Michael Madrigale, 32, was born and raised in Philadelphia. When he moved to New York, he quickly caught the wine bug, working first for a retailer before decamping to Burgundy, France, for two years at Domaine de l'Arlot in Nuits-St.-Georges. After returning to the United States, Madrigale worked for an importer before eventually landing in the restaurant business.
His first sommelier job was at Manhattan's Bouley, which led to a position at Bistro db in 2007. Today he's the head sommelier at Bar Boulud, the wine bar-cum-charcuterie outpost of chef Daniel Boulud's restaurant group. He's responsible for the wine buying and staff training at Bar Boulud and can often be found working both the lunch and dinner shifts. Madrigale took a break at Bar Boulud to talk about balancing a wine list, how Twitter has changed the way he serves wine and the best way to travel through wine country.
Wine Spectator: How did you first get interested in wine?
Michael Madrigale: My family are Italian immigrants, and we had a butcher shop where I worked until I went to college, so everything was about food and service. But to be honest, not so much wine growing up. My parents almost never drank it. Then when I moved to New York, I got exposed to everything. I went to the opera for the first time, tasted wine for the first time and so on. I was at a party and there was a Pinot Grigio and a Chardonnay. The idea that two wines could be so different just sparked something in me, and it took off from there.
WS: How has the wine list changed since you've been at Bar Boulud?
MM: There was a focus on Rhône and Burgundy. But what was missing was Provence and Languedoc. They grow the same grapes [as the Rhône], and they are a treasure trove of value, so I really wanted to expand there. Plus, the wine list is no longer French only. Austria, I ran with. Greece has been added too, some Italy. Cool-climate or minerally whites and some Italian wines are where we'll branch out a bit.
We get asked for Bordeaux every night, but this restaurant is a love letter to the Rhône and Burgundy, the food and the wine. Sure, I like to drink Bordeaux, but that's not the focus that we have here.
WS: And so, I'm guessing your favorite region is Burgundy?
MM: I don't want to sound like every other sommelier [laughing], but, yes, I could drink Burgundy forever. And I drink Beaujolais when I can't afford Burgundy. The Northern Rhône too–Côte-Rôtie in particular, Jasmin or Ogier.
WS: So often Burgundy is frustrating–the wines don't show well or don't match their reputation. And it's expensive. With a wine list, ideally you want everything to be drinking well and you need to have some value. So how do you manage that for something as fickle as Burgundy?
MM: You have to taste–that's the job of the sommelier. And you have to be willing to go to those so-called "marginal" vineyard areas of Burgundy too–Auxey-Duresses, Maranges, Aloxe-Corton. That's where you find the bottles that are both drinking well and are also cost-friendly. It can't all be Mazis-Chambertin, or you'll have a list where everything isn't drinking well at the same time, and wines are too young or expensive.
WS: One thing you like to do is open large-format bottles every night to serve by the glass. You'll use Twitter to announce what you're opening that night. Are you getting good response?
MM: Great response! Daniel Johnnes came back with the idea of the big bottles when he saw it in France, so I took it and ran with it. We'll Tweet the big bottle we're pouring that night. That's such a fun part of the job, walking down the aisle of the restaurant with a 6-liter of something and everybody turns their head. It creates a great energy
WS: What's your favorite food-and-wine pairing at Bar Boulud?
MM: Easy–charcuterie, and in particular, the pâté Bourguignon. Because it has lardon in it, it goes great with a smoky, Northern Rhône red.
WS: And the most difficult?
MM: Hard to say, since all in all the food here is so conducive to wine. But we do have a crudité plate that is difficult, since it's mostly vegetables. Usually I'll go with a Champagne or maybe a Grüner Veltliner.
WS: What wines have you had recently that surprised you?
MM: I had a 2000 Corison Cabernet recently. It was a stunning wine. Also I've had so many '96 red Burgundies that are showing great, after being so hard and acidic for so long. Finally, they've come around. They seemed to take forever!
WS: You just got back from Austria. Where else have you been?
MM: I traveled all through France two years ago, from the Loire down to Gaillac and Cahors in the southwest. I've also been to Rioja, California, Greece. I like to go alone and do it at my own pace. I often take my bicycle, and I'll spend a month doing it that way, instead of the "death-march power taste" week where you barely get a chance to breathe. You need to smell the vineyards