Visiting Grandmaster Recorders is a full-fledged sensory experience, and not just because of the food. At a press preview earlier this year, the chefs showed off their creations in the brightly lit open kitchen, sharing a bevy of caviar cannolis, glistening white beans with salsa verde and anchovies and a truly beautiful pile of tuna tartare.
All the while, an unassuming young woman quietly doled out Champagne. She flitted around our table, making jokes and pouring generously for anyone who would take a glass. Her pairing of choice was a classic French brut from Pierre Gimonnet & Fils. Even if you didn’t know that the Gimonnets are one of Champagne’s most powerful families — or indeed have any clue about how the Blancs de Blanc style might impact the taste — all the clean citrus and mellow cream this glass of bubbly offered made one thing clear: The wine at GMR is absolutely excellent. Turns out, that unassuming young woman is the restaurant’s wine director and sommelier.
Devon D’Arcangelo is an industry veteran with over a decade of experience in the New York fine-dining world, with stints at places like Eleven Madison Park, Lincoln Ristorante, Gramercy Tavern and Maude — followed by LA hotspots like Otium and Republique. As a female wine director thriving in the male-dominated world of sommeliers, D’Arcangelo knows well just how intimidating the wine world can be, and she’s actively working to change that. In terms of her wine list, her top priority is excellence. After that comes accessibility. The fact that she herself is exceptionally approachable is part of that process.
“I look like everyone’s babysitter,” she says with a laugh when we meet up at a still-empty Grandmasters dining room one Friday afternoon to chat. “I look like the girl they’ve always known their whole life, and I genuinely try to be as friendly as possible, because I know it’s an uphill battle for most people. My mentor Juliette Pope taught me wine shouldn’t be scary — wine should be approachable. There’s all this ‘superstar sommelier’ stuff happening now, all this hype and celebrity. But my job is to take you away from normal life, from whatever terrible day you just had at work, and to make your night as simple and comforting as possible.”
D’Arcangelo’s emphasis on approachability and respect resonates with me, a wine drinker who grew up in the Willamette Valley just as Oregon wine came into the mainstream. And it will probably connect with plenty of emerging wine enthusiasts, who aren’t afraid to question (or remain heretofore ignorant of) some of the Old World givens. Plenty of people associate wine culture with snobbery, glass-swirling and word-salad tasting notes. A new wave of sommeliers, like D’Arcangelo, are working to change that culture. And since they’re coming correct with impeccable wine while they do it, the movement is catching on.
As the staff preps for service, D’Arcangelo settles into one of the restaurant’s cozy leather booths to lay out her own personal wine gospel. Ordering a bottle of wine isn’t stressful with D’Arcangelo on your side. “Sommeliers are intimidating!” she says. “We use really technical language, and I don’t think that we laugh enough or joke enough. Being able to speak from a genuine place and gently educate your guests with kindness is really important to me. Having a positive and encouraging demeanor is so powerful. I start with really simple questions: White or red? Lighter or fuller? That can help someone tell me what they want, because they might not have the vocabulary.”
If you head into GMR for a meal sometime soon, D’Arcangelo has several solid recommendations that will suit every kind of drinker. Her wine list is balanced between Old World and domestic, with a nod to Australian winemakers, since that’s where the restaurant’s chefs, Monty and Jaci Koludrovic, hail from. Kick off with a caviar cannoli and half a glass of Billecart’s sparkling rose, then move to salmon crudo paired with a high-acidic, aromatic Italian white called Müller-Thurgau. Move along to the white bean salad paired with a Tuscan rosato that drinks like a chilled red, and for a final course go for some mafaldine pasta and a Sicilian white called Carricante: “Island wine, volcanic soil, salt, preserved lemon — it just cuts through.”
When ordering a bottle — or glass, or half glass! — of wine from D’Arcangelo’s list at Grandmaster Records, she will most likely be cracking jokes and reassuring you the whole way through. During dinner service, she makes a point to touch every table, checking in on wine selections and offering a safety net: If you don’t like the bottle, she’ll drink it herself and bring you something you do like. When in doubt, she always brings it back to Champagne. “Champagne is my ultimate fix,” D’Arcangelo says. “If you really don’t know what you want, but love bubbles, it will go with everything from the first course to your steak. It is the little black dress of wine.”
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