Going 10 Rounds With Sommelier Natalie Grindstaff
The director of beverage programs for Crafted Hospitality tackles our speed round of questions.
What do you like to drink after a shift? “Champagne, always.”
Name the first good wine you ever drank and where you had it. “There is a period in college that my friends still refer to as the ‘box wine parties’ [era]. I also distinctly remember the first time I ever had Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio at dinner with my college boyfriend’s mom and thinking, ‘wow!’ So, I come from pretty humble (and mildly embarrassing) roots in wine. But, at my first job in New York, I worked as a waiter at Gotham Bar & Grill and the beverage director, Eric Zillier, would open interesting wines for us to taste. I remember tasting a Savagnin produced by Philippe Bornard in Jura; it was nutty and exotic spiced and had wild aromas and flavors that I had never before experienced in a wine. At that moment, all I knew was that I wanted to find out more.”
What book on wine, cocktails, spirits, or food is your go-to resource? “Couldn’t live without The World Atlas of Wine by Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson. If you only have one book on wine, let that be the one. Not a book, but Noble Rot magazine is chock full of the most witty, hilarious while still totally on-point wine writing out there. Most highly recommended.”
Name the wine region that took you the longest to truly understand. “Burgundy. It’s an ultra-nuanced subject and it has so many elements and layers. It forces you to dig for information and contemplate; it can become a life-long study. It’s also an area that inspires intense devotion despite the fact that the wines can be everywhere—from totally ethereal to sometimes disappointing, with the only consistency that the best ones are often expensive and hard to get.”
What’s your favorite wine and food pairing? “Champagne and potato chips. (French fries as a very close second.) Also, simply prepared sushi and dry sherry. This was an at home delivery-dinner and only bottle of wine in the fridge discovery, but it’s amazing.”
Ever appropriate to sip white wine at room temperature? “Below room temperature but above straight from the fridge/ice bucket temperature is best. When you are assessing white wine for its aromatic qualities, like you might in a blind tasting setting, something closer to (but still cooler than) room temperature is actually the most revelatory. 52-55 degrees is about optimal for most whites for pleasurable drinking.”
What’s your favorite bottle of wine under $20? “I am currently really excited about wines made from xarel-lo, which is a classic blending grape you would find in cava. Cava is not always my favorite category of wine on the planet, but xarel-lo alone, in still wine, made by an excellent producer, can make for crunchy, salty, fresh wine. Utterly delicious. Raventós í Blanc ‘Silencis’ Xarel-lo 2015 is a fantastic example. I also admire [the head of the brand] Pepé Raventós for his commitment to healthy and respectful farming practices and for just being an all-around delightful human.”
What’s your favorite bottle of wine over $1,000? “Oof. This question gives me the agita. Favorite wine somehow makes it sound like I am drinking wines that cost over a $1,000 with my lunch. Incredible wines that are over $1,000 that I have experienced (i.e., tasted for soundness before I bring to your table, you lucky dog you) are Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1971, Domaine George Roumier Musigny 1995, and Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Riserva Barolo 1961.”
What tool do you use to open a bottle? “Regular waiters double-hinged wine key for 99-percent of the jobs, the Durand is also an awesome tool that helps tremendously for opening older bottles with more delicate corks.”
Natalie Grindstaff is director of beverage programs for Crafted Hospitality.
Interview has been condensed and edited.