Story originally posted on April 26th, 2017.
At 4:30 on a weekday afternoon, just moments before people started pouring in, the Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in Midtown Manhattan felt like a comfortable living room – except for a row of decorative lights and the clink of wine glasses being arranged on the bar. Soon the chatter of customers would fill every inch of the room.
A man in a navy suit sat by the bar, consistently checking his phone and looking around. In the living-room space in the center of the bar, a group of friends sat. “Mwah! Hi! This is our favorite spot,” said one of the members of the group. By the time the clock struck 4:49, individuals were lined up by the entrance of the wine bar, anxiously waiting for a free seat as the bar had gotten full. The buzz in the room drowned out the 90s rock and pop music. By 11 p.m., Sohm is ready for dinner.
Sohm was crowned the world’s best sommelier in 2008 after defeating 14 other semifinalists in Rome at the annual World’s Best Sommelier Competition. In the mornings Sohm spends his time wine tasting, working at one of New York’s leading restaurants, Le Bernadin, in the afternoons, and thriving at his own Wine Bar in the evenings. When he is not tasting wine, he’s probably craving some chocolate, biking, or spending time with his girlfriend.
After discovering his infatuation with wine in Austria – his hometown is Tirol – the 45-year-old began his path to success. Sohm was 21 when he took a job as a waiter at Schindlhaus – a Mediterranean restaurant in Austria. It was at this restaurant where he met two Swiss couples whom he describes as being overcome by their love for food and wine. “They were excited at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and at what wine to drink.” Until this moment, Sohm had no interest in wine, choosing instead to mix Bacardi and Coke. The Swiss couple awakened the wine lover within him, and Sohm set out to purchase his first bottle.
“It was a 1983 Darmagi produced by Angelo Gaja.” He remembered it vividly, even pausing to spell the name of the bottle, not skipping a beat to breathe. From there, Sohm would go for his sommelier diploma in 1998, finishing in 1999, an effort he would describe as “very intense.”
To earn the sommelier diploma, a student must complete three parts. The first as described by Sohm involves foundational knowledge of wine such as wine growing, wine bars, and learning how liquor and spirits are made. The second part builds on this knowledge with an exam in the form of a competition. The third part requires tasting.
The competition brought Sohm to the United States on July 4, 2004. “When competing you are not allowed to compete in your own language. I speak German so I moved here to understand English,” explained Sohm. He became as infatuated with the U.S. as he was with wine, so he extended his stay. In 2007, when he was 36, Sohm began work at Le Bernadin. On Labor Day in 2014, the Aldo Sohm Wine Bar opened.
“Are vegetables okay?” he asks as he situates himself at his dinner table – used normally as an area for wine tasting in the mornings. For dinner, Sohm stays light, healthy, and original. He is having cauliflower with small chunks of chicken skin sprayed over top. Sohm also has carrots roasted with a hint of lemon in the sauce, eggplant, and a glass of still water. He stays light so as to be able to cycle the next day, his favorite type of exercise. “My girlfriend says ‘I’ve seen men who look after women, mine looks after bikes,’” said Sohm through laughter.
Sohm and his girlfriend of four and a half years living in Brooklyn in Prospect Heights. They met while he was working at Le Bernadin and she, working in trade marketing, made a sales call. During the week Sohm keeps busy but allots time on the weekends for himself and his partner. “Sundays I get up at 5 or 6 a.m. and go on a 75-mile bike ride. I get back and have lunch with my girlfriend.”
Sohm’s tone grows cheerier as he talks of going to the movies and on walks with his girlfriend. For dinner outside his work, he either cooks at home or goes out. “I like the Thai restaurant in Queens called Sripraphai.” Sohm makes sure when attending these dinners with friends to not discuss work. “The dinner can be three hours and we eat everything. I love to eat.” Of course, Sohm makes sure to bring his own wine.
Sohm lives a busy and carefully scheduled life. “Americans always ask, what’s your real job?” He laughs. “I’m very happy to do this. I love to work with people.” Sohm’s wine bar was of full buzz by now. The people appeared to love him right back.