This year’s top wine talents are redefining wine lists across the country by focusing on new varieties, new regions, and, most importantly, new voices.

By Megan Krigbaum
March 21, 2019

Taylor Grant

Dylan + Jeni

Scopa Italian Roots, Old Lightning, Dama (Los Angeles)

Grant is a tireless obsessive. For Scopa, she dug deep into all regions of Italy (particularly her beloved Sicily) for both classics and new producers. She created an unparalleled list of vintage Champagne for Old Lightning. And at Dama, she scoured Spain, Portugal, and Mexico to find the most exciting wines. Her most recent project: a new wine label, Tresomm, launched with a couple of sommelier friends, using French and Italian grape varieties grown in Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe.

Taylor's Benchmark Bottles:

1985 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo Riserva

When I worked at Mozza, I used to sell Conterno wines often. But I never got to have this vintage—my birth year—until I finally got a bottle for my 30th birthday. It really lived up to every expectation and more: dried red fruit and licorice and black tea and tobacco. It had great power, yet such elegance, as great Barolos do.

2016 Bichi Pet Mex

This pét-nat rosé really changed my view on Mexican wine. Truly, it was my inspiration for getting down there and getting involved in the winemaking scene. It’s so opposite from classic, dry Champagne—fun, bright, and fruity, with the perfect amount of sweetness. I wanted to take it to the beach with me all summer.

Read about the producers that Grant’s most excited by in Baja right now.

Erik Segelbaum

Josue Castro

Somlyay (Washington, D.C.)

Over the past five years, Segelbaum oversaw wine for the 38 restaurants in the Starr Restaurant Group, where his crowning achievement was his list at St. Anselm, which opened in 2018 in D.C. There, he revolutionized the notion of a steakhouse wine list with dozens of Madeiras (some 100-plus years old) by the glass, outstanding old Rieslings, and affordable American reds. Now, he’s launched his own wine consulting company, Somlyay, and will host the Wine Riot event’s six-city tour this year.

Erik's Benchmark Bottles:

1976 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne

I had this twice within the span of a few weeks at The Jefferson in D.C. Even though it was a brut, it was barely a brut—dosage levels were higher then. It tasted like a sec, but that sweetness was so perfectly suspended in this velvety sphere of texture and gorgeous acidity. I’ve been a sommelier for 13 years, and I’ve never tasted anything like it.

1875 D’Oliveiras Moscatel Madeira

This is by no means the oldest Madeira that I’ve had, but what is so amazing is that since the 1930s or so, there’s not much of the Moscatel grape grown on the island anymore. So this wine was certainly historically significant, but besides that, the flavor profile was so wild—dried blood orange, chocolate, sugarplum, and Mission fig.

Read more about Segelbaum’s recommendations for navigating the wide world of Madeira.

Andy Fortgang

David Reamer

Canard, Le Pigeon, Little Bird (Portland, Oregon)

Since becoming co-owner at Le Pigeon with F&W Best New Chef Gabriel Rucker in 2008, Fortgang has been one of Portland’s top sommeliers. Just last year they launched the wine-centric Canard, where the food is made to complement the bottles. The wine list there reveals Fortgang’s depth of knowledge of classics (particularly in Burgundy and Riesling) as well as his enthusiasm for lesser-known discoveries.

Andy's Benchmark Bottles

1976 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling

I had this when I was in school at Cornell. Sommelier Paul Grieco came up to speak, and my girlfriend and I had him over for dinner. He brought this wine and I remember thinking, “What the eff?” We had it with a mushroom dish, which brought out savory, umami, white-mushroom flavors in the wine.

2001 Prager Wachstum Bodenstein Smaragd Riesling

I came home one night, cooked dinner for my now-wife Lauren, and we had this bottle. Then I asked her to marry me. The next Monday I bought a case of this wine. At the time, for me, that was a very big wine purchase. We drink a bottle every December. It’s been really fun to see it evolve on an almost yearly basis.

Read about five white wines from the northwest corner of Spain that Fortgang thinks deserve more attention.

Vinny Eng

Alora Lemalu

Tartine Manufactory (San Francisco)

For his wine program, Eng looks far beyond what’s in the bottle, taking into account the people who make the wine. He celebrates diversity from all angles—in the winemakers themselves, the regions in which they work, the grapes they use—in service to a philosophy devoted to finding beauty everywhere.

Vinny's Benchmark Bottles:

2010 Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris

I met Scott Schultz in 2012. We were his second by-the-glass placement of this, his inaugural wine. When he brought in a sample, our chefs had pickled some green cherry tomatoes, and we did an impromptu pairing. It was so good! I’ve had the great honor of supporting every vintage of Jolie- Laide with a glass pour ever since.

2017 ZAFA Against All Odds

Passion, commitment, verve, courage—these are all words I would use to describe Krista Scruggs. Her wines are slightly off-center; this one’s made from wild apples plus hybrid grapes. But she’s chased her dream, going to Vermont and doing something really special for the farming community there.

Read about six more producers that found their way onto Eng’s by-the-glass list.

Liz Martinez