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Behind the Bar: Master Sommelier Roger Dagorn on Drinking White Wine with Red Meat & Why Fruit Can Be Tricky

Getting a glass of Meursault from the Master.
Getting a glass of Meursault from the Master.
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When Chanterelle closed, the city lost not only a great restaurant, but also a wonderful wine list. Luckily, many of those bottles -- as well as the person who selected them -- can be found at Porter House, where Master Sommelier Roger Dagorn relocated. Dagorn sat down with Fork in the Road to talk biodynamic wine, red meat, and what he's got lurking in the cellar.

You've been at Porter House for a couple of months now. How do you like it?

I'm enjoying it immensely. I'm working with an old friend, Michael Lomonaco, who is the chef-owner. He is a wonderful person, a great chef, and gave me a free hand on the wine list. I'm trying to tailor the wine specifically to his cuisine.

How do you manage that?

It's not just California Cabernet Sauvignon. I'm taking on a little bit more European influences: more Spanish wines, more Italian wines, more small, handcrafted wines, and smaller producers. But still finding great American wines, as well. Not just from California, but from Oregon and Washington. I'm also finding more wines from South America. And, actually, I have three Canadian wines.

Is Porter House a very different scene from Tribeca?

Very, very, very different. But, surprisingly, I'm finding a lot of the same clientele. Some people have followed me [from Chanterelle], but most are surprised to see me here.

Do you miss Chanterelle?

In a way, I do. But I've found a new home that's exciting, vibrant, and very busy. It's a very professional establishment. I'm learning things -- new systems, new clients. And there's a certain comfort feeling about the food and people's approach to it. I certainly miss Karen and David [Waltuck]. They were wonderful people.

Do you think Chanterelle will ever reopen?

That's news to me. I haven't heard of any new developments on the subject.

The Chanterelle wine collection was recently sold. Is it sad to see your bottles go to a new home?

Not really. I'm putting many of those wines on the list here, so it's not like it's history past. Still, I'm not making Porter House into Chanterelle. I'm making a Porter House list.

What's the most unexpected bottle on your list?

Certainly, the Cabernet Franc Ice Wine from Peller Estates (Canada) is interesting. And, let's see... I have a Brazilian red wine that's a blend of three indigenous big varieties that's going on the list tomorrow. It's quite unique.

Anything the cash-poor among us can afford?

I have a rose at $40.

How long does it take to become a Master Sommelier?

Usually, it takes about five years. Sometimes, it never happens, sometimes it takes a little bit less. In my case, it took a little bit less because I'd already been a sommelier for quite some time. I'd honed my skills, especially in the theory and blind tasting. It was a passion and I worked hard at it.

How many Master Sommeliers are there in New York City?

In New York, there are currently four. Myself, Scott Carney (Bussaco), Fred Dexheimer (formerly, BLT Steak), and Laura Maniec (B.R. Guest Restaurants). I'm the senior. I mean, the oldest.

 

Is it more interesting to deal with wine geeks or novices?

I enjoy both. I enjoy the conversation with knowledgeable people. But I love the interaction with people that are new to wine, that are curious about wine and would like some discussion about it.

What's the most common wine pairing misconception?

Well, people have different tastes, so what some people think is an ideal pairing doesn't work for everybody. Also, a lot of people think that wines that are fruity have to be sweet. That is not the case. Fruity can mean dry, because you smell fruitiness, but you taste sweetness.

Can you ever pair steak with white wine? What a great question! Oddly, there are a few, and I get this question a lot. I recommend that you have some body, little or no oak, good acidity to cut through the fat of the meat, and a wine with layers of flavor with a lengthy finish. There are a very few Chardonnays that fit the bill, both California -- Wedell Cellars is one -- and Burgundy, but I find wines from obscure regions more interesting with meat, such as wines made from Ribbola Giala, Grenache Blanc, and Marssanne.

And what are you excited about drinking these days?

One of the things I've introduced to the list is a notation of those wines that are biodynamic. There's a lot more interest in wines that are biodynamic among winemakers. And I've been going to a lot of tastings where there are exclusively biodynamic wines and the percentage of great wines there seems to be higher. So, now, a high percentage of my wines are biodynamic.

Do customers ever get rowdy after a couple of bottles?

I rarely ever come across that. They get loud, but that's not something I have to deal with.

What's the biggest mistake you've made as a sommelier?

(Laughs.) I've made a lot of mistakes. One mistake I make every once in awhile is when I try something new and say, "This is different. This is interesting." Then, we order it and put it on the list and, afterward, realize that the wine is interesting but it doesn't fit. It happens every once in awhile. Not often, but it happens.


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