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Classical 101

Wine and music pairings with the sommelier at The Refectory

Sommelier Taylor Wolf sniffs a glass of wine at The Refectory
Jennifer Hambrick
Sommelier Taylor Wolf at The Refectory

Taylor Wolf followed an interesting path to his current job as a sommelier at the noted Columbus restaurant The Refectory. He talks about some of his favorite wines in a five-course video wine tasting.

It was one of the most nerve-wracking nights in Taylor Wolf’s life. He was working as a server in an upscale restaurant, and a guest asked for a bottle of wine from one of the world’s most famous winemakers. It was a Saturday night, the restaurant was bustling and as Wolf twisted the corkscrew, the cork broke in the most expensive bottle of wine he had ever opened.

Ironically, that harrowing experience turned out to be the beginning of Wolf’s career as a sommelier, or wine steward, in which role he now serves at the noted Columbus French restaurant The Refectory.

“I was put to ease at the end of the shift when I was able to try a little bit of just one of the iconic wines of the world,” Wolf said. “When I got that sensation on the palate and was just blown away by what a wine could taste like, that’s when the gears started going in my head.”

Before the gears started turning, Wolf had studied agribusiness and applied economics at Ohio State University and planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and manage a marina in his native Sandusky. While at OSU, Wolf worked in campus dining halls, then took jobs serving food at country clubs and higher-end steak houses. He learned everything he could about wines so he could sell them to diners, and he discovered a passion for the fruits of the grape and for serving guests.

“I just had such a love for it, being able to interact with guests and create these truly remarkable experiences at restaurants. This for me I knew was my career and what I wanted to do,” Wolf said.

After graduating from OSU, Wolf continued to serve in fine restaurants and passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Level One exam, what he calls his first “serious” step toward his current career. Wolf’s preparation met opportunity when, in 2021, he took the sommelier position at The Refectory.

In that position, Wolf has a reputation to uphold. As sommelier he’s responsible for curating The Refectory’s wine program, which last fall received its 20th straight Best of Award Of Excellence Award from Wine Spectator. The wine program which Wolf now curates was the one that helped him broaden his palate during his first years on the job.

“Experiencing the wines and tasting the wines, as many as you possibly can, you train the palate a lot. Once you start getting into that wine world and you just start tasting more and more, I think that’s the big thing – not narrowing your path to just one wine, but just the broad spectrum that isn’t often represented.

And while Wolf’s main duty is to find wines to complement the creations of Refectory Executive Chef Richard Blondin, his work does claim the spotlight occasionally in The Refectory’s Wine Dinners and wine-tasting events. In this video tasting, Wolf takes us through a five-course tasting menu, from salad to dessert, one wine at a time.

But what’s a meal without music? Here are some of my suggested musical pairings for the wines Wolf discusses in his tasting.

First Course: Bach’s music reaches the depths of sorrow and the pinnacle of joy. His sparkling Brandenburg Concertos, orchestral suites and Christmas Oratorio pair nicely with the 2015 Pierre Gimonnet Special Club champagne.

Second Course: Wolf calls the 2020 Te Mata Cape Crest Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc “a wine that doesn’t calm down.” Mozart was so prolific in his short life that he, too, must never have had an idle moment.

His letters suggest that he was also really up all the time and liked nothing more than a good party, and this wine’s overt citrus tones pair well with the sunny personality of much of Mozart’s music. And with the citrus of a sauvignon blanc but the fuller body of a chardonnay, the wine mirrors both the textural clarity and the structural depth of Mozart’s music.

Third Course: There’s something mysterious about the 2021 Chacra Chardonnay Mainqué, from Argentina. It’s made in South America, but it tastes totally French. Its citrus-forward palate rounds out with hints of vanilla and toffee. Lurking beneath is the rich, complex terroir of the biodiverse vineyard that produced the grapes.

French composer Claude Debussy’s music is as kaleidoscopically colorful as this wine is flavorful, and its enigmatic inner workings are more complex than its ravishing surface sonorities might on first blush suggest.

Fourth Course: To Wolf’s palate, the 2021 Matthieu Barret Petit Ours Côte du Rhône Syrah, though produced in France, tastes as though it could have been made by the so-called Rhône Rangers, winemakers on the American West Coast devoted to making wines from Rhône Valley grape varieties.

“It’s much more fruit-forward than a typical French wine, more New World,” Wolf said of the Petit Ours Syrah.

The late 19th- and early 20th-century French composer Cécile Chaminade’s music also made its way to the U.S., where it found many fans. Like the powerful syrah vines that must struggle up steep hillsides to grow, Chaminade was a powerhouse composer who struggled against misguided notions of women’s abilities in a male-dominated profession. Her music is at once robust and elegant – not unlike this syrah.

Fifth Course: The 1982 Domaine de Rancy Riversaltes Ambré, from the small town of Rivesalts in southeastern France, is a French wine that behaves on the palate much like a port or madeira.

Composer Maurice Ravel was born to a French father and a Basque mother in Ciboure, a Basque port town in the extreme southwest corner of France. He wrote a number of works inspired by Spain and its traditional dances.

He was also a brilliant orchestrator, and his music flows from one instrumental color to the next, much like this wine’s color deepens and its youthful plate of caramel, brown sugar and cinnamon takes on tones of chocolate and espresso as it ages.

Classical 101 Winewine tasting
Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.