A couple of beach bums got deep in their cups with a Le Bernardin sommelier...

"Don’t let your analysis get in the way of your enjoyment. Wine is fun and keeping it that way keeps one motivated to learn more.”

-Lukas Dempsey, Sommelier at Le Bernardin and In-House Wine Specialist at Sotheby’s

The copious amount of wine may have had something to do with it, but we’re convinced there is no better lunch date in New York City than Lukas Dempsey, a true wine virtuoso full of bonhomie. To celebrate the launch of our ‘Tombarolo’ cabana set, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Lukas.

As a sommelier at Le Bernardin and in-house wine specialist at Sotheby’s, Lukas is exposed to legendary wines and interacts with knowledgeable clientele with sophisticated palettes.

Subjecting him to our company and questions was no doubt a low point in his career, but he did a great job hiding it. We had a blast with Lukas and were impressed by his knowledge, good humor and passion for wine since such a young age.

Lukas arrived to lunch with a fresh tan from a trip to Hawaii. Sotheby’s had sent him to appraise some wines from a private collection slated to go to auction in New York, but he was more interested in talking about SPAM – a staple of the Hawaiian food scene since World War II. Lukas explained that he grew up eating SPAM and rice, so it conjures fond memories for him:

“I feel I have a duty to spread the word about it. I think that it's unfairly maligned… It's objectively delicious, and one of the most umami-rich and textural foods I can think of… It's also super easy to pair with wine. It's salty and rich, so anything to combat that tends to be a good match. Sweetness is a wonderful counterpart to salty foods and acidity is the perfect counterpart to richness. For me, this makes Riesling the natural choice…

“I can't take credit for this pairing though. The first time I experienced it was at noreetuh, which has an excellent selection of Riesling and SPAM in a few places on the menu. At this point it's a pairing I recreate nearly every time I visit, which is often. If you've not yet been, I highly recommend.”

Lukas’s interest in wine began while he was working in restaurants during college. Learning the ins and outs of the wine list to make thoughtful recommendations to customers started as a practical means to boost check averages for bigger tips. But this quickly sparked an insatiable curiosity, and Lukas began collecting and reading wine books for his own enjoyment.

“I’ve never been a voracious reader, but reading about wine always felt different to me. I remember visiting home with my heavy wine books, annotating and taking notes in my free time. My parents were supportive but I think they found it to be bizarre.”

When it comes to navigating the vast world of wine, Lukas recognizes that it can be a bit overwhelming at first.

“I do agree that wine can be intimidating and I think that’s a shame. I am certainly not immune to this and I remember as a younger sommelier, being nervous to express my opinions, even to my colleagues. But, you just have to go for it. Trust yourself and your inner voice and remember that wine is subjective. If someone is patronizing you, they’re missing the point of it all.”

Lukas takes a disarmingly simple and down-to-earth approach to wine, making it feel accessible, fun and discovery-driven. When pressed, he gave us some foundational advice on exploring and enjoying wine to the fullest:

“Mindful drinking! Be mindful when drinking wine, and pay attention to what you’re experiencing. Also, taste as often as possible.

“I think the most important question should be “do I like the wine?”. From there, try to determine what specifically you like (or dislike) about it. Draw parallels between this wine and others you’ve tasted in the past and try to pay attention to things like geography and varietal. Don’t get so caught up in technicality and detail- I promise these eventually make sense.”

We wrapped up by gathering some local tips from Lukas, including his favorite wine stores in New York: Brooklyn Wine Exchange, Terry’s, Somm Cellars, Manhattan Wine Company and, of course, his very own Sotheby’s.

“I think the best stores are the ones which are the most thoughtful, with emphasis placed on sourcing and curation, beyond just selling the fast-movers and trendy stuff.

“I like to keep a few great shops in my rotation. My advice is to make friends and become a regular at a few places. It’s tough on the wallet, but shopping is more fun that way and loyalty can give you access to wines that are not always on the shelf.”

We even got him to open up about his favorite place to drink beer (yes, he drinks beer too, and even the cheap stuff). He likes the legendary dive bar Rudy’s – their free-hot-dog-with-your-drink special got him through tight times early in his career!

Shop our Tombarolo set and explore the rest of the Tombolo bar cabinet below!