West Loop Italian Restaurant Formento's Has A New Sommelier

By John Lenart in Food on Jun 2, 2016 2:31PM

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When Formento's opened a year and a half ago, Steve Morgan introduced a tome like list of 650 wines, which he painstakingly assembled over a period of months after leaving his post at Alinea. But sometimes, no matter how hard it is, we have to let our favorite children go.

Steve Morgan (one of our 2014 Buzz Worthy Somms) is departing Formento's and taking the position of Midwest regional manager with the importer The Sorting Table.

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Photo Courtesy Formento's
When asked why he chose to leave his baby behind, Morgan told Chicagoist, “I wanted to focus more on building the wine community in Chicago and felt this position is a truly amazing opportunity to let me do that, but also to work with a portfolio that includes Dujac, Dugat-Py, Bernard Moreau, and more; they're all producers I love. So it was an unbelievable opportunity for me to go deeper.”

And while the choice to move on was a difficult one for him, the principles at B Hospitality weren't ready to let him leave without his input in choosing the right person to take over this important wine list.

Well they didn't have to look far, because after discussing the opportunity with several somms, it was evident that the right choice was Jen Schmitt (one of our 2015 Buzz Worthy Somms) from Everest.

“It is a great opportunity knowing someone would reach out and say, 'I'm comfortable with offering you my position, which is something I built form the ground up, and is my baby,' and it was very humbling to be among the somms in the city that Steve felt comfortable offering that opportunity to,” Schmitt tells us.

While still connected to his list, Morgan admits that every time a new somm takes over a list they must add something of themselves to it. “I've been really fortunate to have worked in really great restaurants where I've gotten to leave an imprint on the wine lists. I'm excited to see where this list goes,” says Morgan.

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Photo Courtesy Jen Schmitt
After working for four years at Everest, a list that, while diverse, admittedly has a French focus, Schmitt is looking forward to some things.

“To get to be a little more outside the box with wine is a great opportunity to have some fun and to still be able to direct and be true to the wine styles that I enjoy and am passionate about,” she said.

So what exactly can guests look forward to? Schmitt says, “I will be bringing a little bit of myself into the list. I'd like to bring in my point of view on chardonnay, maybe try to bring in some older vintages, and fill out what Steve has done such a fantastic job of building.”

She said leaving Everest, where she's worked for four years, is "bittersweet."

"I did move here from Seattle for the position," she said. "I've learned an extreme amount from the floor. And Chef Joho is an icon in Chicago, and to learn from such an important chef in Chicago dining has been exciting. I'm going to miss him and all of my coworkers.”

As we discussed her new position, one of the most intriguing aspects of the move is that she is joining a newly assembled team. Chef Stephen Wambach's new Southern Italian-inspired menu will be rolling out soon, and new bar director Christina DeLucca, formerly of Maple and Ash's opening team, will provide her take on cocktails for Wambach's menus. That team is rounded out with the addition of new assistant somm Alex Augustine, filling in the position vacated by Leslie LaRue LaMont. Add the skills of Schmitt to this list and it's a bold recipe that you should look forward to checking out.

Morgan departs June 11 and promises some sick by-the-glass and Champagne specials in his last few weeks. So be sure to spin by and check those out. Even after he departs though, his presence will remain. Schmitt is bringing on a wine Morgan helped make, Table Music pinot noir, produced and bottled by Brooks Wines in Oregon.