Daniel Johnnes: Proto-Sommelier

An ancestor in the lineage of the modern sommelier

 


Sometimes the choices we are offered come to us in unusual and surprising ways. When you consider the wines you choose from at your local store, you might be surprised at how influential wine critics can be, not only in helping you make your choices, but in limiting what choices you are offered to make as well.

In some ways, sommeliers - good sommeliers - are the antithesis of the wine critic. Yes, they are both gatekeepers, but while the wine critic serves to narrow your selection, the best sommeliers expand it. And not only what we are offered, but what the marketplace wants!
New York City is a particularly sommelier-rich city. If you were to trace the lineage of the modern sommelier, you would find one common ancestor: Daniel Johnnes.

While still a young man with some two decades and change in the business, Daniel has had a profound impact on what we drink, how we drink it and who we take advice from. He is quite simply the proto-modern sommelier. Levi Dalton recently caught up with him in a fast-paced and enlightening interview just for Snooth!

Since 2005, Daniel Johnnes has been the wine director for Daniel Boulud’s WINEX group. With a full range of restaurants under his watchful eye, Johnnes is in the enviable position of buying wine for all restaurant comers, from those who want something to pair with a DBGB Burger at the bar, to those seeking the ultimate in wine pairing and refinement.

What does that mean in practice? That you’ll find a full range of wines on the list at Daniel Boulud’s restaurants. From obscure Orange Wines at DBGB (the Foradori Nosiola is a personal favorite), to DBBistrom, where for a mere $1300 you can enjoy a four vintage vertical of Domaine de Montille Volnay taillepieds. This sounds like a lot, but it’s a pretty good price for a great lineup: ‘90, ‘95, ‘97 and ‘99!

The point is that Johnnes, through these lists and his own leanings, not only shapes the choices you are offered, but is instrumental in shaping the minds of other sommeliers. He is part of the reason why Chablis is so hot, part of the reason Burgundy is so too, and part of the reason why obscure wines from around the world, wines that often are not reviewed by the wine media, are on lists all over New York City and the entire country.

When Johnnes built a Burgundy list 20 years ago at the pioneering NYC restaurant Montrachet, creating a list specific to a country or region was virtually unheard of. With his passion, and let’s not forget access, to the great wines of Burgundy, Daniel was not only able to build a great list, he was able to offer these great wines to people at affordable prices. In fact, as we learn in the interview that follows, these wines were steals back in the day.

It was the conviction and passion that Daniel had that made that list work, though the wines certainly did not suck either. That passion for Burgundy has shaped much of Daniel’s life, from his days as an importer of wine to present day when he not only makes some of his own, but he presides over the world’s greatest bacchanalian: La Paulée.

First held in New York in 2000, La Paulée has grown into the world’s greatest Burgundy festival. Several days of great wines, both young and old, presented by the world’s foremost winemakers and collectors. In a way, while I can see Daniel enjoying the excess of La Paulée, after watching this interview, I think he would very likely be just as content sitting in a cozy room with some simple rustic dishes, a few bottles of grand Burgundy and a handful of friends.

Click here to see the full interview!


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