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Interview with Thomas Pastuszak, The NoMad

By Alex Hunt MW |  November 29 2020

Located in the heart of New York, Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s The NoMad is rooted in the same traditions found at the Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park. Its menu draws inspiration from Chef Humm’s time spent in Switzerland, California and New York City, while the wine list celebrates great winegrowing from around the world with a wide selection of classic and innovative drinks. In the following interview, The NoMad’s Wine Director Thomas Pastuszak discusses how he developed an interest in fine wine, current trends he’s seeing in New York and what he thinks is the most important element of a good wine list.

Congratulations on being featured in the World of Fine Wine Awards 2015. The awards, chaired by WOFW editor Neil Beckett, celebrate the importance of a good wine selection and are evaluated by a panel of senior judges. How does it feel to be recognized by industry insiders in this way?

This is truly an honor! In the sommelier community, we take great pride in writing wine lists for our restaurants, as an expression of our personal love of specific regions & styles of wine, and as a complement to the cuisine our chefs work at painstakingly to create. To gain this recognition is a great support and affirmation that our work (and fun!) is not going unnoticed by our peers & clientele.

How did you develop an interest in fine wine?

I’ve worked in restaurants since my early teens, moving my way up from a toast boy & dishwasher, through various server & bartender roles to pay-off student loans, and along the way wine always struck me as this fascinating intersection of art, science, agriculture & sheer magic. In the midst of my bartending days in college, I visited my brother in San Francisco, and we explored the vineyards of Napa & Sonoma; the beauty of the vineyards, and my increasing interest in understanding the wines lead me to dive into the world of wine and explore as much as I could.

Was it always your intention to work with fine wine?

I grew-up studying classical piano, and originally was bound for a career in performance, but then fell in love with medicine & the sciences in high school/college, which led me to pursue medical school; it was only after I had completed all of my medical school exams and was on the verge of attending (while simultaneously working in restaurant management) that I decided to purse the world of restaurants. Fine wine was the next logical step in my focus, and I thought it brought together my worlds of performance, art & science in a way that got me very excited!

What is the secret to your success?

I’ve always believed in working hard and supporting your peers & co-workers, because in the end you’re only able to become as successful as the rest of your team and industry; it’s best to help create a bigger pie for everyone to be able to take a piece of, rather than taking a bigger piece of a smaller pie.

What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?

The best wine lists show focus & balance, much like the best wines in the world do; while one could certainly hope to ‘have something for everyone’ and build a tremendous tome, it’s more important to communicate through your list the passion & direction you personally want with breadth & depth of producers you love, rather than a smattering of wines from around the world that you think you ‘should’ feature.

What sets your wines apart?

At The NoMad, the list is built to play a supporting role to Chef Daniel Humm’s cuisine, which is overall very fresh & acid-driven, so I chose to focus on the cool-climate wine regions of the world that historically have created hi-toned, fresh wines that are balanced and can age well; additionally, I like to juxtapose lesser-known cool-climate regions of the New World alongside those of the Old World. After Austria’s Wachau Rieslings you’ll see Finger Lakes Rieslings from New York; right by Burgundy you’ll find Santa Barbara Pinot Noir & Chardonnay; near Bordeaux you’ll see Cabernet & Merlot from Long Island.

Are there any particular wines that you love, or remind you of a certain place or memory?

In New York, Bordeaux wines are not as in-fashion as they once were; many wine lovers are drinking Champagne, Burgundy, Barolo, and interesting cool-climate wines from the US today over Bordeaux. While my personal tastes have fluctuated over the years, every time I smell a well-aged Bordeaux, I always remember the first old wines I tasted over a decade ago, thanks to family friends who shared their cellars with me when I was first getting interested in wine. It was one of the most exciting times of my life, discovering wine, and I’ll never forget the fundamentals of that time.

What wine trends are you seeing in New York?

Younger, passionate wine lovers are starting to really move the direction of the wine industry; they are insisting on better-made, value-driven wines from around the world that carry with them a unique story. In place of many of the great classic wines of the world, you’re seeing lesser-known regions and up-and-coming new areas taking a strong position on wine lists, and becoming a part of the wine conversation in a way that never existed even 5 years ago. To boot, wine lovers are becoming increasingly willing to listen to what sommeliers say, through social media as well as in the restaurant setting, which makes for an even more exciting dialogue about the world of wine.

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