Jesse Eslin · The Table at Season to Taste
Michael Serpa · Select Oyster Bar
Ted Hawkins · SRV
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.
When it’s time to educate colleagues about wine, Jesse Eslin takes a novel approach. Before anything else, he has them tie on blindfolds.
“We have wine class every Wednesday for both the front and back of house,” explains the wine director of The Table at Season to Taste in North Cambridge. “I like to figure out how a sense of fun plays into it.”
During one session, he might ask staff members—temporarily deprived of sight—to identify items presented to them. Do they smell an apple slice or a freshly peeled carrot? Could it be a chunk of potato? Later, he invites them to take a bite of something sweet, encouraging them to discern whether it’s a regular Oreo cookie or a golden version of the treat. “They taste remarkably similar,” Eslin confides.
From the laughter and conversation around the table, it’s clear that students are paying attention to their senses. It’s a practice that’s key to analyzing wine, which comes next. “It builds a baseline before we dive into particular regions and their wines,” he says.
Growing up on the North Fork of Long Island, New York, Eslin worked summers at the restaurant of a local golf course. But it wasn’t until he relocated to Boston and began working at Craigie on Main in Cambridge that he caught the wine bug. Today, Eslin curates an 80-bottle list at The Table, which complements the hyper-seasonal, French-inflected fare of chef Carl Dooley, also a Craigie alumnus.
The 2015 Ettore Germano “Rosanna” Brut Rosé occupies a special place on that list. The blushing pink bubbly reminds Eslin of his visit to the estate, in Italy’s Piedmont, where the wine is made. Getting there proved to be an adventure. “You read in books about the rolling hills, but they’re really, really steep,” he recalls, describing the challenge of navigating small roads with no guardrails. At journey’s end, it was a relief to be welcomed by fourth-generation winegrower Sergio Germano and his wife Elena, and to sip their lovely wines.
The somm talks about the sparkling nebbiolo’s gorgeous effervescence, crafted in the traditional method, the same process by which Champagne is made. It’s excellent with red snapper tartare, a recent first course on the ever-changing tasting menu, featuring pristine chunks of raw fish and diced carrots, flavored with sesame oil and the Peruvian chili paste aji amarillo. It arrives, ready for scooping, with house-made tortilla chips. “It’s a little fruity, savory, and in your face with flavor,” Eslin declares.
In another first course option, rosy slices of grilled flank steak come tucked amidst roasted beets, crumbled feta, and toasted walnuts. The dish is seasoned with a special harissa, an aromatic blend of North African chilies and crushed rose petals. Eslin recommends it with a 2011 Domaine des Enfants Sauvages “Roi des Lezards,” a carignan from Languedoc-Roussillon, crafted by a German couple who relocated to the South of France to make wine.
“It’s fuller in body with tons of dark fruit, perfectly drinkable as you’d ever want,” enthuses Eslin, noting that the red’s earthy components play off the rusticity of the beets. “Balance is key,” he says. “It has great acidity that keeps everything moving.”