Momofuku's Jordan Salcito: "The Key to Selling Any Kind of Wine is Conviction and Enthusiasm"
Some of the best sommeliers in NYC are female, and these ladies not only know their wine, they effusively share their knowledge with customers and friends without any of the pretension often (rightly or wrongly) associated with that, ahem, other species of somm. I caught up with six of these women to discuss their love of vino, market trends, and the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry.
This week, I caught up with Jordan Salcito, head of beverage operations for the Momofuku mini-empire.
How did you get started in the wine industry? My first job was as a barista at Peaberry Coffee when I was 14 (unless you count manning lemonade stands). During summers throughout high school and college, I always had some sort of daytime internship and worked in restaurants at night, which I loved. Two restaurant jobs compelled me to stay in the industry: a hostess position at wd-50 (I was part of the opening team), and a kitchen internship at Daniel. Then I started working harvests in Burgundy and never looked back.
Do you remember your first taste of wine? Not at all. My paternal grandfather used to make wine in his basement. I never tried it, but table wine was a part of my father's upbringing, and he made sure my sisters and I were exposed to wine early. He believed that if he introduced us to wine as part of a meal, it wouldn't be taboo.
Are there any challenges being a female in a male-dominated industry? Any perks? There are certainly both; everything is contextual. In general, I try to be informed, curious, passionate, and professional when it comes to selecting, speaking about, and serving the wines on our lists. My goal is to make gender irrelevant when it comes to wine.
Are there any women you admire either in or outside of the wine industry? There are so many! My mother and my maternal grandmother are inspirations. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Tory Burch; also Laura Catena, Shelly Lindgren, Christina Tosi, Talia Baiocchi--I could go on and on.
What is the focus of the Momofuku restaurants' wine lists, and how do they complement each venture's food? One of the most exciting aspects of the company is that each of the four New York restaurants (plus Booker and Dax) has a completely different personality. Our goal is to always seek out delicious wines that compel us and that complement the food. At Noodle Bar, we've implemented "Biggie Smalls"--we've stopped serving regular 750-milliliter bottles. All of our wines by the glass are currently served out of magnums, and we've also added a selection of half-bottles to the list. The wines tend to be bright, refreshing, and relatively low in alcohol. At Má Pêche, we're incorporating more classic regions and benchmark producers that wine enthusiasts will likely recognize (Domaine Roumier and Marquis d'Angerville from Burgundy, for example). At Ssäm Bar, we're constantly changing things. Currently, we're excited about Farmers Jane Red Wine, Clos Cibonne, and Copain Rosé, Allemand Cornas. Each restaurant's persona informs our approach to its list.
Are there any wines you're tired of carrying but do because people want them? Not at all. There are excellent examples of every kind of wine at the moment. It's one of many things that make my job so much fun. Some people snub Pinot Grigio, yet wineries like Venica & Venica make extraordinary examples. One of my favorite wines at the moment is Mount Eden (and their Domaine Eden) Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Cruz. The vines derive from old Chateau Margaux cuttings, and the estate predates Prohibition. The wines are expressive, distinct, and as likely to please a finicky industry person as they are someone who just wants to drink California Cabernet.
Alternatively, are there wines you wish you could offer but doubt customers will order? Regarding quirky wines, we're lucky at Momofuku because people tend to expect unusual wines on our lists. At Ssäm Bar right now, we're pouring a Pineau d'Aunis: Lemasson's Poivre et Sel. The staff is obsessed, and the wine is beautiful with many dishes. We're also pouring Scarpetta's old-vine Franconia/Pinot Nero sparkling Timido Cuvée--it's wildly popular and pairs with nearly everything. The key to selling any kind of wine is conviction and enthusiasm.
Have you noticed any consumer trends over the last few years? Growing curiosity.
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing? Tempura fresh-picked zucchini blossoms with Cedric Bouchard Inflorescence (thanks, Richard Betts!).
What do you like to drink off the job? Margaritas. Chablis (Savary, Raveneau, Dauvissat). Riesling (Keller, Wiesler-Kunstler, Boxler, Van Volxem). Bougey-Cerdon (Patrick Bottex). Cru Beaujolais (Foillard, Lapierre, Thevenet--the usuals). Champagne is another favorite--Bereche, Lahaye. It absolutely depends upon context. I am also obsessed with green tea.
What interests do you have outside of wine and work? Running outdoors. Music. Reading nonfiction. Catching up with my two sisters and my godson. Window shopping (and regular shopping). Spending time with girlfriends. Watching Meet the Press with my husband on Sunday mornings. Concocting new recipes for green juice.
If you could be traveling anywhere right now, where would you be? A toss-up between India and South Africa.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.