Bobby Stuckey's wine team at Frasca Food and Wine is one of the most formidable in the state, and the crew is frequently praised for its deep, well-built cellar and the knowledgeable, well-spoken sommeliers who create unforgettable pairing experiences for diners, whether their taste is California Cabernet or Austrian Gruner Veltliner.
Now Matt Mather has added to the team's reputation with another award.
This most recent accolade comes from Food & Wine, which named Mather one of the top sommeliers of 2012 for his work on the wine program at Pizzeria Locale, Frasca's sibling restaurant located right next door.
So how did he build the list? "I thought of what's great with pizza," Mather says simply. "Tannic, oaky wines are not great with pizza. What's good with pizza? Softer, more tender wines. I think there's an affinity of flavor with some southern Italian wines, but there are also some really fun things that are not from the south of Italy that have a good application, too. Like whites from Slovenia and reds from Austria. I did things that I would like to drink with pizza and that I thought other people would like to drink with pizza, too."
While many bottles on that list are straightforward, Mather admits to adding selections meant to "incite curiosity," he says. "There's stuff that's off the beaten path, and I don't think people would have as much fun with it outside of the context. I think if people taste Zweigelt or Lacrima or whatever on their own, they'd say, 'That's fun, but I don't know what I'd drink that with.' Conversely, if they're having Zweigelt, an Austrian red, with mushroom pizza, they say, 'Oh, that's fun, now I understand it.' It creates a good sticking point, and it kind of adheres. It's an opportunity to give people a chance to try some different things."
Because he's working with pizza, Mather also gives major consideration to price. "The most expensive wines at Locale are under $60," he notes. "You don't need to spend more than that. At Frasca, a $300 bottle of Barolo makes sense. But not at Locale. I like the idea that the sum of the total experience is more when you're getting the right kind of wine with the right kind of food."
Wine lists without context are a major pet peeve for Mather. "I hate going to a restaurant when there's not much on a menu that I want to drink and there's no one there to tell me why I should drink something," he explains. "That's boring. I want to keep it lively, and it's really fun."
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But that doesn't mean he rolls out wines just for the sake of being trenty. "There's always a place for a somm to be on the cutting edge of the next great thing," Mather says. "But that wine is not necessarily as good with our food as Gruner Veltliner is at Frasca. At the end of the day, you have to objectively view the quality of what's in the glass. I don't want to give someone something that's not nearly as good just to change something for the sake of change."
And that goes for his personal tastes, too. "The first red wine I got into in the '90s was Northern Rhone syrah, and I still fucking love it," he says. "I'm not going to decide that I'm into Agiorghitiko from Greece just because it's hard to pronounce and it goes with my gelled hair and tie. I don't even have hair. I'm old school. I love new ideas, but I'm not going to bump something off to be a trend setter."
At the end of the day, Mather's looking to do one thing: "I want to get people excited, even if it's over something that came out fifteen years ago."