Let’s be honest: nothing quite beats an exquisite glass of wine alongside a fine meal at NYC’s most iconic dining establishments. We sat down with Le Bilboquet’s resident wine expert Craig Pogson for an inside look at how to make the most of 60th Street’s hottest reservation.
LA: Tell us a bit about yourself.
CP: I'm a forty-five year old Scotsman. My first career was as a sommelier at the famed GIeneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland, where I reached the position of Head Sommelier by the age of twenty. I first moved to New York in 1992 and stayed for twelve years, where I was the Maitre D'Hôtel at La Goulue...I then moved to London to pursue another love, which was bespoke clothing. I created, owned, and ran Pogson & Davis Bespoke Clothiers in Mayfair, which was great fun and very successful. I then moved back to NY one and a half years ago to join the Le Bilboquet management team.
LA: What was the moment that inspired you to go into the wine industry?
CP: I had a wonderful teacher of wine while at Gleneagles.
LA: Having been a Master Sommelier in the nineties, how have you seen the industry change between then and now?
CP: I think the greatest change is size of the industry today. There are so many new wines from all over the world. To produce a wine which is superb takes a great deal of skill and effort, and I guess you need some luck with mother nature. The fun and interesting challenge today is finding wines which firstly suit your own individual palate, and secondly, wines that represent great value.
With this, I guess that the learning curve on what you discover that you like and dislike is the most fun (and best bit). My advice is to take the practical route first in tasting wines with someone who can teach you at least the basics. Many Americans are extremely well-versed in knowledge from books, and yet seem to lose the whole point, which is simply to just enjoy a glass of great wine or two.
LA: What are some of the biggest differences between wine culture in the UK and that of NYC?
CP: I guess the best answer is above. Oh, and the Brits make an occasion of dining -- it’s about embracing the whole afternoon or evening, and regularly, both combined!!
LA: Describe your vision for the wine program at Le Bilboquet.
CP: My biggest shock upon returning to the restaurant industry is the cost of wine in restaurants. What has happened is very sad and not at all the restaurateurs’ fault. New York real estate is, as we all know, very expensive indeed. With this though, I am in the process of changing the "mark-up strategy". Our best customers drink the world’s best wines at home, and yet when the visit any restaurant, they are faced with colossal mark-ups. I feel that we can easily entertain all parties with fair pricing on the finest wines. Essentially what I am saying is that the more you spend, the more you save! Win-win, right?
LA: On the current wine list, what are some of your favorites? Why do they stand out?
CP: I believe every wine we list is great, otherwise I would not have listed it, right? We all have differing palates. What I love is to engage with our guests and see what kind of journey they wish to take. By far and away, my favorite part of this job is to get our clientele excited about taking the eternal wine journey further and further.
LA: You’re stranded on a desert island, and you can bring one bottle of your choosing. What do you bring? (This island has ice for chilling, not to worry)
CP: Without complicating things with rhetorical questions before I decide, I guess I'll go for the 1947 Chateau D'Yquem.
LA: As far as pairings go, what are some of your go-to combinations with the kitchen’s current dishes?
CP: Now before I answer this, and with reference to that Chateau d'Yquem, the most amazing wine and food pairing I have ever experienced was at Gleneagles Hotel with Jancis Robinson. One afternoon at the end of luncheon, she politely instructed us to pop a chunk of the finest (unpasteurised) Stilton cheese from England in our mouths, followed by the d'Yquem. I don't think anyone there had any expectations of wonderment, (excluding d'Yquem's owner who was present) but alas, to this day, it was the most amazing palatal experience of my life, and I highly recommend it.
I take a different approach to most here. There are certainly food and wine combinations that do not work, but being honest to your own individual and personal likes in wine makes much more sense to me. It is also much more about a few other things; the people you are dining with, the time of year, your mood, and so on.
Now with this, I certainly do have some great pairings of wine to embrace to the full with all of our dishes. I offer you a few examples, and look forward to interesting conversations with anyone wishing to join the fun at Le Bilboquet.
The rich and intense flavors of our salmon tartare and the smooth and elegant power of a quality white Burgundy really do make a super start to a delicious meal.
HOMEMADE FOIE GRAS TERRINE
The classic winner here for me will always be a glass (or two) of Sauternes, which is a dessert wine from the Bordeaux wine region. We always have several delicious examples to taste and enjoy by either the glass, half bottles, or full bottles. May I offer a valuable tip regarding Sauternes? I always personally purchase Sauternes in half bottles, as they age the best in this format.
As a classic bistro dish, embracing 'bistro' is the way to go. Sauvignon Blanc is a winner with our version, and any of our Loire Valley offerings are fab with it. Either the yummy Sancerre made by Xavier Flouret, or either of the two slightly bigger brothers, our Pouilly-Fumé made by Jean Claude Dagueneau, or the 'Rolls Royce' of Pouilly-Fumé, the famed 'Baron de L.'
CAJUN CHICKEN (This is by far and away our most popular dish)
A powerful Chardonnay from either Burgundy or California marries really well here. I personally would pop open a Kistler Les Noisetiers, and leave it off the ice after opening. This will open the wine up and offer true honesty in the glass, which I assure you is about as good as it gets.
SHORT RIBS OF BOEUF BOURGUIGNON WITH PURÉED POTATO
This is a big boy’s dish (also my favorite winter offering), and requires a suitable wine to balance the intense flavors. One of our many Bordeaux wines here is the correct direction. It needs a wine with healthy tannins to get the most from both. A fun conversation to help in finding the perfect choice can be the only honest answer.
One of our yummy Californian Cabernet Sauvignons -- fine wines from the "New World" really do go well together with most chocolate dishes.
LA: Name some of your favorite restaurant wine lists in NYC, outside of Le Bilboquet.
CP: Charlie Bird, Rebelle, and Wallflower. All super and very interesting.
LA: What was the most defining moment in your career thus far?
CP: Working at The Gleneagles Hotel, there was annually a very special wine weekend which was hosted by Jancis Robinson, who is one of the world’s leading Masters of Wine. The world’s very best wine makers also came and presented all of their favourite wines. I cannot describe how amazing these weekends were as a young and inspired sommelier.
Take a personal wine journey with Craig -- contact your Attaché for reservations.