Legendary French gourmet Andre Simon once wrote that "wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized."
2016's Best Sommelier Jason Restivo would add that wine also makes life more interesting.
"What I love best about wine are the stories," muses the lifelong oenophile. "Not just about the terroir and the vintage, but the people who make it, who harvest the grapes and spend years waiting for them to become magical."
He's traveled the world spending time with vintners and tasting their wares, from South African Shirazes to French Burgundies, all in the name of recommending the perfect bottle for the table. Not that he doesn't consider terroir—the imprint the environment makes on a particular harvest—important: He admits bringing bring back soil and rock samples from the ends of the earth for souvenirs.
A hospitality service veteran who got his start washing dishes at 15 in San Luis Obispo, CA, Restivo learned fine dining finesse at the famed Carmel Pebble Beach Resorts, where he also met his wife, Jennifer.
The Restivos moved to the south in 2004, where Jason has made a name charming diners at Garibaldi's and the Olde Pink House. He has lent his services to the ever-growing Savannah Food & Wine Festival, and the bottle-strewn aftermaths of the Restivos' house parties are legendary. (Even the cat is named Grüner Veltliner, after the crisp Austrian white.)
The Restivos will continue to bring their passion for the finest wine, food and company this fall with the Atlantic, currently under construction at the corner of Victory and Drayton. A European-style eatery with generous outdoor seating, the Atlantic promises to fill a niche in Savannah's rising food scene with seasonally-driven small plates, all day service, and a vintage bathtub full of chilled rosé varietals.
"Rosés, in my opinion, are some of the best wines for Savannah, especially when it's warm," says Restivo, corkscrew in hand for a magnum bottle of blush-hued Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir.
"They complement the flavors of Southern food, and their lower alcohol content lets you enjoy them with brunch and beyond. This town loves to drink in the afternoon."
While he could wax on about bouquet and floral notes, this sommelier actually prefers to pour and let the wine speak for itself.
"Wine is a vessel for the experience," he nods sagely as he sips.
"The whole point is to complement the conversation at the table."—Jessica Leigh Lebos
Runner up: Allison Crumpton at the Grey