Kathryn Morgan defies the snooty-sommelier stereotype. "People are surprised when I come to the table," says Morgan, who's been at Ristorante Tosca two years. For one thing, she's in a profession dominated by men. For another, she's extremely approachable.
Morgan learned about wine as a server at Asia Nora. She spent four years as sommelier at Occidental Grill, and she has put together a list at Tosca that's mostly Italian and heavy on vintages from Lombardy, where chef Cesare Lanfranconi grew up.
Wine rules: I passionately believe you should drink the wine of a region with the food of a region. There's a reason that the two cultures evolved together. For example, Tuscan wines, which have a high acid content, work beautifully with a plate of pasta and sausages and tomato sauce that has bite.
The values in Italian wines: The Veneto has high-quality wines that aren't appreciated. There's value in fine Soaves and Valpolicellas. They don't have the reputation of Barolos or Chiantis, but you can get a good one for $30. I have a Pieropan Soave that's a great value at $8 a glass. I'd also scan any list to see if there's a large selection of a little-known varietal or wines from a particular region. It means the restaurant wants to highlight those wines and they are likely to be good values.
How to make sense of an Italian wine list, which unlike a French list doesn't always follow geography or grapes: Read Andrea Immer's Great Wine Made Simple and Great Tastes Made Simple. And, of course, talk to the sommelier.
Most frequently asked question: At least once a night I get the "Some of us are having fish but we still want to have a red" question. It has to be a low-tannin wine like a Sangiovese because tannins interfere with fish. Low-tanin Italian wines tend to have high acidity--it's like squeezing a lemon.
Complaining about an iffy bottle: Say you think there might be something wrong with it and ask the sommelier to taste it.
How she keeps track of it all: Most of it is in my head. But when I choose wines for the restaurant I take notes on my Palm Pilot about the weight of a wine, how it interacts with food--I try all sorts of food with a wine. Combining wine and food is my favorite part of the job.
Favorite wine pairing at Tosca: I love an aromatic Nebbiolo with Cesare's lobster risotto, which is on his new tasting menu. And any of his dishes with the creamy sea-urchin sauce with the Italian Chardonnay made by Lageder from the Lowengang Vineyard.
10/06 update: Kathryn Morgan is now the sommelier at 2941 restaurant.