Have you ever wondered what exactly is the reason behind wine’s magical power to enhance a dish? It’s actually quite simple if we’re looking at it from a scientific point of view. Think of how salt can access more flavor in a dish… When it comes to drinking wine with a meal, the alcohol content in wine causes the food to release flavor molecules and dissolve fats, which makes the ingredients in a dish gradually surprise your tastebuds with distinct flavors. In a way, wine has an almost celestial ability to activate these gushes of flavor you had no idea existed before.
Whether it's a crisp Sauvignon Blanc bringing out the delicate flavor of halibut or a nice Pinot Noir combined with the marbled fat of a ribeye steak, food and wine might as well be one of the best and most stable marriages we’ve witnessed in history. As we know, the right wine and dish can create a superior gastronomic experience. On the other hand, a poor wine pairing can not only ruin the flavor of the wine, but can also destroy an entire dining experience. Like any good marriage, wine should always live in harmony with a plate of food, not dominate it. Of course, choosing the perfect bottle can sometimes seem overwhelming and downright hard, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Not with Gradito.
One of the highlights of Gradito is the expertise and passion of our highly-skilled sommeliers. Our talented wine professionals are excited to get to learn more about wine & food pairings with you, especially Gradito’s resident wine connoisseur Mauro Enfield. We recently had the opportunity to interview Mauro to discuss all things wine as well as what prospective clients can expect by booking a Gradito sommelier. Having grown up in coastal Massachusetts, Mauro has been a student of wine from a very young age. He has traveled to France, Spain, Italy, Austria, and several other countries learning about Viticulture - the study of grape cultivation. Mauro has worked with wine, spirits, and sake in both retail and wholesale for over 20 years, and has graciously told us about his experience in order to get a better picture of the fascinating world of wine from one of our very own.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?
“My name is Mauro Enfield, and I started working in the wine business in the early 2000s working at a retail store in Florida. In 2005, I decided to move to New York, where I continued to work in retail for about a year. Later on, in 2006, I began working in wholesale. So I’ve been selling wine since 2006, and have spent 16 years in the wholesale side of things - working with wine, spirits, and sakes.”
How did you first get into wine?
“I went to UC Boulder for college, and at the end of our senior year, some of my friends were starting to get into wine… A few of them worked in restaurants and some of them were working in wholesale. One of them got into retail right after college in the late 90s. Turns out that one of my friends who was working at a restaurant ended up becoming a sommelier around NYC. After a bunch of years of doing that, she went back home to Long Island and now owns her own wine shop. Another one of my good friends is currently an importer who focuses on South American wines. I feel like a few of my friends started getting into wine during college, and so at that time, I started getting curious. After school, I moved to San Francisco for a couple of years, and that’s where I think I really started to appreciate wine. I visited a few wineries while I was in the Bay Area, but it seemed more of a gradual thing looking back. Later, when I moved to Florida, I started working at a retail store, so I just had to dive in.”
Have you had a chance to explore the wine industry outside of the United States?
“I’ve traveled quite a bit with the distribution companies that I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve visited a lot of the Old World like Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Greece. I’ve also been to South America and had the opportunity to visit some wineries in South Africa too.”
What are important things you look for when purchasing wine?
"You tend to have strong opinions as a sommelier, and I’ve been doing this for many years… I have gained a lot of wine knowledge, so I’m certainly going to pair the food with the wine, but I’m also going to try to find something super interesting and unique for the client, you know? I mean, if I know they want or are looking for a certain thing, then I’ll find them a good example of that. If that’s not the case, and it’s more in my hands, then I will try to find something probably a bit more obscure and of great quality. You know what you like, and of course, people have different opinions… There are a lot of different facets of wine, but you can generally find what a quality wine is and you can turn some people onto it. Hopefully.”
Do you have any favorite wines or wine regions?
"A lot of the Old World… like Spain. Wines from “Green Spain”, which is Galicia. I’m a big fan of Austrian wines like Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. There’s so much Italian wine that’s amazing too - there are so many grapes in Italy. Obviously, French wine as well. But I really have an appreciation for the New World too… One of my good friends, as I previously said, is a South American importer. He imports a lot of unique and interesting wines from Argentina and Chile - not the everyday wines that you see. He’s been importing some really cool stuff from Malbecs to some Chilean Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs. I’ve also been working with some distribution companies from California, Washington State, and Oregon, and there’s definitely some good wine coming out of there depending on what your palate is. Everyone has an opinion and everybody has a knowledge level, so you kind of just go from there.”
What would you say is a common misconception about wine?
“It depends on how knowledgeable you are and how your relationship is with wine, so it’s a bit subjective. One thing you find a lot during tastings is people who say, “Oh, this is sweet”. Many people who are newer to wine can’t really tell the difference between ‘fruity’ and ‘sweet’. Most wines that we drink are dry, so they’re not really sweet. It’s rare that you have too much sugar in any wine, unless it’s a sweet wine. So, people get confused when they taste a fruity wine and think it’s sweet, but they’re actually tasting the fruit character of the wine.”
Do you have any tips for someone who is getting into wine?
“First off, the key is finding a good retailer. Especially in New York City, it’s probably even easier to find someone because there are so many great retailers that you can probably find one in every neighborhood. Once you find a retailer, you can create a relationship with the owner or person working there, and they can start getting to know your palate. Really good wine stores - not everybody - but some of them will take down what you buy. This way they have your history and start to understand what you like and what you don’t like. My advice is to go and support your local wine shops, and they’ll really steer you right. They all have such great selections. It’s obviously harder when you’re not living in a city, and you can certainly go online and buy your wine. I personally really like the interpersonal dynamic of a shop: a good selection, talking to the person, getting a recommendation, and telling them what you think the next time you come in. You should always take a picture of the bottle too. Countless times people come in saying, “I got this wine and I just can’t remember the name”. So definitely take a picture of that bottle, and it will be a lot easier for everybody to find it again.”
Are there any local wine shops in NYC you recommend?
“This city has so many options, especially for wine. I have a couple of friends who work in the West Village at MCF Rare Wine on 13th Street and Terry’s on Greenwich Avenue. Then there are obviously some real standards like Chambers Street Wines and Flatiron Wines & Spirits. There are also old-school wine shops around New York that have great selections like Acker Wines (since 1820) and 67 Wine (since 1941) in the Upper West Side… There are going to be some bulletproof liquor stores that you’re going to want to avoid, but, other than that, there's a plethora of really good wine shops around Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and Queens too.”
How did you become a part of the Gradito family?
"I met chef Sean Kommer through my girlfriend who lives in West Hampton and is good friends with the Kommers. I found out Sean was a chef, and he learned that I was in the wine business. I also introduced Sean to my friend Nils who also works in the wine industry and has been working in NYC a little longer than me. We are both the first official Gradito sommeliers.”
For other wine professionals and culinary freelancers looking for work, what would you say are the foreseeable benefits of working with Gradito?
“Firstly, the exposure. It’s also a great opportunity for networking. Obviously, you’re gonna make a little money doing it, but it’s actually kind of fun. I have a friend who works for a service similar to Gradito, but he and the other private chefs there have to go to the company’s space instead of the client’s. I think Gradito is much more customizable, and clients have a greater say in their experience. Everyone’s time is different, and I like that I get the chance to experience it with them. That’s the thing about presenting wine to people… you’re teaching them, but you’re also learning with them and remembering that it's a process for you too. It’s always nice to be exposed to new wines and see the faces of people who taste them for the first time. I’m excited to see what comes out of it with Gradito.”
What’s something people can expect from a sommelier booking you?
“Have a good time. I’m joking. I’m kind of joking. I’m kind of not. But a good time, for sure. I think they can expect to learn about different wines, and certainly be more open-minded because there’s so much wine out there… It’s endless, you never stop learning. Like any major field, you’re never going to finish learning new things, and you just keep diving and diving and diving. So yes, for me it’s fun to turn people on to new things.”
What’s been your favorite wine-pairing experience?
"I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot, so I’ve had the opportunity to drink amazing wine in old cellars, which is so much fun. But, the best experience was probably when I was younger… You know when you drink red wine, and then you pair it with some really good red meat like prosciutto. It’s then that you realize what pairing a wine can do… what it can really bring out.”
Many thanks for your time, Mauro. We can’t wait to hear about your next adventures with Gradito! Ciao! Until next time.