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Adding to the Conversation at Claudette, with Seth Liebman

T. Edward Wines, New York Organic wine importer/distributor, Seth Liebman, Karen Ulrich for T. Edward WinesSeth Liebman at Claudette

“I remember the early days at Gramercy Tavern,” said Seth Liebman, the spirited Beverage Director at Claudette. “There was a period when we refused to have Merlot on our list because people would come in and instead of asking for red wine, they’d ask for Merlot as the catch all, even if they wanted Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. Now, in large part thanks to the New York somm community, it’s exploded into so many ‘others’. Who would have thunk someone would walk into a place and ask for Ribolla?”

Much has changed in the ways that we drink wine since Gramercy Tavern in 1995. With adventurous consumers now seeking the ‘other’, more obscure wines that have been championed by the city’s community of sommeliers, Seth questions this championing to the extreme. “I think, somewhat, it’s more about ‘what can I find and bang the drum loudest about’, instead of finding and falling in love with something and taking the stance that people should know about this. The New York community will spend weeks to find that obscure Loire producer, but they won’t put that time into finding the same thing in America. That makes me sad.”

Seth recalled walking into a well-regarded Brooklyn restaurant, with a sommelier that had gained a lot of recognition, and finding a 40 SKU list with 25 wines from the Jura. “I like some Jura. There are a handful of really great producers and a dozen good producers. But I don’t think we need 90%. It’s chasing the tail,” he said. “I know the Jura movement has moved on, but it’s the trend I haven’t gotten over.”

T. Edward Wines, New York wine importer/distributor, Claudette, Karen Ulrich for T. Edward Wines

Practicing the art of expression over collectivism, Seth is a native New Yorker with a healthy dose of cynicism coursing through his veins. As someone who’s always walked to the beat of his own drum, Seth said that it’s taken time to tune into its song. “I’ve always taken the fork,” he said, “what, as Danny Meyer would say, What do you want to add to the conversation?” When Seth first joined Claudette, it was decided that the list would be French, to suit Claudette’s Provence style cuisine. “I looked at France and said, What do I want to say? I sent it to some friends, who thought it was a good list but a bit esoteric, maybe a bit challenging because it doesn’t have many names that jump off the list.” He paused. “It’s filtered through me and what I want to say. What do I want people to have a conversation about?”

Unearthing his passion for wine first at Gramercy Tavern, Seth found his ‘talent’ at Rubicon with Larry Stone. “Larry Stone is at the top of the pyramid for me on a multitude of levels,” he said. “Larry showed a real and strong belief in my talent early in my days at Rubicon. Getting that vote of confidence as well as learning the technical aspects of my job, Larry was most inspiring.”

Later at Mélisse, Seth worked with Brian Kalliel. “Brain taught me about being generous, giving and sharing. He was about giving back. People would give him a glass of their trophy wine and he’d share with me and share with other diners. I try to teach the people I work with and I do that on the floor with people who would or could appreciate it. In my 4-5 years at Mélisse, I never saw so many trophy/unicorn wines on a weekly basis. I [also] owe my love of Bandol and Cahors to Brian. He’s a huge champion of these regions.”

T. Edward Wines, New York wine importer/distributor, Seth Liebman with Manfred KranklManfred Krankl of Sine Non Qua and Seth Liebman

As a self-proclaimed champion of Sine Non Qua, Seth sought to craft the largest collection when he was at Michael’s. “And with all that work, it was still only 15 [on the list]. When I met Manfred [Krankl], he said I had the largest selection in the world!” he said. “For me, it always starts and ends with what’s in the glass. The other stuff, that Manfred walks his walk, talks his talk and stays true to himself, is a bonus. The fact that he didn’t find himself, didn’t start this until after 40, he’s the kind of person I admire. He’s become great at something that wasn’t his first choice and that’s inspiring.” As a lover of “artistry in any shape or form,” Seth added, “it doesn’t have to be high art. [But just] someone taking a risk, standing on a soapbox and saying, I am this.”

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