Tableside with a Somm: Tasting Counter

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. 

Merrick Gilroy has always believed in the merits of perpetual motion. As a youngster growing up in Lawrence, Kansas, he got his first paying gig detasseling corn at the age of 12, followed by a dishwashing job at a natural foods co-op. After moving to the Chicago area in his late teens, his industriousness landed him work in fine dining. 

Arriving in Boston in 2012 with a public policy degree from DePaul University, Gilroy found jobs in his field to be scarce. Not missing a beat, he picked up restaurant work and contemplated graduate school. As he progressed from server to captain at chef Barbara Lynch’s Menton, he realized he was studying wine with more fervor than he was the GRE. “It was a moment of soul-searching,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘I need to make a lane shift.’” He buckled down and sat for an advanced-level exam in wine. “I passed with flying colors and haven’t looked back,” he declares happily. 

Wine enthusiasts throughout Boston have benefited from that lane change. While working as general manager at Stir, Lynch’s demonstration kitchen and event space, Gilroy planned and led a series of wine excursions abroad called “Stir on the Road,” drawing from his travels in Europe. “I think more so than anything, I love acting as that shepherd of information and stories,” he says. 

Today, as beverage director of Tasting Counter in Somerville, Gilroy curates all of the wine, beer, sake, and non-alcoholic pairings that accompany the multi-course tasting menus of chef Peter Ungár. The wine pro is also responsible for the dozen glass pours available during wine bar hours on Tuesday evenings and late nights on Wednesday through Saturday, when guests can dine a la carte or dig into a new three-course prix-fixe menu.  

Gilroy admires winemakers who see themselves as farmers first and allow indigenous yeasts to transform juice into wine. “Having spontaneous fermentation is so important,” he explains. “That means that cellars are so ideal that the flora and fauna of natural yeasts in the air are up to snuff. You realize you’re not the only living thing in the room.” 

A splendid example of that ethos is a 2017 white called “Theodora” from Gut Oggau. It’s crafted by a young couple in Austria’s Burgenland who rehabilitated an abandoned winery and farm biodynamically. Crafted from grüner veltliner and welschriesling, the somm describes it as “crystalline and funky” and full of sprightly energy. On a recent evening during wine bar hours, Gilroy paired it with Ocean Trout Belly. That rich cut of fish—flavored with chilis and molasses and sporting a hint of char—was plated on red curry. Pickled beech mushrooms rounded out the sumptuous presentation.

A 2015 red, made from carignan grapes and named “Roi des Lézards,” is from Domaine Les Enfants Sauvages. The winery, owned by another husband-and-wife duo, is located in southern France near the Spanish border. “On the first sip, I got chills on the back of my neck,” admits Gilroy. “It hits you in such a tender way.” The wine’s fruit and earth pair winningly with Squab in Fava Bean Leaf. The little parcel of poultry, served with artichoke-like cardoons and fava bean tartare, is a delectable course from a recent tasting menu. 

Gilroy marvels at how winemaking traditions are handed down through the centuries, from one generation to the next. “Wine is a love letter from our ancestors,” he enthuses. 

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