When Michael Madrigale strays from wine, it’s usually in secret. At the end of a shift at Bar Boulud, he steps out with an ice-cold Jever pilsner tucked into his coat pocket. He pops his shift drink open just as the piercing taxi TV bubbles on and eases into his journey back to the East Village.
Most of the time, however, Madrigale is not playing the outlaw. But he is something of a maverick in the New York sommelier community, not only for his now-famous big bottle glass pours—wherein he offers high-end wines at very low prices from magnums or jeroboams on a nightly basis—but his independent and laid-back approach to fine wine service.
Madrigale’s career began in his apartment with half bottles from Astor Wines and Spirits and a copy of Wine for Dummies. He eventually landed a job at Burgundy Wine Co., but left soon after to move to Burgundy, where he worked for a year and a half at Domaine d’Arlot. He followed his vineyard slave days with a few (less inspiring) years in a corporate position. But after another extended stay in Europe, he returned to New York and got a job as the head sommelier at db Bistro Moderne and, later, Bar Boulud.
For him, wine’s value has always been about the emotional reaction it inspires. “It’s about how it triggers my sense memory,” he says. “I’m not analyzing it like it’s the Shroud of Turin. It’s not an intellectual study.” This self-reliance and confidence probably has something to do with a no-bullshit upbringing in an Italian family of butchers in Philadelphia, where, as a kid, he exhibited a natural affinity for acid, favoring grapefruit juice over orange juice even as a five-year-old.
Now, when he’s not lost in a Burgundy orgy (we hunted him down for this interview at epic Burgundy tasting, La Paulée) he’s drinking Muscadet, riesling from the Alsace, Greek wines and the wines of the northern Rhône. We asked him to keep track of what he drank for a week and provide us a list of his best finds under $75. Here’s the damage:
Louis Métaireau Muscadet Sèvre et Maine ‘Grand Mouton’ 2011 | $15
“No better cheap wine in the world than Muscadet. NONE. The terroir is so strong in the region that the wines sing immediately. The Métaireau is so salty and seashell-y and has more flesh than your average Sèvre et Maine, which helps expand the variations of food pairing.”
Sklavos Robola De Céphalonie ‘Vino Di Sasso’ 2012 | $25
“Robola from high altitude vineyards on the island of Cephalonia. So smoky and fleshy with ratchet-tight focus. It’s amazing that a wine can be this inexpensive and taste so good.”
Girolomo Russo Etna Rosso ‘A Rina’ 2011 | $25
“Tastes like ’09 Red Burgundy poured over charcoal briquettes. And I mean that as a positive thing.”
Pierre Gonon VdP de l’Ardèche ‘Les Iles Feray’ 2011/2012 | $30
“Best under $30 syrah out there. I buy and drink as much as I possibly can of this wine. It’s the entry level wine from the farmer geniuses of St Joseph, the Gonon brothers. It’s not easy to find but it performs better than a good a lot of syrahs out there at two or three times the price.”
Chartogne-Taillet Blanc de Blancs Cuvée Heurtebise NV | $70
I first tasted this at NY Noodletown with Aldo (Sohm). So mineral and focused and really approachable right now. A few days later I had it with a few somm friends at RN74 in SF during La Paulée. It’s my new favorite fizz.