PB&J FOR DINNER? PIZZA? MAC AND CHEESE? IF YOU CAN'T THINK OF A GOOD WINE TO SERVE, YOU NEED TO TALK TO JOSHUA WESSON.PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE MOORS.
IT ALL STARTED WITH HIS BAR MITZVAH GIFTS. The son of a restaurant advertising guy, Joshua Wesson was probably one of the only kids at his temple to receive case upon case of French and Italian wines for his bar mitzvah. But by the time his 18th birthday came around (at that time, 18 was the legal drinking age), there were just five or six bottles left. His father, the wine bandit, "always insisted that he did it out of service to the wines because [they] would not have lasted five years in our storage condition," says Wesson, a former sommelier and the cofounder of Best Cellars, a chain of snobbery-free wineshops. But he disputes his pop's claim. "A lot of these bottles were vaunted bottles. These wines probably would have made it to [my 18th] and probably would have even lasted a lot longer, had the corks remained inside of them."
Alas, his drinking loss is our gain. Wesson, now 51, went to grad school to study public health, but memories of a postcollege stint at a restaurant eventually made him reconsider. So he dropped out to step into the front of the house at some of New York's top dining spots. He eventually became a sommelier and, soon after winning a French-government-sponsored contest for U.S. sommeliers, went out on his own as a wine consultant and writer. He penned books, starting with 1989's Red Wine with Fish: The New Art of Matching Wine with Food, with David Rosengarten, who later became a Food Network regular. Then, in 1996, Wesson opened his first Best Cellars store. He has always had a "democratic and egalitarian view of wine's place in the world," he says. "I never had my pinkie out."
The stores (there are now seven - in New York; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Dallas; and Arlington, Virginia) group wines by taste, then separate them into eight style categories such as fizzy, fresh, soft, luscious, juicy, smooth, big, and sweet. And the description of each wine at Best Cellars is downright fun to read. Wesson's goal: to make the "experience of shopping … almost as satisfying as drinking the stuff."
We'll drink to that.
WE PUT WESSON'S taste filter to the test on a supermarket's worth of everyday meals. For each dish, he recommends one wine that everybody (of age and, well, good taste) will enjoy and a second one that's for those who are looking for something a bit more adventurous.