Article By: Fred Bouchard
TAYLOR • 35
• Wine Director & Restaurant Manager • Rialto
Restaurant, Charles Hotel, Cambridge, MA
Even the elegant places suffer stressful moments; Rialto, the Charles Hotel's flagship destination dining room - since its 1994 opening the bailiwick of award-winning Chef Jody Adams - has weathered wintry changes. Restaurateuse par excellence Michela Larson departs as co-owner, major renovations shut down the room from New Year 'til almost Valentine's Day, and Chef Adams is revisiting the Italian table that bring her kudos from afar and near. The morning after working half the night hosting a 3OO-guest party honoring Jack Connors of Hill Holiday that required moving Rialto's furniture twice, Tiffany Taylor made it in to this interview, a little fuzzy but professionally clad, and totally game.
CHICAGO RAISING I started at Northwestern and transferred to University of Chicago in business. I love the city: boating, dining, walking around that dynamic architecture, great blues. But it's low key too. I worked in restaurants throughout college and kinda fell in love with wine. It has to rub off on you, and every year you re-educate yourself with new vintages, new products. There's so much out there now - even wines from Ohio! Chicago used to be very Italian-oriented, but today it has gotten so much more adventurous, across the board. I still love going to Tru, one of my favorites.
CUSTOMER PROFILES In Boston, I briefly worked at Todd English's Kingfish Hall and Sauce in Davis Square, after managing, buying wine and waiting tables in Ann Arbor, Michigan, my home-town. Ann Arbor's a lot like Cambridge, with a liberal mix of university, hospitals and business. After tastings, I'd suggest that my manager buy certain wines on the list. He did, and we sold a lot of them. It grew from there; I eventually became buyer. Like Rialto, there was a regular clientele; you'd get to know the customers and their tastes. Here, we use the Open Table reservation system, where you can insert notes about customers' preferences. Though I'm here four to five of the seven nights we're open, our incredibly wine-savvy servers can check on a guest's wine notations. That's a huge plus.
STAFF EDUCATION During renovations, we ran sensory training comparing and analyzing red and white wines. The staff tried various wines with Jody's dishes in blind tastings. We're looking to continue with structured, focused monthly wine tastings. It might depend on what's available, what's open. Sometimes I'll run it, sometimes a distributor. We've had afternoons tastings with Jody in our bar, very informal, just tasting dishes with various wines and talking about them. This is for the public, but sometimes staffers sit in, too.
TOASTERS & TASTERS Tasting is the way for people to learn about wine, to trust their tastebuds, and keep them engaged at dinner. 'Toasted' is our casual concept to introduce our dishes and wines to a younger crowd...after-work professionals can enjoy a reasonably priced glass of accessible wines. From 5 to 7 weekdays, we pass all types of bruschetta - roasted duck and others - and wine tastes in 2 or 4 ounce pours. Nice in the afternoon, and Jody's often out there.
NUITS d'ETE I spent a couple of summers in France, visiting friends who were studying at the Sorbonne: it's absolutely mandatory to visit the vineyards! Wine in France is so much more a food accompaniment than just something to drink. It soon got to me what it brings to a meal to have a really nice wine.
WINE EPIPHANY The first time I had Latour, oh yeah. It was a 1982. I was with friends, in the early '9Os, somebody brought the bottle. It was such a complete wine: I'd never experienced that before. The finish lasted forever, it was perfectly balanced. Fantastic. But even some of the second and third growths are impressive.
PREMIER AMOUR French wine is my first love. I would say (Chateau) Gruaud Larose is a favorite. Eric Texier's Rhones are terrific; he does some fun stuff with single varietals that are very good value. Among whites, Alsace has its rieslings: Trimbach and Josmeyer Dragon and Zind-Humbrecht. Olivier Humbrecht is quite the character, have you met him? His wines are wild, over the top, going in unexpected directions. I love rieslings for food, Alsace and German, too. We have Kerpen and Spreitzer Mosels; they're phenomenal, but really hand-sells.
RIALTO STARTUP Patrick Dubsky (ex-Pillar House, Rialto sommelier until 2OO5) and I were together here for a year. He's one of the most gracious people I've ever worked with in this industry. He's a true gentleman, a consummate professional with a great palate, and he shares my preference for old world wines.
ITALIAN MOVES We're going more in the direction of Italian wine, because Jody's going again more toward Italian cuisine. Absolutely! Many of her signature dishes, beloved by our regular clientele, are Italian. Italy has a lot of boutique wineries with high-profile producers behind them; Jody has met a lot of these people, such as the owners of Badia a Coltibuono. They're a fairly large winery for Italy, but they're very consistent. We're going to become more engaged in regional cuisine paired with regional wines.
NORTHERN REDS I'm still exploring Italy: that should be fun. Favorite regions? Piedmont and Tuscany. I'm starting to acquire a taste for Barolos and Brunellos. The prices are high, because the Euro is up. Some Barolos are beginning to drink well: Boroli 2OOO ($85), Ceretto Zonchera 2OO1 ($95). I like the Chiarlo Brunate 2OO1 (reserve list, $15O) because it's feminine, a softer style, not so big and hard. Barbera's getting pretty popular now. We pour the Boroli by the glass (list reads the Ceretto, $9/$17). From Tuscany, of course - Solaia. Some of the fuller Chianti Classicos are great with food, Coltibuono and Fontodi. Villa di Capezzana Carmignano is a beauty, too: halfway between new and old world in style; people who've never had it before end up loving it. And the Torti Pinot Nero (Pavese) is so different from new world or even France!
WEST COAST MOST Lemelson Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley is a go-to because it's affordable and dependable. We keep special bottles (like Barolos) for those who ask on our reserve list. Syrahs? Rhones, Tensley (Santa Barbara), Edmonds St. John (El Dorado), and Clarendon Hills and Elderton (Barossa Valley Australia) are wonderful.
SIGNATURE DRINKS As far as cocktails go, there's a trend toward housemade infusions by our executive sous-chef Carolyn Johnson. We have Diabolique, a local bourbon infusion from Somerville, MA. Our bartender Todd Maul was recently featured in an article about 'retro' cocktails, such as Gin Fizz made with egg whites. A popular item fall item we've kept on the list is Jody's Moscato d'Asti cocktail with pear nectar, dried cranberries and fresh rosemary.
CHOICE GLASSES Wine by the glass is a great way for people to try something new, experiment with varietals they might not have had before, or having steak and fish at the same table. We're expanding our half-bottle program, too, but we're steering away from having the list become too large or unmanageable.
READY REFERENCES wine advocate is on my desk; it's important to stay aware of what's new and well-regarded. The wine spectator's top ten wines are always going to go up in price. I've always referred to The Windows on the World Wine Course for basic training; it's not loaded down with details. Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine is a must-have, as is Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion.
LAST TRIP I went to California, Napa and Sonoma, I was amazed that so many famous wineries are so small. I was impressed with Benziger's wines - biodynamic and marvelous - and Artesa's fabulous high-tech winery in the middle of the natural beauty of vineyards.
AREA HANGOUTS I like visiting Boston's dining spots. In Cambridge, I like going to OM. Downtown, it's B&G for a good cozy space and fine charcuterie. I like the space and outdoor seating and the atmosphere.
PHILOSOPHY The basic tenet of the service industry is that the guest is the most important person in the restaurant. When guests are satisfied with their food selections and their wines, that creates an enjoyable experience. The correct pairing of dish and wine is measured by a person's individual taste. Wine is meant to complement food, but first and foremost it must be a wine the guest likes, in price range, style and taste.