Inspired by an era in New Zealand when adventure and discovery blossomed, The Musket Room brings the spirit of New Zealand to the diverse Nolita neighborhood of Manhattan. Chef and Co-Owner Matt Lambert, a New Zealand native, draws upon his upbringing and home country’s cooking at the Michelin star-rated restaurant to create delicious dishes and, of course, share the best wines New Zealand has to offer. We caught up with The Musket Room’s Sommelier Debbie Jones to learn more about their wine selection process, and how Coravin helps them to deliver the very best experience.
Coravin: You are a sommelier at Michelin-star rated The Musket Room in New York City. Describe what New Zealand cuisine is for some of us who may not know.
Debbie Jones: New Zealand cuisine has lots of layers. The Musket Room New Zealand cuisine is in the moment of the hunter and gatherer; if you will the time of the musket. We try to use seasonal ingredients as much as possible, normally also have a game driven menu. For example, quail and New Zealand red deer are currently on our menu. There is a very distinct cooking technique used in New Zealand called Hāngi. The Hāngi is a traditional way of cooking by the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, this method uses a pit dug into the earth then covering the food with more earth and hot rocks. This created a fantastic smokiness in the food. We unfortunately do not have a pit in Manhattan to cook in; however, we replicate this traditional cooking technique using a smoker filled with local soil as the pit. Currently we have a Hāngi potato as part of our long story tasting menu. As a part of the hunter and gatherer total utilization we then use the Hāngi potatoe skins in our house made sour dough bread.
C: The Nolita neighborhood in New York is heavily influenced by Italian culture, and cuisine is no different. What is the experience The Musket Room tries to convey to every diner that steps in the space that’s unique from other restaurants in the neighborhood.
DJ: Yes, Nolita (North of Little Italy) is a neighborhood that is heavily influenced by Italian culture. Being a New Zealand restaurant in an Italian neighborhood we stand out naturally. Actually a lot of our diners are from New Zealand or Australia or have visited New Zealand. They dine with us to remember great memories from New Zealand. The Musket Room is also sometimes viewed as a destinational restaurant. As it is the only Michelin-star rated New Zealand restaurant in New York City and possibly the world. We like to think of our dining room and garden as a hidden gem or oasis in a very densely populated, high traffic area.
C: As it’s such a unique cuisine, how do you determine which wines you serve?
DJ: There is a saying in the restaurant industry “what grows together goes together”. This is why 75% of our wine list is from New Zealand. There is some amazing New Zealand wine being made, and we try to represent it as best as possible. We also place a large importance on sustainability, organic, and biodynamic practicing wineries while our chefs procure food with the same focus. About 98% of New Zealand wineries are sustainable and a lot go beyond into organics and biodynamics as well.
C: What drew you to the world of wine and where did you get your start?
DJ: I was exposed to the world of wine in college at The Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York. I was in the Associate’s Degree program and one of the classes was a three week long intensified world of wine. Before taking this wine class, I had zero knowledge of wine; my parents did not consume alcohol when I was growing up. This was a very difficult class, at the time. However, I am a person who has always loved changes. Before this wine class I had spent my childhood and so on in the kitchen. It was really the wine classes at CIA that really changed my mind from always being in the kitchen to now being in the front of house. After graduating with my bachelors degree I was young and looked even younger. I was told by managers because of my looks I would not be promoted to the positions that I saw myself having. I started down the path of the Court of Master Sommelier (CMS) and the Wine Spirits Education Trust (WSET) I knew because I looked very young I had to have more crudetional on my resume. I now am now a Certified Sommelier with the CMS and have my Diploma with the WSET.
C: What’s your favorite bottle of wine you’ve offered at The Musket Room and why?
DJ: This is a very difficult question to answer. I have three favorites. Bell Hill Pinot Noir 2012 from North Canterbury, New Zealand. This wine is very elegant and expressive of the limestone soil. Marcel and Sherwyn the owners of Bell Hill produce small quantities of wine and hold back vintaged until they are ready to be released. My second favorite would be Craggy Range ‘Le Sol’ Syrah 2015 from Gimblett Gravels in Hawke’s Bay. When people think of New Zealand wine they probably do not think of Syrah. Craggy Range ‘Le Sol’ Syrah is a wine with layers and complexity. Wonderful earth, jammy dark fruits, spicy black pepper, and tobacco, cedar notes. My third favorite is not from New Zealand, 25% of the wines on our list is from all around the world. Andrea Clouet Brut Rose, 100% Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru of Bouzy. This rose has been my favorite Champagne for a few years now. Full and rich very expressive of Bouzy.
C: If you had to choose, which would you say is your favorite New Zealand varietal?
DJ: I have had a crush on the varietal Riesling. In general Riesling is a grape varietal that pairs really well with food. The Riesling produced in New Zealand is off-dry, high acidity and very anomatic. One great producer from New Zealand would be Rippon ‘Mature Vine’ Riesling 2016 from Central Otago. Currently Rippon Riesling is on our Coravin reserve by the glass list.
C: The restaurant business is always evolving. What do you think the role of the Sommelier will be in the next 5-10 years?
DJ: The role of the Sommelier will stay mainly the same. We assist the guest in selecting a wine based on the guest preferences: price, flavor characteristics of wine, possibly specific grape variety, and region of the world. We have to be knowledgeable of wines around the world and related what the guess is looking for with a wine that is currently on the wine list and perform the wine service. I do however think the dialogue might be more focused even more on organic, sustainable, biodynamic, and non-interventional winemaking practices. I also think the conversation will be related to climate change, how this will affect certain areas of the world, how will winemakers adapt, and how we can best support our winemakers and suppliers
C: How do you use Coravin in your business or how has it changed your view on wine?
DJ: The Musket Room is a smaller restaurant, we use the Coravin to offer premium wines on our wine pairings and also on our reserve by the glass list. Some wine after being open for a few hours change characteristics. Sometimes the wine opening up is a positive change, however in other wines it is not. The Coravin system really helped us create a reserve by the glass list to offer premium New Zealand wines. We released the Coravin list at the beginning of September, in the past few month guest have really enjoyed the different wines we have. Also, some guests only want a glass of wine not a full bottle over dinner. The Coravin system allows us to offer guests a three ounce pour or a five ounce pour. Three ounce pours give our guests a great opportunity to really explore our New Zealand wine selection and offers them another alternative for a premium New Zealand wine pairing as well. Most New Zealand wine uses a Stelvin closure, using the Coravin Stelvin closer for these wines has had a great effect on our guests and our program; as they have more options to choose from.
Are you a lover of New Zealand Wine? Or, have you been to the Musket Room? We want to know! Share your thoughts on social by tagging @Coravin or @MusketRoom on Instagram or Twitter, and @TheMusketRoom on Facebook.