Tableside with a Somm: Eastern Standard

Curious about restaurant wine lists? Each month, Boston Globe wine columnist Ellen Bhang chats with a sommelier about a couple of terrific bottles and recommends food pairings—you come away a savvier sipper. 

As a teenager growing up in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Nick Moreland worked as a busboy at a nearby cafe and relished every moment. “I fell in love with the hustle and bustle,” he says. “It was the people-to-people connection. I liked how it could be so simple to make someone’s day. I was attracted to the emotion of it.”

What was true then is true now. On a recent night, Moreland—now wine and beer director of Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square—made his way through a packed dining room, a bottle of Champagne in one hand and a ceremonial blade in the other. His mission was to saber the bubbly for a birthday celebration of a long-time regular. Mid-stride, a server intercepted him, letting him know that a couple wanted his help selecting an orange wine from the list. Not missing a beat, Moreland arrived on the patio, positioned the sword flush with the bottle’s neck, then sheared off the cork in one swift forward motion. Guests “oohed” and “ahhed” over the froth spattering the ground, while a wedding party from the adjoining hotel descended on the bar. “They were crushing Bud Lights and sodas,” he recalls. “Then I went to that table to talk orange wine.”

The wine pro is quick to give props to people who shaped his career. “I credit everything I’ve learned to my mentors,” he says, naming Colleen Holden and Matt Whitney, both former wine directors of the restaurant, as well as general manager Andrew Holden. They cultivated his skills—first as a barback, then as a bartender—while he was a still a student at Northeastern University, majoring in business management and human resources. He later progressed to floor manager. The trio also encouraged him to pursue the Certificate Program in Wine Studies at Boston University. “I knew this would be a company where my level of investment would be met, if not exceeded,” he says.

Today, he curates a 150-bottle list that’s largely French in focus. Twenty selections are also on offer by the glass. One wine he loves talking about is a 2016 Bourgogne Blanc from Benoit Ente. Moreland calls the winemaker a “rock star producer.” The white Burgundy pairs winningly with chef de cuisine Matt Garland’s Pumpkin Agnolotti. Plump pillows of semolina pasta are stuffed with the roasted squash, sauced with brown butter, and garnished with ricotta salata, fresh sage, and pan-fried chestnuts. “It’s very decadent and autumnal,” says the somm. The wine, which he describes as “linear and precise,” matches the weight of the dish and combats its richness.

Also on the menu is a Warm Ricotta Tart. The creamy cheese is piped into crisp puff pastry, which comes nestled on arugula that’s simply dressed with olive oil and lemon. Button mushrooms, cooked with sherry vinegar and thyme, smother the warm pastry. With the dish, Moreland recommends a supple French red crafted by winemaker Daniel Bouland: A 2016 Beaujolais Cru, from the village of Morgon, that positions “Corcelette” at the top of the label. The name refers to a prestigious vineyard from which grapes hail. Cru-level wine is a far cry from the youthful Beaujolais Nouveau style that many associate with the namesake region.“It’s got a soft and pleasant mouth-feel, but a lot of dark fruit and violet flowers,” he says. “It’s a suave wine that doesn’t overpower.”

The somm delights in making wine accessible to everyone. “Humility and wine often do not go hand in hand,” he acknowledges. “Removing the tension between [guests] and those of us who know about wine is so important. Pretension is not what wine is about.”

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