A Quick Tipple with Aldo Sohm

Ladies and gentlemen, allow us to introduce Aldo Sohm, director of wine at Le Bernardin and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, a special guest at the upcoming RCC Summit in Sonoma County. In his day job, Aldo oversees a 15,000 bottle collection of wine, with some vintages dating back to 1875. As part of the RCC Summit, Aldo will be riding with us through some of California’s greatest vineyards, and, so long as the gradient isn’t too severe, will be talking about their fine produce.

I have a rule: drink first, form an opinion later

I try to be curious. The reason I mention this is that European sommeliers have a reputation of staying within their continent. When I started in Europe, there were limited possibilities of getting American wines, although it’s far better now. Since moving to the States, I’ve had a lot of exposure to new wines, and I’ve enjoyed them immensely.

Creating a new wine list is collaborative.

You have to understand the food, and what the chef is trying to do, and then create a list that will collaborate with this. I want to create lists that are fun, and I don’t like the idea of wine being intimidating.

I like to put wines in the right context.

This also means the historical context. Take California: In the 50s, 60s, 70s, many Californian growers were trying to compete with Bordeaux wines – which is why they did so well in the Judgement of Paris. They were also influenced by critics like Robert Parker, who is one of the world’s most influential critics. So, Californian growers started making wines that were ‘more’ – more power, more alcohol, more oak, more concentration, more residual sugars. All of a sudden, those wines turned into powerful wines with 15, 16% alcohol levels.

These wines became very successful, and were popular with important critics.

But since the early 2000s, a new generation of wine makers have started working, and many of them have taken lessons from Burgundy, the Rhône Valley, and further away. So now there is a change happening. Instead of the stereotypical creamy chardonnays, or the big, bulky cabernets, now there are wine makes choosing to make fresh wines. They have elevated acidity, and the grapes are harvested earlier to maintain a liveliness and to keep the alcohol levels low. We’ll enjoy a few of these in Sonoma, I think.

I started riding two years ago, and I had to ask a thousand questions.

What should I wear? What components are right for me? The questions everyone always asks. The world of wine is the same. It’s a very broad topic, but we shouldn’t be intimidated by it.

I grew up in Austria, and I used to mountain bike a lot.

When I left Austria for New York in 2004, it just wasn’t an option anymore. I found running awfully boring, so that wasn’t an option either. Likewise, I can’t go to a gym – sitting in a room when it’s beautiful outside makes no sense to me. But two years ago, in May, I went to a bike shop near my home and bought a Scott Foil. I was immediately addicted.

Three years ago, I was sick about once a month.

My doctor told me I was stressed. That’s when I bought my bicycle. And since then, I have been to the doctor once a year, just for a check-up. I believe that the exercise makes me taste things better, or maybe that’s just what I tell myself.