Such a singular name is Aldo Sohm that, in the wine world, it’s become synonymous with both a New York City wine bar (Aldo Sohm Wine Bar) and the gold standard for wine glasses (Zalto). Sohm, a native of Innsbruck, Austria, is one of the most famous sommeliers alive, and the only sommelier to have reached the spire of owning an eponymous wine bar. He has also been declared the best sommelier in the entire world, run a wine program at the four-star restaurant Le Bernardin, written a book (Wine Simple: A Totally Approachable Guide from a World-Class Sommelier), as well as forged a label, Sohm & Kracher, with winemaker Gerhard Kracher in Burgenland. The latter of these accomplishments, as well as his annual trip back to Austria and Alto Adige, keep him connected to his career’s origin.
He believes that what’s made him so successful is, in part, his link to Tyrol. “The history [of Tyrol] is interesting,” says Sohm of the region’s fractured nature. “After World War I, the province was broken apart.” North Tyrol went to Austria, while South Tyrol became part of Italy, and yet the two remain closely linked.
Because of its proximity and a similarly meticulous wine-making ethos, Sohm’s native land is also a jumping off point to introduce customers to Alto Adige. Until 1918, North and South Tyrol were part of Austro-Hungary. In some ways, they remain cousins, connected by remarkable geography and a sense of shared culture. “You joke a little bit about the history, you show them [Alto Adige’s] pinot noirs, the sauvignon blancs. It’s a super-beautiful area, and people always ask me about it,” he says, noting Lake Garda and the stunning altitudes of the Dolomites. At Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, both North and South Tyrol are always well represented.
When setting out to build a Midtown wine bar that would forever be associated with chef Eric Ripert’s four-star seafood mecca, Sohm sought to distinguish the list from Le Bernardin’s simply by navigability. “If you want to go have a glass of wine, and it takes you longer than 10 minutes [to decide what to get], it’s a problem,” he says of the wine bar experience. Meant as a post-work, pre-theater oasis amid the office building drudgery, Aldo Sohm Wine Bar is one of the neighborhood’s few destinations that doesn’t require reservations or, alternatively, enduring ’tini specials and big-screen televisions. At its core, it’s the platonic ideal of a Midtown Manhattan wine bar.
In the beginning, Sohm decided to write a list that would be easily permutable, and allow him, on a whim, to rotate wines ranging from value-driven by-the-glass pours to splurge-worthy bottles, while pleasing everyone from tourists to big-spender banker types. The result is a quirky yet approachable mashup that includes both blue-chip classics and experimental labels. “I serve adventurous wines, and look for cellar wines. I look for freshness, purity and craftsmanship,” says Sohm.
Purity and freshness are what he points to as the touchstones of Alto Adige’s wines, as well as the fact that the region’s vineyards are all worked by hand. He describes föhn, or ora, as the Italians call it—the warm winds that sweep through the valleys—the palm trees in Merano and the mountains above Lake Garda, and wonders at the profundity of the region’s microclimates. “All of Alto Adige, it’s incredibly picturesque,” he says. “You’d be shocked at how fresh the wines are, wines with age.”
From Cantina Terlano’s legendary whites to the hearty lagreins of Muri-Gries, this is the Alto Adige section of Aldo Sohm’s cellar, in five bottles.
Wine Service at Aldo Sohm Wine Bar
Aldo Sohm's Five Bottles from Alto Adige
J. Hofstätter Barthenau “Vigna S. Urbano” Pinot Nero
Named for the chemistry professor who first deigned to plant pinot noir in Alto Adige in the mid-19th century, the Barthenau is grown on that original plot of land, which was sold to the Foradori family in the 1940s. “Always the flagship of Hofstätter, this is a richer style of pinot. It’s expressive, but not as acidic as Burgundy and not as jammy as Sonoma,” says Sohm. “They age incredibly well.”
- Vintage: 2011
Cantina Terlano “Nova Domus” Terlano Riserva
Though a cooperative—similar to the idea of a négociant—Cantina Terlano is known for producing some of Alto Adige’s leading wines. A blend of 60 percent pinot bianco, 30 percent chardonnay and 10 percent sauvignon blanc, the “Nova Domus” is an elevated cuvée, says Sohm. “It’s fermented in steel and oak, but without losing its identity. It’s truly interesting and traditional at the same time.”
- Vintage: 2016
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner
Founded in 1142 by the Augustinian Order of Canons Regular, the abbey at Novacella is located in the Isarco River Valley and practices organic farming. It’s known globally for its crisp, mineral whites, as well as its pinot nero, schiava and lagrein. “I have this both at Le Bernardin and the wine bar,” says Sohm. “Kerner is a crossing of trollinger and riesling. You could bring it to the beach and you would be totally fine.”
- Vintage: 2017
Alois Lageder “Löwengang” Chardonnay
Past Trento, in the little southern Alto Adige village of Magrè, Alois Lageder is a 50-hectare biodynamic winery. One of the first whites from the region to gain international renown in the 1980s, the Löwengang is “a more powerful chardonnay, always one of their benchmarks,” says Sohm. “Lageder experiments a fair amount, going for a little bit of skin fermentation for freshness.”
- Vintage: 2016
Located at a working Benedictine monastery, originally built in the 11th century, Muri-Gries has been making wine since 1947. It’s best-known for its lagreins, one of the region’s native red grapes. “Muri-Gries is really old-school,” says Sohm, of the outfit whose vineyards are still hand-tended by the monks. (Its wines are made by Christian Werth.) “This is a hearty, tasty style of wine where you don’t feel guilty to open a second bottle.”
- Vintage: 2018