there.
Vinfolio: What was a “life-changing” wine for you?
Wilson: The first time I tasted a Grand Cru Burgundy. It was with members of the Frasca Food & Wine team at Bobby Stuckey’s house late one night after work. We called this gathering the BBC (Burgundy Boys Club). I was flattered to be invited at the time. The wine was Anne Gros Clos Vougeot 2002. It was epic!
Vinfolio: What is your approach to creating a wine list?
Wilson: My approach is to create balance in a list. To have great wine from numerous places and at different price points. I love showing people that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a great wine experience and that delicious wine can come from really unexpected places.
Vinfolio: Tell me about one of your most favorite wine pairings.
Wilson: One of my favorite pairings that we ever did at the restaurant was to pair Malmsey Madeira with foie gras. The foie was a seared preparation and it was plated with sunchokes in various forms as well as this solera-aged sherry vinegar that added a caramel-like sweetness to the dish. The Madeira was brilliant with it. I really like doing unexpected things with foie gras. So many people always default to something like Sauternes but there are so many other great things that can be used, and understanding what else is on the plate with the foie is super important to making it successful.
Vinfolio: What is something that no one told you about the wine industry, that you discovered for yourself?
Wilson: That the wine world is very small and is very much like an extended family. It’s a great industry like that.
Vinfolio: What wine or wine region do you think deserves more attention, or is an up-and-comer in 2015 and beyond?
Wilson: I love the Roussillon. I think it has huge potential, especially wines made from Carignan.
Vinfolio: If you could give a new wine enthusiast a piece of advice, what would it be?
Wilson: Drink more Chablis!
Vinfolio: I feel obligated to ask you about the Master Sommelier Exam – which element was the hardest? Theory, tasting, service?
Wilson: For me the tasting portion was the hardest. It took forever for me to get good at it.
Vinfolio: If you weren’t working in wine, what would you be doing?
Wilson: I’d love to think that I could get into the world of photography if I wasn’t in wine. Beautiful landscapes fascinate me.
Vinfolio: When you aren’t drinking wine, what is your beverage of choice?
Wilson: I love a good Michelada alongside a plate of carnitas tacos. All day long.
Vinfolio: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!
Wilson: Thank you!
From Burgundy and the Rhone Valley to the central coast and Napa Valley, Wilson’s wine list takes a global approach to wines. In one section, he highlights the wines of New York: the whites of Keuka Lake Vineyards join the reds of Macari here. The areas of Long Island and Finger Lakes are the best represented from New York. Within the 163 pages of wine, the stories being told are multitudinous, and the spacious, bedecked walls of Eleven Madison Park are the perfect place to hear them.
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