Manuel Nieves by He Is Legend


									                            Manuel Nieves
                              Ballantine, Cleveland

                                                                                                                     Photos by Laura Misch
  4113 Erie St.
                                    Manuel Nieves is a sommelier with a
  Willoughby, OH 44094
  (440) 942-5151
                                    soft spot for salsa music.
                                        But that’s only one of the attributes that set him apart from the stereo-
                                   typical wine professional. He’s also of Puerto Rican descent, and at the
                                   relatively young age of 35, he’s already had the opportunity to create and
                                   manage million-dollar-plus wine inventories.
                                        After stints at white-tablecloth venues in South Florida and New York,
                                   Nieves has traded in his suits and tuxedos for khakis and golf shirts. He’s
                                    currently the General Manager and wine guy in residence at Ballantine,
                                   Chef Kurt Steeber’s gastropub, which opened in June in a Cleveland suburb.
                                   “We’re a fine-dining restaurant disguised as a bar,” he says, “with a large
                                    and eclectic selection of European and boutique beers on tap.” In keeping
                                   with the casual atmosphere, he wanted the wine list to be accessible rather
                                   than intimidating. Manny, as he’s known to his friends and Ballantine’s
                                    customers, decided to focus on New World wines, putting together a col-
                                   lection of high-quality, affordable, and lesser-known appellations, varietals,
                                    and labels, most costing between $20 and $56 by the bottle.
                                       “Just the fact that patrons are familiar with Napa Valley and can pro-
                                   nounce vineyard names like Frog’s Leap and Chimney Rock makes it ap-
                                   proachable,” Nieves says. “And I believe you sell more wine if prices are fair,
                                   reflecting minimal markups.”
                                        To “test drive” new selections, Nieves creates a short menu of featured
                                   wines each week. Those that do well are added to the regular list. With
                                   the exception of sparkling wines and a few costlier whites and reds, every-
                                   thing is available by the glass to encourage sampling. For the same reason,
                                   Nieves periodically promotes suggested flights.
                                        His interest in wine started with his first sip of the 1990 Château
                                   Latour. That was a “wow” moment that prompted a desire to know—and

40 Preview Issue     2007
                                                                                     SOMMELIER SPOTLIGHT

                                            sample wine lis t


                  Chardonnay, Eric Ross Winery, Russian River Valley 2005
                  Viognier, Garretson Wine Company "The Saothar," Paso Robles 2005
             gl                                       Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma 2004
                                                      Meritage, Cain Cuvee, California 4th NV
 56 Bottle                                            Pinot Noir, Taz "Fiddlestix," Santa Rita Hills 2004


                  Chardonnay, Talley Vineyards, Carneros-Napa 2005               Dessert
                  Pinot Gris, Ancien, Carneros 2006                              Ferrante Ice Wine, Grand River Valley, Ohio 2005
             gl                                       Zinfandel, Frog's Leap, Napa Valley 2005
                                                      Merlot, Rutherford Hill, Napa Valley 2003
 48 Bottle                                            Pinot Noir, Amisfield, New Zealand 2004


                  Chardonnay, Meerlust, South Africa 2003
                  Fume Blanc, Chimney Rock, Napa 2005                            Dessert
                  Pinot Grigio, Terlato Family Vineyards, California 2005        Bonny Doon, Viognier Doux, California 2004
             gl                                       Red
                                                      Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonn Ano, Napa Valley 2004
 40 Bottle                                            Merlot, Parcel 41, Napa Valley 2004


                  Viognier, Castle Rock, Lake County 2005
                  White Blend, Folie a Deux "Menage a Trois," CA 2005            Dessert
                  Sauvignon Blanc, Mason Cellars, Napa Valley 2005               Port, Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Tawny, Portugal
       gl                                             Red
                                                      Zinfandel, Plungerhead Old Vine, Dry Creek CA 2005
 36 Bottle                                            Shiraz, Houghton, Western Australia 2004


                  White Blend, Evolution, Sokol Blosser, Oregon NV               Dessert
                  Chenin Blanc, Vinum Cellars "Chard No Way," CA 2005            Port, Grahams "Six Grapes," Portugal
                  Riesling, Peter Lehman, Eden Valley 2005
       gl                                             Red
                                                      Cabernet Sauvignon, Kilikanoon Killerman's Run, Australia 2002
 28 Bottle                                            Malbec, Los Alamos, Argentina 2006

                  Pinot Gris, Debonne, Ohio 2005
                  Pinot Blanc, Valley of the Moon, Sonoma 2005
       gl                                             Red
                                                      Syrah, Tortoise Creek, Vin du Pays, France 2005
 20 Bottle                                            Bordeaux Blend, Viña La Playa Claret, Chile 2004
                          Rosé Champagne, Nicolas Feuillate Brut Rose, E pernay                                   1/2 Bottle     48
                          Sparkling Wine, Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, Napa                                       1/2 Bottle     33
                          Sparkling Wine, Niebaum-Coppola Sofia, California, .187 mini-cans                       1/4 Bottle      8
                                                                                 Compromises are for relationships, not wine.

                          White                                                                    - Sir Robert Scott Caywood

                  Chardonnay, Mer Soleil Silver, Monterey 2006              70
                  Chardonnay, Ramey, Russian River Valley 2005              72
                  Chardonnay, Far Niente, Napa Valley 2005                  95

                                    Cabernet Sauvignon, Opus One, Napa Valley, 2003                               1/2 Bottle    150
                                    Cabernet Sauvignon, Frog's Leap, Napa Valley, 2004                            1/2 Bottle     40
                                    Cabernet Sauvignon, Silver Oak, Alexander Valley 2002                                       117
                                    Cabernet Sauvignon, Far Niente, Napa Valley 2004                                            208
                                    Red Blend, Cloud View, Pritchard Hill Napa, California 2003                                 117
                                    Merlot, Swanson, Oakville 2003                                                               60

                                                                                                                                      Sommelier Journal 41
  sommelier spotlight
                              taste—more. Nieves read voraciously, asked              take it off the list until I can get another.”
                               questions relentlessly, and drank as much good               A valued resource for matching food and wine
                              wine as his money could buy. The discovery that          has been a book called Culinary Artistry by An-
                               he could parlay this passion into a paying profes-      drew Dornenburg and Karen Page (Wiley, 1996).
                               sion further fueled his pursuit. Along the way,        “I try to avoid cookie-cutter pairings,” Nieves says.
                               he discovered that he was gifted with a sensitive      “Something sweet, like a Sauternes for example,
                              palate and nose.                                        is usually recommended for foie gras. But I’d go
                                    “I’m very aware of smells and flavors, and        with a Pinot Noir, perhaps a 1994 Louis Jadot
                               have what I’d guess you’d call a knack for asso-        Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St. Jacques. It can take
                               ciating them with specific descriptors,” he says.       some convincing to get people to try this, but once
                              “Stemmy,” “inky,” and “wet dog” all mean some-          they do, everyone loves it.” He also likes Pinot
                              thing particular to him. “I don’t just get citrus,      with duck, and has lately been suggesting Amis-
                              I pick up lemon rind or unripe lime. There’s no         field, an up-and-coming winery in Central Otago,
                               such thing as berry—there’s raspberry, stewed          New Zealand.
                               cherry, red currant.” Nieves makes a conscious               To determine his patrons’ preferences and
                               effort to pay attention to aromas, whether in the      price points, he asks them to name the last
                               kitchen, at the table, in a grocery store, or in a      good wine they had in a restaurant. “Then I
                              barn, and to sample everything edible. After             say, if you liked that, I think you’ll like this, and
                               coaching in Palm Beach with Virginia Philip,           they usually do. If it’s less expensive, even bet-
                               one of the few female Master Sommeliers in the         ter.” Sometimes he’s standing at the table when
                               country, he’ll put his tasting skills to the test by    guests experience their own “wow” moment.
                               sitting for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Ad-        When that happens, Manny Nieves is one happy
                              vanced exam next spring.                                 salsa-loving sommelier.
                                    The combination of ability and enthusiasm
                               has allowed Nieves to build an impressive re-
                               sume in a relatively short period. His first job                    five favorites
                               as a sommelier in the United States was at the
                              Florentine Dining Room in The Breakers Palm
                              Beach. By 2000, when he moved to City Cellar               Frog’s Leap Zinfandel, Napa Valley
                              Wine Bar and Grill, he was ready to put together              Every vintage is outstanding. No bet-
                                                                                            ter Zin on the planet for the money.
                               a 6,000-bottle cellar that was among the largest
                               and best in the West Palm Beach area. He wrote
                                                                                         Huber Grüner Veltliner
                               a description for each wine, and he also matched
                              menus with appropriate wines for each of the               Obere Steigen Hugo, Austria
                                                                                            Easy drinking and a fantastic alterna-
                              parent company’s seven locations. Subsequent
                                                                                            tive to Pinot Grigio. For less than $10,
                               stops in South Florida included Zoë’s in Naples              I can recommend it to the world.
                               and Table 8 at The Regent in Miami.
                                    In 2003, Nieves was recruited by Classics            Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc,
                              in Cleveland, the AAA Five Diamond restaurant              South Africa
                              in the InterContinental Hotel, to be sommelier                Light and dry, but a generous amount of
                               and manager (the restaurant closed in 2006).                 light citrus makes it a hit in my lineup.
                              He was given a wine budget of $1 million, and
                               he says, “Eventually my list had 1,700 selections         Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon,
                              that ranged from an $18 South African red blend            Napa Valley
                              to a $62,000 Château Pétrus, which I sold.”                   One of the classic Napa Cabs—a big red
                                    When building a list, Nieves looks for a mix            wine with lots of red cherry, tobacco, and
                               of price, producer, and style. His goal is to find           currant. A bit pricey, but worth every penny.
                              the best bottles available for the money, from the
  Laura Taxel, author of       low end to the high, that partner well with what’s        Conundrum, California
                               coming out of the kitchen. “A list needs diversity           A wine for all occasions, this blend of
  Cleveland Ethnic Eats
                               and depth, not just flash,” he says. His policy is           Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Sémillon,
  and Editor of Cleveland’s                                                                 Chardonnay, and Muscat has all the aro-
  Feast! Magazine, has        to buy at least two of everything. “If a guest re-            matics of the Viognier, but it’s as dry as
  been writing about food      quests a second bottle that I can’t supply, it ruins         any Chardonnay and ultra-fruity.
  and drink for 25 years.     the evening. When I only have a single one left, I

42 Preview Issue      2007

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