Whales like wine. Whales like to dine. Herein, some prominent New York sommeliers share their biggest bottle moments. What happened at the table, and more importantly, what did they drink? First up: Michael Madrigale.
Michael Madrigale, Head Sommelier at Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud: In the Winter of 2007, I was working as a sommelier at Bouley. It was the time when Cesar Ramirez was executive chef and some truly phenomenal food was coming out of the kitchen. That quality was being recognized, and many high caliber guests would come in nightly to taste and see what Cesar was up to. One night, as I was giving a table of two gentleman a wine list, it hit me like a lighting bolt of who they were. It was possibly the biggest musician alive at that time and a very well known producer friend of his.
Nervousness starting bubbling up quickly for me but I ultimately forced it back down and got my composure. The musician asked his producer friend if he wanted to drink wine and he answered that he "didn't really care." The musician told me he was in the mood for a great bottle of wine and asked me what I suggested with the menu he was getting. I immediately went to Red Burgundy. DRC in particular. I pointed at the 2002 Echezeaux, which was the entry level DRC on the list at $795. He said okay and gave me back the list. I ran downstairs to the air-conditioned cold box (AKA the cellar) and got the bottle. I was excited, for the wine (as its arguably from the greatest wine producer in the world) as well as for whom I was serving it to.
I approached the table and presented the bottle. The musician looked at the label and winced like he smelled something bad. He looked at me and said that he didn't like the design of the DRC label. That it was too plain and boring. He told me that when he'd go to other restaurants in the city, the wines he ordered would always have "crazy" labels. He asked, "What else ya got?" I told him I'd find something more "crazy" and be right back.
I was under the gun at this point. The food had been ordered and we were just a few minutes from the first course hitting the table. As any good sommelier knows, the wine must be poured before the food hits the table. I jumped down the steps two at a time to get to the cellar and frantically searched for a bottle of wine with a crazy label. I immediately went to the Italian section of the cellar. I looked at the 90 Quinterelli and 89 Pergole Torte. Beautiful, but not crazy enough. I then moved to the California section and took a look at the '04 Screaming Eagle and '97 Harlan. Expensive, but not crazy enough.
The clock was ticking and I was cursing out loud in frustration. Then it I saw it and knew immediately it was perfect. I grabbed the bottle and ran upstairs. I got to the table seconds before the food runners to present it. "Sir, this is the '88 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac with the label drawn by Keith Haring," I said. "That's my shit!" he said. $1,295.