The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

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Page 34 of 108

34 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2016 { a lifetime of service } ACCORDING TO RENZO RAPACIOLI, WHEN HE STARTED HIS CAREER AS A somm in 1966, there were only three other restaurants in New York City with a des- ignated sommelier in the dining room. True to European fine-dining tradition, he would sho w up on the floor in a starched white apron and short jacket, with a silver tastevin and a cellar key on a chain around his neck. Rapacioli has come a very long way since then, in a career that has spanned 50 years. He started as a 16-year-old Italian immigrant from a small village in Emilia-Romagna and has had a successful and dedicated career as a sommelier in some of most renowned restaurants in Manhattan. He began by working at celebrity hideaway Laurent—serving the likes of Richard Burton and Salvador Dali—and remained there for 30 years until the restaurant closed. During Rapacioli's tenure, Laurent was one of the first restaurants to be awarded a Wine Spectator Grand Award, which it received from 1985–1990. After Laurent's closing, Rapacioli spent the next six years at the celebrated 21 Club and after that was employed at Barolo Ristorante for 16 years. For the past three years, Rapacioli has worked at venerable Theater District Italian restaurant Barbetta, making him quite possibly the oldest working sommelier in the city. During his lengthy career as a sommelier, he also served on the Board for the Sommelier Society of America for many years, including two terms as President. While working at Laurent, Rapacioli began studying for the title of Master Sommelier by taking the beginner course in New York. However, with a growing family of three children being his first priority, it was not possible for him to travel to London for the exam (the first U.S. exams were not held until 1986). Later, Rapacioli's involvement with wine allowed him travel around the world, capturing many colorful stories that he delights in telling. "The most satisfying feeling is the appreciation from the customers who compliment you on your service and your suggestions for their meal," says Rapacioli. "I have enjoyed, and will enjoy, all of these comments for the rest of my life." by David Gadd / photo by Evan Sung Celebrating its 110th anniversary this year, Barbetta is the oldest Italian restaurant in New York. Its landmark status has been recognized by the prestigious and highly selective Locali Storici d'Italia organization, based in Milan, which has designated Barbetta a Locale Storico (Historic Establishment), the only restaurant in America to have been so named. Founded in 1906 by Sebastiano Maioglio, Barbetta is now owned by his daughter, Laura Maioglio. The evolution of Barbetta's Piemontese cuisine from its founding in 1906 can be traced through the menu, on which is noted the year it was first served at the restaurant. Likewise, Barbetta's wine list helped introduce this country to the great wines of Piemonte, many of which were unknown to Americans before that time. In 1962 when Ms. Maioglio took over Barbetta, only one Barolo was being imported into America and Barbaresco and Gattinara were not imported at all. Today, the list continues to win numerous awards. BARBETTA: Making History A Vintage Somm Sommelier Renzo Rapacioli. Renzo Rapacioli with Barbetta owner Laura Maioglio in the Barbetta dining room. AFTER 50 YEARS ON THE FLOOR, RENZO RAPACIOLI IS STILL NOT READY TO RETIRE HIS CORKSCREW

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