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The 10 Most Buzz-worthy Sommeliers In Chicago Of 2015

By John Lenart in Food on Nov 5, 2015 5:27PM

Mark Wrobel Photo Credit: Grant Kessler

Last year we debuted our annual list of the ten Most Buzz-worthy Sommeliers. Since then, members of that class have gone on to some serious buzz-generating roles. Kelly Peterson Bates was named Head Sommelier of Alpana Singh's The Boarding House. Steve Morgan has put together one of Chicago's most intriguing (if not biggest) wine lists at Formento's. Andrew Algren has moved on from Alinea to one of the year's most talked about openings, Chicago Athletic Association, and Patti Robison has left Chicago to work with one of the country's best Italian wine lists at SPQR in San Francisco.

As Chicago's sommelier community continues to grow, both in numbers and quality, we faced a challenging task in selecting this year's list. But we've narrowed it down to these ten somms. Some are early in their careers, others have years of experience, yet aren't as talked about as some of the star somms in town. But if, like last year, we are right, you'll be talking about these wine pros soon.

We present our 2015 list of the Top 10 Buzz-worthy Sommeliers:
(Presented in alphabetical order by last name)

Carlos Diaz - Acadia

Job Title: Beverage Director/Sommelier.
Years of Experience: Three.
Certifications: Certified Sommelier with CMS and Recipient of the Walter Clore Scholarship (for the highest score on the exam).
Job Responsibilities: Wine purchasing, staff training, pairings for two tasting menus (five and ten course). He also works on the floor during service and improving/evolving the wine list.
Areas of Strength:  Italy, France, service.
Why he is Buzz-worthy: Working his way up through the industry, Carlos spent time at Acadia before mastering the craft of wine.  Now, he has returned to run the wine and beverage program. According to Chef Ryan McCaskey, “Carlos' global approach and disciplined philosophy of pairing wine to food falls in line with everything we strive for at Acadia.  His pairings are unexpected because he is across the board matching traditional with the unusual.”

Miranda Elliot - Maple and Ash

Job Title: Wine Team at Maple & Ash.
Years of Experience: Five.
Certifications: Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers).
Job Responsibilities: Assists Sommelier Belinda Chang in all areas of the wine program, from wine list writing to purchasing, staff education and service.
Areas of Strength: Deep knowledge of not just the single vineyards of Burgundy but also how to deliver the highest level of service to wine novices and serious collectors alike in a busy new restaurant.
Why she is Buzz-worthy: According to Director of Wine and Spirits Belinda Chang, “Miranda is a rare example of a young sommelier who understands and truly loves all parts of the profession / job of being a sommelier. Every part, from the required study of laws and regions to hours with excel spreadsheets. From table side consultations to the team clearing of plates in service! I interviewed dozens of candidates for the team here (and have interviewed hundreds of aspiring sommeliers around the world) and she was and is a standout for her passion for wine balanced with the love of service and her professionalism.”

Photo Via Diana Hawkins Facebook Page
Diana Hawkins - Lula Cafe

Job Title: Beverage Director and Sommelier.
Years of Experience: Six.
Certifications: Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers).
Job Responsibilities: Wine list, cocktail list and beverage program management for “superbusyafteralltheseyears” Lula.
Areas of Strength: Choosing wines with a story.  With a purpose.  With a true “touch.”  She loves wines from producers who started as artists, or architects, or doctors, and then kind of rediscovered themselves and their purposes in wine.  She loves creative minds and the wines they invent.     
Why she is Buzz-worthy: According to Lula Cafe Owner Jason Hammel, “Diana is wicked smart, dryly funny, curious and yet somehow so very down to earth and approachable. Diana is as complex as the wines she loves to celebrate. Her astute and exacting mind was captivating from the start.”

Leslie LaRue LaMont - Formento's

Job Title: Sommelier/Manager. 
Years of Experience: Five
Certifications: Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers).
Job Responsibilities: Floor sommelier, assisting in receiving, cellar organization and day to day maintenance of the wine program. Leslie runs the bar program as well. 
Areas of Strength: Italy and America.  
Why she is Buzz-worthy: According to Manager/Wine Director Steve Morgan, “Leslie has an amazing heart.  It comes across in her joy in interacting with guests and in her love of finding the right bottle of wine for her guests. Though she is a great sales person, the goal is never about the sale.   She sets guests at ease by making wine lighter, and not as serious. She is passionate and works hard before the shift to make it look easy when dinner service starts. She wants to learn all the right steps so she can do the job right, which is rarer and rarer in the sommelier community.”

Hunter Logan - Vin Chicago

Hunter Logan. Photo Courtesy of Vin Chicago

Job Title: Assistant Manager, Vin Chicago.
Years of Experience: Three.
Certifications: Certified Sommelier, (Court of Master Sommeliers).
Job Responsibilities: Customer Service Specialist, General Store Operations. Member of store tasting team with a specialty for seeking out unique wines that are off the beaten path.
Areas of Strength: A well-rounded knowledge of the world's major wine regions with a particular passion for small, family-owned wineries throughout southern France, Northern Italy, Spain and Oregon that practice organic/biodynamic farming and natural wine-making techniques. 
Why he is Buzz-worthy: According to Vin Chicago Manager Michael Matonte, “Hunter is one of the most humble, sincere and approachable sommeliers you will meet, and his passion for wine is evident immediately after striking up a conversation with him. Although Vin Chicago is a retail store, we use all of the same skills that somms working on dining room floors use except, obviously, for table-side service. We pride ourselves on making wine fun and approachable for our customers while offering honest and accurate information when recommending wines in all styles and price-points. Hunter excels in these skills, whether he is helping a guest that is brand new to wine, an experienced connoisseur, or a fellow somm who's looking for something new and exciting. Customers planning dinner parties, or headed to BYOB spots, receive great wine pairing recommendations from Hunter that are sure to be both delicious and adventurous!”

Amy Lutchen. Photo Courtesy of Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse
Amy Lutchen - Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse

Job Title: Sommelier.
Years of Experience: Four.
Certifications: Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers).
Job Responsibilities: Floor sales and hospitality, also assists Wine Director with inventory and staff education.
Areas of Strength: California, France and Italy.
Why she is Buzz-worthy: According to Del Frisco's Chicago Wine Director Mike Taylor, “Amy brings and adds a dynamic personality and salesmanship to the Del Frisco's team of somms.  She travels extensively, both domestically and internationally, to study the worlds wine regions and to represent the Chicago beverage industry at wineries and vineyards. Her travels have brought her to the harvests in the state of Washington, California and the south of France.”

Alex Ring - Spiaggia

Alex Ring. Photo courtesy of Spiaggia

Job Title: Sommelier.
Years of Experience: Three.
Certifications: Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers).
Job Responsibilities: Helping guests navigate our extensive wine list and pairings on a daily basis, maintaining cellar and storage area, assisting with inventory and wine list maintenance. 
Areas of Strength: Wine knowledge, works amazingly well with guests and co-workers, thorough and thoughtful, driven and passionate. 
Why he is Buzz-worthy: According to Spiaggia Sommelier and Beverage Director Rachael Lowe, “Alex is an incredibly knowledgeable Sommelier; he is passionate about all wine, active in always learning more and great at applying said knowledge towards his guests and service standards. We are lucky to have him on our team here at Spiaggia and benefit daily from his talents, as do our guests!”

Jennifer Schmitt. Photo Courtesy of Anjali Pinto
Jennifer Schmitt - Everest

Job Title: Sommelier.  
Years of Experience: Seven.
Certifications: Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers).
Job Responsibilities: Purchasing, maintaining cellar, inventory, floor sales,  pairing and staff training. 
Areas of Strength: Classic French Regions, with an emphasis on wines of Alsace.  
Why she is Buzz-worthy: According to Chef/proprietor J. Joho "Jennifer has a great depth of intuition that she brings to Everest. She is an expert at reading our guests and determining what they are looking for to complement their dining experience with us. Whether it's a bottle from one of the classic regions of Europe, something newer from America, or one of my favorites from Alsace-- of which we have the largest collection in the world-- Jennifer always goes beyond expectations to create a true fine dining experience, which is the cornerstone of hospitality."

Mark Wrobel - Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine

Job Title: Wine Buyer, Head Beverage Buyer & Educator. 
Years of Experience: Ten.
Certifications: None.
Job Responsibilities: Selecting and purchasing wines for all Pastoral locations, staff education.
Areas of Strength: He has an intuitive palate and a true appreciation for the producer, which is totally in line with Pastoral's concept. 
Why he is Buzz-worthy: According to Greg O'Neill Co-Owner and Founder of Pastoral, “Mark believes in supporting small, family owned wineries who practice sustainable viticulture, whether it be natural, organic, bio-dynamic and other sustainable practices/designations. Mark also really ‘gets’ the context of wine in the world of cheese, charcuterie and related cuisine and therefore selects wines that particularly play well in this sandbox.”

Jill Zimorski - Alinea

Job Title: Alinea Sommelier.
Years of Experience: Ten.
Certifications: Zimorski is on the faculty of the Washington Wine Academy. She’s also a member of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, the Society of Wine Educators, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, and is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers).
Job Responsibilities: Does the overall management of the wine cellar with special emphasis on what areas need bulking or pruning, wine list organization and printing, staff education, and direct liaison between the Kitchen and the Wine Team.
Areas of Strength: Education, education, education! This is Jill's favorite area of wine. She loves learning and she loves teaching. That combination benefits not just her, but the entire team, and ultimately guests. Her deep knowledge allows her to be relaxed and disarming when it comes to wine service so that the guest is able to feel good about whatever direction they go.
Why she is Buzz-worthy: She is new on the Chicago scene, but brings a nationally respected reputation and is just another reason why Chicago is becoming better known as a wine lover stop of choice.