Lessons from Paris from Pittsburgh sommelier Eric Moorer | Drink | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Lessons from Paris from Pittsburgh sommelier Eric Moorer 

“People are afraid and not afraid of change at the same time.”

  • Photo courtesy of Eric Moorer
  • Table at L’Ivress

Drinking wine in Paris for a month-and-a-half sounds like a vacation. But for Eric Moorer, sommelier at or, The Whale, it was a philosophical deep dive into wine and restaurant culture outside of the U.S.

Last May, Moorer got married, and he and his wife’s Airbnb in Paris sat above L’Ivress Sentier, a wine bar in the 2nd Arrondissement where they often closed a night with a glass of wine and a chat with co-owner Loris Limousin. Each helped the other with language skills, and Moorer and Limousin decided to work together someday. Six months later, Moorer took a leave from or, The Whale with the chef’s blessing and went to consult on the Parisian bar’s wine list. “Beyond anything, what’s important to Dennis [Marron, executive chef of or, The Whale] here is growing people. He’s somebody who supports people doing what they feel they would like to be doing and putting them in a position to be successful on their own terms,” says Moorer.

It’s not usual for those in fine dining to work for short periods at other establishments in order to expand their knowledge. Limousin sent Moorer to trendy wine bars in Paris and throughout France and Europe to learn what made them successful. “I found that the appeal of a lot of these other wine bars is that they are on the edge of being trendy without compromising what they actually believe,” says Moorer. “I think French wine bars are a lot more based in being classic and timeless.”

Many of the wineries and wine bars he visited made or served only a select few wines, in contrast to the U.S. tendency toward broad profiles with “a little something for everyone.”

“Culturally, it’s so different because here [in the U.S.] everything is based upon pleasing the customer, not that there’s anything wrong with that. We obviously want people to be happy, and we wouldn’t be here otherwise, but a lot of it has to come back to who you are and what you do well,” says Moorer. “That’s what I took most out of this experience, is that people are afraid and not afraid of change at the same time.” 

In Moorer’s view, the problem with the tyranny of choice that can accompany long wine lists is that it discourages people from trying something new. He found that in France, menus and drinks were highly choreographed to enhance each other, rather than simply expanding customer choice. “[In the U.S.,] I think it comes down to customers trusting the people who were put in, say, my position, to execute a meal or an evening out for them,” he says. “I think people here like to curate their own experiences. I think that you should let each restaurant experience evolve and do its own thing.” So next time you want to order the same cabernet, Moorer recommends trusting a knowledgeable staff member to give you something new. “I think that that’s what dining out is about,” he says.



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