Tableside with a Somm: Sycamore

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.

Olivia Rose Vienneau vividly recalls her first visit to Sycamore, chef-owner David Punch’s farm-to-table restaurant in Newton Centre. To say the meal made an impression would be an understatement.

“We started with the pickled garden vegetables, pork rillettes, and foie gras with membrillo,” she says confidently. “Then the chorizo croquettas, and a salad with dried pear, hazelnuts, and—oh!—there was a crostini cracker, too, spread with herbed chèvre. We got the cobia collar on couscous, the pig’s head terrine, and the pork board—it had both belly and loin—with rutabaga kraut and bacon marmalade,” she says, pausing for a breath. And for dessert? “Meyer lemon pot de crème and the beignets!” she declares.

Vienneau, who grew up in Carlisle, Massachusetts, has been captivated by good food for as long as she can remember. As a youngster, she relished the fried artichokes and gnocchi made by her Italian-born grandmother who resided in Cotuit. “My Grammy Lucia would always say, ‘You’re such a good eater!’” Vienneau says. “To her friends who would be visiting, she would say, ‘Watch her eat this food.’”

On summer breaks during her high school years, Vienneau worked as a server and barista. After studying comparative religions and gender studies at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—and spending semesters abroad in France, Ireland, and New Zealand—she returned to the Boston area. She got on a career track managing restaurants, working at Deuxave and Gaslight Brasserie du Coin, among others. But she felt something was missing. “What I fell in love with was the personal connection of taking care of a table or someone at the bar,” she explains. So when she learned that Sycamore was hiring a server, she secured an interview and got the position.

Today, as Sycamore’s wine director, Vienneau curates a lovely wine program that encompasses 70 bottles and a dozen glass pours. The list is populated primarily by small producers from throughout Europe. She credits the restaurant’s former wine director, Zach Lieberman, for broadening her wine vocabulary. His mentorship honed her ability to tell a wine’s story to a guest.

A 2015 Ceppaiolo “Rosato del Ceppaiolo,” crafted from sangiovese and vernaccia rossa, hails from Umbria in Central Italy. In natural wine circles—where organic and biodynamic vineyard practices are a given and chemical additives are eschewed—winemaker Danilo Marcucci needs no introduction. “He’s the Yoda of Umbrian natural wine,” says Vienneau, referring to Marcucci’s unwavering adherence to principle and collaboration with like-minded producers.

This rosato—Italy’s version of rosé—is quite different from the pale pink style of Provence, France. “It’s very dynamic, on the savory side, and darker in color,” the wine pro enthuses. Offering structure and a bit of tannin, the herbaceous wine is excellent with chef Lydia Reichert’s Black Pepper Casarecce. The scroll-shaped pasta is sauced with a ragu of Hudson Valley duck and framed by a swoop of puréed cherries and Port wine. The dish arrives to the table with a shower of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

A 2016 Vignoble Réveille “Pointe Rouge,” crafted by winemaker France Crispeels in Roussillon, southern France, epitomizes complexity. “There are so many things happening in one sip,” marvels Vienneau, contemplating the grenache-carignan blend. “It’s soft and silky with fruit, but it has the concentration of fruit leather and garrigue,” she says, referring to scrubby, fragrant bushes that cover the rugged landscape.

On a recent winter evening, a shareable platter called Colorado Lamb Two Ways showcased a fork-tender shank adorned with a parsley-garlic-orange gremolata and a grilled lamb sausage with a dollop of sweet-tart pepperonata. A dish of chickpeas and sautéed Tuscan kale completed the presentation.

“The wine is not subtle and neither is the lamb,” remarks Vienneau. “It’s boisterous and pretty unapologetic.”

Navigate the Boston food scene like a pro!

Subscribe to receive intel on Boston’s best bites right in your inbox.

Thank you!