Interview with Bailey Fortuna, Sommelier at Pearl and Ash NYC
Pearl and Ash is a famed wine bar, located in the Bowery district in downtown Manhattan. Recently awarded the Grand Award from Wine Spectator, I recently enjoyed a fantastic dining experience there. What set this wine bar apart was the incredible array of selections from around the world. Boasting over 21000 wine selections, the wine list is particularly strong in the areas of Burgundy, Champagne and California. There were a few Washington selections that impressed as well. The pricing for the wine was reasonable, considering the NYC real estate. The food was also delectable, and well-priced, if a bit minimalist.
Bailey Fortuna serves as sommelier at Pearl and Ash. She’s got a bartending background but fell in love with wine and became a somm. Bailey waited on me during my visit to Pearl and Ash, and has an incredible knowledge of wine. I also found her wine service to be exceptional. As part of my somm interview series, here is my recent conversation with Bailey Fortuna, sommelier at Pearl and Ash, NYC. http://www.pearlandash.com/ #pearlandash
WWB: What made you want to decide to become a sommelier?
BF: My decision to become a sommelier was, frankly, more of a seemingly logical progression than it was passion based. The passion came later. I was originally hired at Pearl & Ash as a bartender. I already had an enthusiasm for spirits, mostly whiskey, gin, and amaros but when I found out Pearl didn’t have a liquor license I used it as an excuse to dive into the world of wine based aperetifs and digestifs. The staff education at Pearl is also unlike anywhere I have ever worked. We are constantly tasting new things and discussing about them as a group which really got me thinking about wine in a way that I never had before. Finally, the real moment I decided I could be a somm was over a glass of Tissot Macvin Blanc du Jura, I had never tasted anything like it. It was the first wine I couldn’t stop thinking about for days after.
WWB: What were some of your first jobs in wine like?
BF: My very first job in wine was at Pearl & Ash as a cellar intern. Prepping the cellar for incoming items, receiving orders and as often as possible blind tasting with the entire team of somms and interns. While originally interviewing for the internship Patrick had mentioned he felt moving bottles in a cellar was the best way to learn and now I absolutely agree. I’d spend my days moving bottles and nights going home and researching everything I had my hands on that day. Coupled with the education and encouragement provided by Bryn Birkhahn and Kimberly Prokoshyn, the two somms at the time, my knowledge grew exponentially over the next year.
WWB: How did you decide to come to Pearl and Ash?
BF: Truthfully, I answered a Craig’s List ad for a bartending job. I had just moved back to the city from Chicago and was still figuring out what to do next. After reading a few write-ups about the restaurant I was intrigued. I guess the rest is history!
WWB: Can you talk about the obstacles in gaining your somm certification and what the process was like for you?
BF: That’s actually a process I am currently in the midst of. Over the past year I have been debating whether or not to go through with the certification exam. There seems to be a clear split over whether or not it is necessary. I finally decided to take my intro, which will happen next month, and will decide how far to go after that is completed. Though I do think having the knowledge and experience is ultimately more important, I also respect the Court and would be very proud to be a part of it.
WWB: Pearl and Ash has an incredibly impressive wine list, one that's particularly strong with selections from Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, as well as both Northern and Southern Rhone and California. What were some of the goals in crafting this exceptional wine list?
BF: Though I didn’t have much part in crafting the current list, what I’ve learned from Patrick and Bryn while watching it come together is that balance is key. It’s so important, especially in those seemingly well know areas such as Burgundy and California, to not only focus on the names people will recognize but also use the list as a vehicle to show people something new. The most exciting part of my job is introducing wines and winemakers to people who might not have thought to look outside regions they normally stick within. You like to drink old Burgundy, how about a Biodynamically grown Chinon that tastes like beautifully aged Burgundy for half the price? The big names sit side by side with the little guys and it becomes less about finding a trophy bottle and more about trying something outside of your comfort zone!
WWB: Any chances to strengthen the list with more Washington producers? Who are some of your favorite producers of Washington wine?
BF: We’re constantly expanding the wine list and I think strengthening our New World offerings, outside of California, is definitely a priority. Some of my favorites out of Washington would have to be Figgins, ...Pursued by Bear, Gramercy Cellars, and Charles Smith. I’ve noticed a great range of funky to finessed coming out of the state and look forward to the future of Washington wines!