Chantelle Grilhot is the first woman to hold the position of sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead's Dining Room.
And P.S. - she's
It's Friday evening at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead's Dining Room
, and Chantelle Grilhot
, the restaurant's sommelier (or wine director, in American parlance), is weaving among tables with unruffled focus.She
pours discreet amounts of a coveted 1982 Chateau Margaux Bordeaux into each glass of a six-member party.With a soothing countenance, she
checks in on a nervous young couple who've ordered Ravenswood Zinfandel, a popular California label the pair might have spied on supermarket shelves.
Then, with her
tailored black suit rustling elegantly, Grilhot
grabs a lithe, yellowish bottle and heads toward us.
"This is a Riesling from the Pfalz region of Germany," she
begins.We're on the third course of the chef's tasting menu, and Grilhot
has paired each dish with a wine chosen to succinctly match the food.
"Chef received his
first shipment of white European asparagus this morning," she
eyes downward for a moment, nods to herself and smiles.
...I first encountered Grilhot early last year when I was reviewing Joel, where she worked as the assistant sommelier.She
was memorable on several accounts: First, it was a refreshing surprise to receive wine service from someone who looks like Sade.When I asked for guidance on wines that would go well with tartare of sea bass and crab cake in apple curry sauce, she
thoughtful nod and turned on her
returned with a relatively obscure Roussanne from Washington state that kindled our senses with the perfume of summer peaches.For our entrees, she
produced a half-bottle of affordable Burgundy that nimbly complemented both delicate loup de mer in cream sauce and brawny roasted pork shoulder in sage jus.
It was more, though, than the deft selections that made her
talked about wine with engaged, giddy reverence.She
grinned and turned her
eyes heavenward when she
spoke of the soil of French vineyards, and expounded breathlessly about the merits of South African Sauvignon Blancs.Wine through her
eyes was approachable and sexy.
At that meal I recognized the true joy of encountering a good sommelier: It's the pleasure of letting a knowledgeable person choose wines that you may have never heard of before and may never taste again, but that fit the food and mood of one particular meal brilliantly.Grilhot
impressed me as a trustworthy guide for that kind of experience.
But how does someone that young know so darn much?
"I never grew up drinking wine.I drank water and juice," laughs Grilhot
, who was raised in San Francisco and Atlanta.
A year-and-a-half later, after Grilhot
had turned 21, Joel
's assistant sommelier position opened."I decided to take a risk on Chantelle
," says Buttin, "as my mentor in Paris had taken a risk on me 15 years ago."
Buttin taught Grilhot
not only about the product, but how to present herself to guests.
speaks about her
time under Buttin's tutelage with gratitude.
...While working at Joel, Grilhot began studying for the grueling three-level exams conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Only 56 candidates in the United States have been awarded the title of "master sommelier," 11 of whom are women.She
passed the first level of the exam early last year, and took second place in 2004's
regional Young Sommelier in America competition.Amid all her career developments, she also found time to marry J,rome Grilhot, chef of the Seasons Dining Room at the Capital City Club in Brookhaven, in 2002.Her
life appeared to be on the fast track in every aspect.