Ask A Boston Sommelier: William Rohlfing Of Sorellina

May 16, 2014 5:08 AM

Do you really need five different wine glasses for five different wines? What goes with a lovely Italian meal besides a Chianti? These are some of the burning questions we had for Assistant General Manager and Beverage Director William Rohlfing of Sorellina. Rohlfing tells us no, there’s no need for all those “foofoo” glasses and offers us some intriguing tips about what’s trending in the wine world right now.
– Katie Curley-Katzman

Here’s some expert advice from Sorellina’s Assistant General Manager and Beverage Director William Rohlfing:

Sorellina AGM/Beverage Director William Rohlfing (Credit: Sorellina)

Sorellina AGM/Beverage Director William Rohlfing (Credit: Sorellina)


Related: Ask A Boston Sommelier Series

Tell us what sets Sorellina’s wine program apart from other restaurants?

I think there are two things that set us apart: our Piemontese selection and our Coravin glass program.
Our Piemontese selection is something we have been working on for several years. I see Barbaresco and Barolo as being very Burgundian in that they showcase single vineyards and single varietals that show very different characteristics. I focus on tracking down older vintages of superb wines for our guests to choose from. Recently, we found a parcel of several vintages and vineyards of Gaja Barbaresco! I don’t think there is anywhere else in New England that offers the breadth and depth that we do with Barolo and Barbaresco.
We use a Coravin to pour some of the world’s greatest wines by the glass. It is a great new tool that allows us to access wines without ever opening them, so the wine can remain fresh for a long time. Right now, we have six Coravin selections, including such luminaries as 2003 Chateau d’Yquem.

How do you create a list that appeals to everyone?

It is important to have the big names that people recognize: Veuve, Cakebread, Silver Oak, Jordan, etc. After that, I like to make sure we have a few geeky wines for people who are looking for something off the beaten path, and a nice broad price range. Dining at Sorellina is a special occasion for many, and I make sure we have special wines for any budget.

(Credit: Sorellina)

(Credit: Sorellina)

How did you get into wine?

Honestly, it was an accident. I discovered wine at a young age when I started working at a restaurant at the Relais & Chateau Inn. When I moved on in my career, I found that very few managers offer any true expertise in wine, so I started studying. I always intended to be a restaurant manager, but I ended up as a beverage manager instead.

What do you open at home?

I usually like to have a glass of wine when I get home, and it’s almost always bubbles. I gravitate towards Cava and California sparkling for the great price/value ratio. And if there is leftover, it can go great with nearly any dish that I want to cook the next day.

Favorite bottle on the restaurant’s list?

That’s a tough one. The one that intrigues me the most is a single vineyard Amarone by Masi from 1985. We only have a few bottles, and I would love the opportunity to try such a special wine from such a great vintage. Of the ones that I have tried (which is most) I really like the Roagna Barbarescos. They are big, burly wines exploding with flavor. They really dismiss the myth that Barbaresco is a lighter version of Nebbiolo than Barolo.

Up and coming wine trends you’re seeing?

The Coravin system is the next big thing. As I said, it allows our guests to sample something truly special without having to commit to a whole bottle. I wouldn’t go out to dinner and buy a whole bottle of d’Yquem, but I’d have a glass, especially if the bottle is fresh. Even wine bar-style pourers only keep products fresh for a few weeks—I’ve tested this product for up to six months with little to no change in the character of the wine. I even saw one restaurant in New York offering their entire 250 label list by the glass! I think that is a bit over the top, but at least they get the idea of how great the Coravin system is. I hope to see more offerings around the city soon.

Are people more savvy about wines than they were say, five-10 years ago? What are they looking for?

I’d say that people seem more comfortable with wine, and more willing to try something new. The ‘sommelier culture’ has really helped push people to see beverage managers and sommeliers as professionals. The movie ‘Somm’ really helped with that; I’ve had a few people tell me specifically that they gained a new found respect of beverage professionals because of the movie. Because of this, I think people are more willing to take recommendations on wines they have never tried before. In short, I would say yes, more savvy about wine and more willing to take a chance on something new.

When some think of Italian wine they undoubtedly go to Chianti, what are your favorite Italian wines?

My favorite Italian wines, and in my opinion the greatest, are Barolo and Barbaresco. Chianti makes great wine as well, but for true grace and elegance mixed with power and finesse, Barolo is the way to go.

Favorite food and wine pairing on the menu?

I found eight cases of 2005 Dog Point Chardonnay out of New Zealand that has aged wonderfully, and I love it along with our wild King Salmon, which is garnished with spring vegetables and a salsa verde. Honestly, it’s about the greatest regular glass-pour I’ve ever had. The richness and creamy oak character really sings along beautifully with the fatty salmon, and the wine has oxidized a touch over the years which I think matches nicely with the spring green vegetables. I’ve got about a case and a half left—come get some!

Any new wine regions you’re exploring now?

(Credit: Sorellina)

(Credit: Sorellina)

I’ve been digging down into Northern Italy for hidden gems, and I’ve found two: Nino Negri Sfursat and Gattinara by Travaligni. I clearly enjoy Nebbiolo, and these selections are really interesting expressions. The Sfursat is an ancient wine of Amarone-style Nebbiolo grown high up in the mountains. Very rich, sexy, silky texture with all the refinement of mountain-grown fruit. The Gattinara is lighter, nervy, mineral driven Nebbiolo, also from the mountains. Plus since they are wines nearly forgotten by time, they are a great deal!

How often do you change the wine list?

I make adjustments on a nearly daily basis to make sure the wine list is up to date with my current inventory. As for changes regarding the addition of new wines, I tend to add new wines nearly every week, usually on Fridays in preparation for the weekend.

What do you drink in the summer?

Beer mostly. I’m a sucker for a lighter IPA made with Maine hops. Very floral, but not the piney, crazy rich West-coast style you often see. But, when it comes to wine, bubbles and rose. Really, I drink those year round. I enjoy Red with a meal, but I always like a zippy, tart, refreshing pink wine by itself.

What should a wine beginner know about wine glasses?

Honestly, you don’t need all those foofoo glasses. At home, I have enjoyed everything from every day white plonk to Echezeaux out of the same glass. It is clear, clean, and has a stem so that I don’t have to touch the bowl. I like a moderately sized glass. Don’t forget, ‘professional’ tasting glasses are only about two or so inches across. Cleanliness, having no residual smell, and zero soap residue are the most important things for me.


Katie Curley-Katzman loves learning, collecting and writing about wine. She holds a certificate in wine tasting and education from the Institut d’Oenologie in Aix-en-Provence, France and is a graduate of Salem State University with a degree in English and French. Her wine writing has appeared in the Quarterly Review of Wines Magazine. Have a wine question or suggestion? Tweet her @KatieKWBZ