What do you like to drink after a shift? “There’s nothing more refreshing than a crisp, ice-cold beer after service. My fridge always has a few cans of Modelo Especial waiting for me!”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? ““Under Pressure” by Queen is a personal favorite.”
Name the first good wine you ever drank and where you had it. “The first properly-aged bottle of wine I drank was a 1993 Château Lagrange Saint-Julien, and the year was 2004. I was just starting to get excited about the world of wine at the time, and my good friend’s father was a wine collector. He hosted a dinner and opened this bottle, and I had never had a classic wine like that with 10+ years of age. It was so earthy, aromatic and supple with age, I remember being blown away.”
What book on wine, cocktails, spirits or food is your go-to resource? “The World Atlas of Wine, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, was one of the first reference books I bought when I was getting into wine. It is such a terrific resource for learning the basics of different grape varietals, wine regions and producers. I still refer back to its pages for a refresher.”
Name the wine region that took you the longest to truly understand. “I’d have to say Burgundy, mostly because it is so well-studied and written-about, that it seems you can never truly take-in all the information that’s out there. Just when I feel like I’ve read it all, there’s more to discover. And that’s not to mention visiting the region, tasting and talking with the vignerons, and learning the insider history of the region!”
What’s your favorite wine and food pairing? “A cheeseburger with Northern Rhône syrah is about as good as it gets. If there is some dry-aged beef in the burger blend, and the burger is grilled, you get all this awesome funk and smoke that really matches the flavor profile of the wine—so delicious together!”
Ever appropriate to sip white wine at room temperature? “I think most people still drink their white wine too cold—as in, right out of the refrigerator. Almost all whites are most aromatic, expressive and flavorful when their temperature comes up a few degrees, especially richer styles like white Burgundy or white Rhône blends. Room temperature might be a bit too high for my taste, but somewhere just under cellar temperature (55 degrees Fahrenheit) is where I like white wine to hang.”
What’s your favorite bottle of wine under $20? “Empire Estate Dry Riesling! This is a Finger Lakes wine project that I actually started in 2014, the focus being on making DRY riesling in an area that is my second home, in a style that dry white wine drinkers around the globe can get behind. (Remember, riesling doesn’t always have to be sweet!) Hitting the store shelf at around $18 makes it an awesome everyday wine that celebrates this incredible viticultural area that is just a few hours’ drive from New York City.”
What’s your favorite bottle of wine over $1,000? “There is a lot of very fancy, very expensive wine out there…But an incredible bottle I tasted recently was Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Cuvée Cathelin 1991. It’s an extremely limited bottling of syrah from the top winery of the Northern Rhône Valley. Jean-Louis Chave shipped-over a few bottles of it for the inaugural Reboule du Rhône, a wine event I created to celebrate this great region of the wine world, which benefits the No Kid Hungry campaign of Share our Strength. I’ve been fortunate to have the wine on a few occasions now, and every single time I do, it combines incredible power, intensity and elegance in such a unique and special way. There are very few wines out there that move me the way this one does!”
What tool do you use to open a bottle? “I’m a big fan of classic wine openers made by Laguiole (and a Code 38 is an amazing splurge), but a really cool tool for opening older bottles with crumbly corks is The Durand; we always keep one on-hand at The NoMad for when guests order terrific older bottles from our cellar, such a wonderful assist during a busy service.”
Thomas Pastuszak is the wine director at The NoMad Hotel in New York City and founder of the Empire Estate winery.
Interview has been condensed and edited.