The designation of sommelier is earned by a special group of people who study endlessly to hone their wine skills. A sommelier acts as a wine steward for a restaurant determining the best wines to be paired with the restaurant’s food, creating and maintaining the restaurants wine list, making sure the wines are cared for properly and making suggestions to customers on the best wines to enhance their dining experience. The position of sommelier is a dream job for many wine lovers, but for a few area experts, the dream job is a reality. These are Pittsburgh’s best sommeliers.
Christian Tripodi, CS, CWP
2350 Railroad St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Christian Tripodi is the general manager and sommelier for Cioppino Restaurant in the Strip District. Although originally from Pittsburgh, he spent some time in Florida, where his love of wine led him to study for and get his sommelier designation in 2007. In 2008, he returned to Pittsburgh to open the anchor restaurant in the Rivers Casino. Earlier this year, he came to work for Cioppino. He oversees all of the operations and wine collections of Cioppino, its neighboring cigar bar and Osteria 2350, the casual dining component of Cioppino. He said he’s loving Argyle pinot noir from Oregon’s Willamette valley. “It’s really light, almost rose. It is so fresh and food friendly.” Cioppino hosts a wine enthusiast night on Monday nights in which 25 of of its most popular wines are 50 percent off and Uncorked Wednesdays when customers may bring their favorite wine to enjoy at the restaurant and Cioppino will waive the corkage fee.
2013 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Originally from Ohio, Chris Henninge moved to Pittsburgh to attend Pennsylvania Culinary Institute. After his graduation, he started an internship at the Duquesne Club, which led him to pursue a degree in hospitality management from Robert Morris University and a master’s degree from Duquesne University. It was at the Duquesne Club that Henninge developed his love for wine. He spent much of his time studying wine regions, tasting and talking to wine experts. When he finished his master’s degree, he spent time teaching at Pennsylvania Culinary Institute. It was during this time that he received his sommelier certification. He has spent the last five years as a sommelier at a private club in Ligonier. As a sommelier, he is responsible for the purchase, inventory, wine list, selection and sales of not only wine but craft beers and spirits as well. He said he is partial to wines of the Burgundy wine region “There are only two grapes, but it is the most difficult wine region to learn about.” Henninge said the most important component is that a wine is well made and well balanced. He said he intends to continue his sommelier study and become a master sommelier, a title that only 129 professionals in the United States share. To train for the exam, he practices blind tasting, talking to other wine professionals and keeping up on the latest trends in wine. The tasting rooms and wine variety at Dreadnought Wines in the Strip District are a great resource for wine skill development, he said. Henninge said so much of advancing as a sommelier depends on having the discipline and willingness to keep up with research and development independently to prepare for the exams.
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214 N. Craig St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Caroline Matys started her career track intending to be a pharmacist, studying at Duquesne University. She said she found she liked the science aspect of the job, but the rest of it wasn’t growing on her. A later food science class while pursuing environmental studies at Pitt particularly sparked her interest. She interned at a winery in Oregon for the 2008 harvest and found she really liked wine and the science of pairing it with food. Further wine studies opened up the idea of becoming a sommelier, so she went to California to study get her certification. When she returned home to Pittsburgh, she saw that one of her favorite restaurants, Legume, was expanding to a new space, applying for a liquor license and developing a wine list. She spoke to management about her expertise and love of wine and started as its sommelier in June 2011. During its expansion, she worked closely with Legume’s chef to develop a wine list that would compliment Legume’s ever-changing menu. Its new restaurant on North Craig Street opened in September of 2011. Because it uses locally sourced ingredients, Legume’s menu changes daily, and many times the menu isn’t completed until just before the bistro opens at 5 p.m., so Matys must stay on her feet with the wine selection. “We picked all of our wines to be very food friendly,” she said. “Going in to fall, I’ve been into really big reds to compliment the heavier food.” Legume holds monthly wine dinners and classes, and Matys is working with its new bar manager to develop additional classes on spirits and beer. Legume offers a happy hour from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday in which its house wine is $4 for a glass and $10 for a carafe.