Tableside with a Somm: Pammy's

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. 

Where others might timidly put a toe in the water, Lauren Hayes dives right in. “I’ve always been determined and hardworking,” she says. “It’s sink or swim, and I love to swim!”

Hayes, the general manager and wine director of Pammy’s in Cambridge, is describing how she forged a career in wine and food. But the native of Norton, Massachusetts, could easily be talking about her approach to life. Undaunted by the next challenge, she’s animated by a sense of discovery and play. On days off, you might find her in the Maine woods, foraging for mushrooms. “My hiking is very snack-motivated,” she quips. “I’m queen of the one-day adventure.”

The wine pro worked as a food runner and server while studying painting at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. “It was eye-opening,” she says, reflecting on the diversity of people and cuisines she encountered while working in cafes. “I remember thinking, ‘There’s a whole universe out there, and it’s so delicious.’”

It was at Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain where she immersed herself in wine. “I said, ‘I’m just going to put my head down until I come up above water,’” she recalls, reflecting on how she tackled the multifaceted subject. After a year, she expressed interest in directing the wine program. The management team gave her the green light. “It was a lesson that if you ask for something, you might get it,” she says.

Today at Pammy’s—the warm and wonderful eatery of husband-and-wife team Chris and Pam Willis—Hayes curates a focused selection of natural pours, sourced from Italian and American producers who make wine in small (often miniscule) quantities. The 65-bottle selection changes constantly, so it helps that the wine list’s categories—which include “bright and mineral” and “rustic and bold”—allow guests to tune in to characteristics they’re craving on a particular night.

A 2015 red from Sicilian producer Girolamo Russo is crafted mostly from nerello mascalese, a varietal that’s native to a rugged landscape defined by still-active volcano Mount Etna. Giuseppe Russo, who trained as a classical pianist before returning to his family’s homestead, named the winery for his late father. Hayes admires his organic, by-hand approach. A bottle called “San Lorenzo,” the moniker for a sector of land occupying the highest elevation among his vineyards, is pretty with cherry, tobacco, and earth on the nose. Its aromatics and structure bring out the best in Casarecce pasta, tossed with a tumble of wild mushrooms, Swiss chard, emerald plums, and a rich dollop of mascarpone.

A 2012 bottle called “Io Cammino da Solo” (which translates to “I walk alone”) hails from Piedmont, crafted by winemaker Daniele Ricci. When you hear that the juice and skins of timorasso grapes soak in amphora for 100 days, you might wonder what the resulting wine will be like. “It’s not as crazy as it sounds,” reassures the somm, detailing how Ricci works gently to avoid harsh textures or flavors. The orange wine—offering scents of wild flowers and something savory—is splendid alongside a bowl of Malfaldine. The ribbons of pasta, which resemble the curly edges of lasagna noodles, cradle a saucy braise of rabbit, ‘nduja sausage, and green peppercorns.

Asked what she focuses on when working with wine, Hayes doesn’t hesitate. “It’s important to see the bigger picture,” she says. “It’s about humanity, deliciousness, and bringing people together.”

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