Women in Wine: Molly Rydzel, Head Sommelier at Public Restaurant


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 chatted with Molly Rydzel, head sommelier of Public in Nolita.

Tired of a career in starving artistry, Rydzel (who’s originally from Clevelend) joined the marginally more lucrative restaurant industry and took a job as a host at Public. She became a server in late 2010 and worked her way up to her current role as top wine gal and advocate for antipodean wines.

Do you remember your first taste of wine? What was it?
Vintage Champagne. I was a troubled adolescent, and my family discovered that serving me a small glass at family events made everyone’s time more pleasant.

Are there any challenges being a female in a male-dominated industry? Any perks?
I hate it when men order wine because they think it will impress me. They ask for the most expensive bottle on the list with the most condescending tone possible. This isn’t speed dating, it is dinner! My sole purpose is to enhance it. They (and I) will have a much better time if they are willing to listen to a woman and order something that will broaden their horizons as well as complement their meal. Although, I suppose the perk is that all the ordering to impress does increase my commission.

Do women and men order wine differently?
There is less difference between genders as there is between people who are willing to engage in the experience that you are prepared to offer them and people who are not. Australia and New Zealand are very misunderstood regions that have suffered a lot from poor marketing due to mass production. A huge part of my job is changing people’s minds about the reputation of antipodean wine. The guests I like best are the ones who are willing to trust me to pour Luke Lambert (from Yarra Valley, Australia) in order to fulfill their Northern Rhone craving. I’m not so much a fan of those who dismiss my expertise entirely and order the Jaboulet. Willingness to adventure as well as timidity toward wine are characteristics that are present in both men and women.

Are there any women you admire either in or outside of the wine industry?
Erin Scala is the current head sommelier at new hot spot The Musket Room and the former beverage director here at Public. She is the smartest and most passionate lady I know, and I owe all of my wine-related ambition to her.

What is the focus of the wine list at Public, and how does it complement the food?
Our list has the largest selection of Australian and New Zealand wines in the city. Since our menu is rather eclectic, it’s important that the wine list offer something for everybody. We do have a large selection of sophisticated Syrah and Shiraz (including an awesome Penfolds Grange vertical) that is ideal with the lean game that we serve (kangaroo, lamb, venison).

Are there any wines you tire of carrying but do because people want them?
I’m really over Sauvignon Blanc. I know it is summer and Sauvignon Blanc is the easiest choice for someone looking for a “dry white wine,” but come ON! Our most recent staff training focused on dry white alternatives in an effort to teach guests that there are other options out there. For example: Grüner Veltliner, Clare Valley Riesling, even Manzanilla Sherry.

Alternatively, are there wines you wish you could offer but doubt customers will order?
I discovered a rosé from Clos Cibonne in Provence that is aged under flor. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever tasted, and I’m dying to carry it. I’m hesitant because the average rosé consumer tends to stop at “Provence-style” or “strawberries.”

Have you noticed any consumer trends over the last few years?
Did I mention Sauvignon Blanc yet?

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?
I’m a big fan of non-wine pairings. Junmai sake is delicious with ceviche dishes. Moa lager from New Zealand has expressive cardamom flavors that complement our kangaroo falafel dish. A tasty espresso-based dessert cocktail with a chocolate dessert can be exciting instead of the same old port. People get excited when they get to experience something unexpected.

What do you like to drink off the job?
I’m into sake right now. When I order it out I always ask the server to “sake it to me.” I really embarrass my friends sometimes.

What interests do you have outside of wine and work?
I’m a playwright. I’m producing a piece I wrote in this year’s New York City Fringe Festival. It’s called Certifiable, and it’s about a love triangle and a crazy sommelier. I’m also a massive horror-movie buff.

If you could be traveling anywhere right now, where would you be?
On the Trans-Siberian Railway between St. Petersburg and Moscow. I studied Russian literature in college, and a trip to Dostoevsky’s homeland has been a dream of mine for many years.