Like the growth of a grapevine, ripening through the seasons to maturity, the last 10 years of Fred Dexheimer’s life has been full of twists and turns, each of them adding a crucial layer to the foundation of his professional success and oenological knowledge. At 27, Dexheimer takes control of the wine program at BLT Steak, backed by a remarkable collection of wine experiences and wine collection itself.
With curiosity and youth on his side, Dexheimer traveled west to Jackson Hole the at the Amangani Resort, and by day, field questions at the area’s largest wine retailer, Quaker House, soaking in all that he observed like a bunch of grapes basking in the sun.
Dreams of vast wine cellars and customers to support them fueled him to then pack up his mountain gear and wine key and travel east to Nantucket. Taking full advantage of the opportunities on this resort island, he assisted the sommelier of the White Elephant by night, and managed Wauwinet’s wine cellar by day. As the summer season drew to an end, Dexheimer, certain of his path, followed his nose to Jackson Hole for the Wine Spectator Auction where Jean Luc le Du discovered him sniffing out the best vintages of Margaux and Lafitte-Rothschild. With a nod to the east and the promise of an assistant sommelier position at Daniel, Dexheimer was New York bound.
While continuing his search for knowledge and thirst for wines he’d not yet tasted, Dexheimer proudly describes his tutelage under esteemed Sommelier Paul Grieco at Gramercy Tavern, where he learned far more than obscure varietals. It was the enlightened hospitality at Danny Meyer’s bastion of American cuisine that added the next ripening layer to Dexheimer as a Sommelier. From cellar management and wine service to staff education, Dexheimer exercised all of his wine-friendly muscles daily, learning the importance of the wines by the glass program as the snapshot of the wine list, of cellar management since this is “where it happens,” and of the cocktail program where top quality liquors, mixers and condiments take the stage. In viticultural terms, he had been pruned and was now flowering, maturing beautifully.
In 2002, Dexheimer accepted his first position as Sommelier at the 3-star ranked Cello. Working alongside Executive Chef, Laurent Tourondel, Dexheimer chose wines that were a perfect marriage to the inventive seafood dishes. His philosophy--to focus less on the fish and more on the collective flavors of the dish.
Wine consultation at L’Impero followed. Here Dexheimer experienced the opening of a restaurant – the construction and operation of a wine list, as well as the staff training – which culminated in a 3-star New York Times review. Stints at Jean-Georges and 66 added yet another knot on the vine, giving Dexheimer the opportunity to manage multiple wine lists at once. And it doesn’t end there. Stages at Iron Horse Winery in Sonoma and Talley in Arroyo Grande expanded Dexheimer’s understanding of the growth of a grape, the harvesting of the crop, and the blending of varietals – not to mention sparked his interest in Southern California Syrah and Pinot Noir. Finally, Dexheimer oversaw the wine pairings with each dish in Tourondel’s upcoming book, ?. With his sights set on the Master Sommelier Exam in 2005, Dexheimer has already added the final touches to his craft; now he is simply polishing.
At BLT Steak, Dexheimer manages a 10,000 bottle cellar, features 700 on the list, and 17 by the glass. New and Old World wines share space, and a “short list” accompanies it, showcasing a smaller, bistro-style selection for convenience and ease. The ingredient-focused classic cocktail menu, designed by Dexheimer, mirrors Tourondel’s approach in the kitchen, with such highlights as a 6 Train Side Car and an 1874 Manhattan. Dexheimer’s goal is unmistakable – to captivate people by encouraging them to try wines they’ve never experienced before, and to enlighten them in the process. And, why not trust him? He’s ripened from the inside, out, appreciating wine from all vantages – in the vineyard, as a retailer, as an educator, in the cellar and on the floor.
When asked how he’ll celebrate the opening of BLT Steak, Dexheimer says with a gleam in his eye, “with Tourondel’s short ribs – they’re the best I’ve had – and a juicy old vine Zin to complement the sweetness in the sauce.”