Strolling past a baseball cap-adorned Aldo Sohm, donning a half-buttoned shirt over swim shorts and sandy flip flops and with a glass of rosé in hand, the decorated sommelier is almost unrecognizable. He puts the moment in context, saying, “This would not happen in New York, but it’s genius right now,” with a laugh and a clink of glass.
Sohm has returned to the Cayman Islands for the 14th annual Cayman Cookout, a four-day food and wine festival hosted by chef Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, and has traded his all-black suit and clean shave to blend in with the island lifestyle. “Down here, I smoke a cigar and drink rum,” he explains. Sohm believes that good food and drink selections require context. This is why he rarely brings a wine list to the table for dinner guests at Le Bernardin or the adjacent Aldo Sohm Wine Bar. He says his job is to read people’s palates, not decide what they find delicious, and that differs based on a number of factors.
“You can have the greatest bottle of wine, the greatest meal by yourself, but it’s not that good,” Sohm says. “I think the best bottle of wine, the best dish, is always the shared one — and this is what the world is about.” Below, Sohm expands on this notion, highlights the significance of food and wine festivals, shares his go-to hangover meal, and predicts emerging styles of wine for 2023.
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1. What is your favorite thing about the Cookout? What keeps you coming back?
First of all, it’s great to escape from New York in mid-January. Secondly, it’s a food and wine festival which brings a lot of chefs together. And if I’m just a spectator, I can meet José [Andrés], I can meet Daniel Boulud. When does that happen? It’s not possible! It’s a super high-profile event and yet we’re standing here in flip-flops, shorts, and shirts and just came from Stingray City.
2. Why do you think these events are so important for the industry?
Food and wine — which is the magic thing that got me into the industry from the get-go — connects people. In today’s world, people are so angry about stuff [but] after two glasses of rosé, I could talk to you about pretty much anything. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and I think that’s the fun part.
3. So wine is bonding?
Food, too! You go to different cultures, and it’s super interesting. Five or six years ago [here], there was this one day where we got conch ceviche and there’s this moment in life where you taste this dish and it transforms you; it changes your life. I sound like a hipster but I’m not a hipster at all! It was in this kimchi broth and I thought, “Oh my God.” Fast-forward five years; I had it yesterday again. I brought five friends, a bottle of wine — we had some left over from our Meursault event, so I brought 2018 Domaine Roulot — and they said, “This is off the charts.”
4. In previous interviews, you’ve said that your favorite wine pairing constantly changes. Do you have a favorite pairing at the moment?
I’m not a moody person, but I’m a very moody drinker. Down on the islands, I prefer white wines because I look for the crispness, freshness, and elegance. I love white Burgundy. I make Grüner Veltliner, and I think that’s a perfect island drink because it’s crisp and it’s fresh. Yesterday, we had this perfect red snapper ceviche, and the wine just plowed into it — it cut it, it enhanced the flavors of the fish, it enhanced the flavors of the lemon, and it just kept moving. It was the perfect complement.
5. What is a misconception about wine that you wish more people understood?
People think it’s so precious — that’s why I wrote “Wine Simple,” because I got annoyed. People look at me, I’m dressed in black, I’m a white guy, old, which doesn’t really help the cause at all — you know, if you talk to wine people, they want to share. It doesn’t matter how much that wine is. Who cares? Do you date a person for how much their net worth is? How cruel would that be? It doesn’t matter.
6. What’s the first thing you do when you go to a restaurant?
I love to sit at the bar for 15 minutes to ease into the situation. When I get off work, I order a beer because I taste wine all day long, so I order something that cuts it: a crisp, fresh lager. Down here [in Cayman], I love Caybrew … the first three sips.
7. Then it gets too warm?
Down here, it’s 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is 90 percent. That’s a little bit of a hostile environment to drink wine. Why? Because the alcohol will shoot up immediately and when you smell the wine — white or red — you notice it immediately. On the islands, you should serve much shorter pours; one might think you’re cheap, but the fact of the matter is you need to keep refreshing it.
8. What do you eat when you’re hung over?
I step on my bicycle. I’m an active cyclist and the first half an hour is very painful, but it’s a little bit like your punishment. But to answer your question, if it comes down to it, I would have a sausage with fresh-grated horseradish and a beer with it. That’s when I’m in Austria. If there’s ever a perfect hangover, which doesn’t exist, that would be it.
9. What wine do you predict will take off in 2023?
The classic French wines are a benchmark, but the price development is high. I think Spanish wine, Portuguese wine, Austrian, German wine — once people get over the language barrier and the intimidation — offer a great amount of value.
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