That Wine Lyfe: Steve Wildy of the Vetri Family, Philadelphia

America's sommeliers have access to some of the best wines in the world. But what are they drinking off duty? Welcome to "That Wine Lyfe," the drink diary of wine pros.

steve wildy sommelier vetri

Industry professionals each have their own secrets to countering the ill effects of alcohol consumption and long hours on the job. Steve Wildy, the beverage director for Philadelphia’s ever-expanding Vetri family, chooses a vegetarian diet over joining Vetri’s contingent of jiu jitsu-loving cooks. Occasionally, when he’s not able to wrap his head around flavors for a wine pairing, he will relent and taste meat dishes, but otherwise, it’s upscale vegan nights out at Vedge or casual dinners at El Camino Royale with his “way more vegetarian” wife Becca who doubles as his regular drinking companion.

Overseeing drinks for the six restaurants in the Vetri group keeps Wildy immersed in everything from craft beer (for the gastropub Alla Spina) to bottled cocktails (for Pizzeria Vetri). While his hands are already in many pots, he’s constantly seeking to expand his repertoire; right now he’s focused on bringing sherry, cider and sake into the mix.

When his wife was pregnant with their now one-year-old son, Wildy, in solidarity, forewent alcohol for a couple months, which led him to the somewhat disturbing realization that he hadn’t gone a single day without drinking in the prior two years. He was hoping to feel a rush of healthfulness while abstaining, but instead felt the same, save for a newfound craving for sugar. He’s back off the wagon in what is, clearly, the most glorious of ways. We asked him to keep track of the best things he drank over the last seven days. Here’s the damage:

“Man you guys picked a good drinking week to ask me about. Normally it would be a week full of things like: closeout wine I brought home from one of the restaurants,  a can of beer that I found half full on my bedside table the next morning, Trader Joe’s strawberry lemonade with gin in it, etc. But this was, fortuitously, a jam-packed week of seeing old industry friends as well as making some new ones, and there were plenty of excuses to drink really great stuff.”

Tired Hands Brewing ‘The Emptiness is Eternal’ | $16 (500ml)
“Philly’s corner of Pennsylvania is a hub for one of the most vibrant and established brewing communities in the country, so it’s not easy to make a splash in such a big pond. Yet these guys cannonballed onto the scene three years ago and have been straight up thrashing the waters ever since. I’ve swooned over the tiny amounts I’ve tasted, and just a few weeks ago I finally met incredibly sweet owners Jean and Julie while they were having dinner at Osteria and came bearing gifts. This one was a sour saison aged in local wine barrels with persimmons from local farmer/madman Tom Culton.  I opened it for our staff and shared it with some great industry friends at an event; all of them were stopped in their tracks by it. I (uncharacteristically) cursed out loud when I found out it was only a 400-bottle production, but I would have cursed even louder if I opened it without anyone around to share it with.”

Littorai Vin Gris 2013 | $25
“My first rose of the spring and a perfect pick me up/put me down that didn’t compromise a drop of integrity or complexity. Ted Lemon bottles this from his ‘less favorable’ clusters, which are guaranteed perfectly favorable to anyone who’s not Ted Lemon. Their wines are so vividly from somewhere to meAnd I still think I’d feel that way even if I didn’t associate them with my wife and our first anniversary trip out there. I’ve come to learn that not all wines trigger a sense memory; a memory can’t be summoned by a wine that’s not special in its own right. This one definitely was. It was hard not to finish the bottle, and I was excited to share it with a friend, but more excited for Becca (my wife) to discover it in the fridge the next day.”

Virtue Sidra de Nava | $20
“Mr. Michael McAvena of Virtue Cider was in town for a few days to debut this incredible Basque-style sour cider in the Philly market. Michael used to work at the Violet Hour and was the beer director for the Publican in Chicago for years, and is ridiculously knowledgeable about all things. Just when I start to feel cocky because I think I finally know something, this jerk shows up and nonchalantly speaks about it in a way that is strata above my level of understanding. And yet it’s always in the most accessible, offhanded, disarming way. Jerk. He had the room at Alla Spina buzzing over the funky, layered, joltingly tart Midwest cider from former Goose Island jefe Greg Hall. I’m never sure with Michael if it’s him or the product he’s pouring that enamors a crowd, but goddamnit if everyone didn’t freak out for it, myself included.”

Vernick’s Field Gun Envy Cocktail | $13
“We throw an industry night on the every first Monday of the month as a big thank you to all the hardworking Philly restaurant folk. Free food from a guest chef, drink specials, etc. This month it was Vernick’s turn and 300+ people packed into Amis to eat Jewish deli food alongside our Italian deli food, drink Virtue Sidra from porron (too many hilarious photos) and slug back the amazing cocktails of Vincent Stipo, Vernick’s head bartender. While I loved his drinks that night I still can’t stop thinking about this cocktail I had at the mothership a few days prior: rooibos-infused cognac, curaçao and sparkling wine. It’s so complex and layered that I think it’s spoiled me into insisting that from now on, every cocktail has to have a beginning, middle and end on the palate in the complete and Shakespearean way that this one does.”

Field Gun Envy
1 1/2 ounces rooibos-infused cognac (loose tea infused into Landy VS)
3/4 ounce Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao
1/2 ounce fresh lemon
2 ounces dry sparkling wine

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass or tin and add ice. Shake quickly and double strain into a flute. Top with about 2 ounces dry sparkling wine.
Garnish: burnt lemon peel

Le Ragose Recioto della Valpolicella 2007 |  $35 (500ml)
“More fortuitous timing: we had a sample of this wine dropped off at the exact same time that we added this impudently pungent cheese to our cheeseboard at Osteria Jersey. It immediately took me back to the moment that the wine and food thing clicked for me. A few days into my tenure at Vetri, I was given a taste of Recioto (Amarone’s sweeter forebear) alongside a similar cheese and had my mind blown. This wine and Anton’s Rot Liebe (Red Love) is my favorite kind of match: two alpha personalities that can be so unbalanced and intense on their own they seem like they will tragically collide into each other at full speed, and then they just…hug. At the end of my shift I stank our tiny office up with a plate of the cheese, poured out a glass of Recioto for everyone there, giddily asked that they taste them side-by-side and then enjoyed the calm of a room of people enthralled by food and drink together.”

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