A newsmaker you should know: Like wine he serves, sommelier gets better and better

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From an early age, Christian Tripodi, 41, wanted to be an FBI agent.

That's one reason that, after working as a food server and bartender as a young adult, he started studying law enforcement at the ICM School of Business. Halfway through his first year, he took a test to become a border patrol agent, passed and was hired to work the border in California and New Mexico starting in 2003.

Two years later, when he felt that New Mexico wasn't the place he and his wife wanted to live, he quit his job and moved to Florida, where he believed his restaurant experience would land him a good job. Before long, he was back at bartending, which he used as a launching pad for another career.

"I obtained a U.S. Sommelier Foundation Certificate from Le Cordon Blue, Miami, because I wanted to learn as much as I could about the subject," he recalled.

The next rung in his career ladder came when he became the sommelier at the Paradiso Ristorante in Palm Beach, Fla. As a sommelier, he determined the best wines to be paired with the restaurant's food, created and maintained the restaurant's wine list, made sure the wines were cared for properly and made suggestions to customers on the best wines to enhance their dining.

Next came a turn at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss., a property owned by four-time James Beard Award winner Todd English. This was followed by a move to Cache Creek Casino Resort in Sacramento, Calif., which gave him a chance to continue his wine education by finishing the Advanced Wine Immersion 2 classes at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in Napa Valley. Eventually, he earned his Certified Sommelier Certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Professional Certificate from Greystone.

In early 2009, he saw an opening at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh. As someone who lived in "the Burgh" for 31 of his 41 years, he said he jumped at the chance to move back. In May 2009, he brought his wine knowledge with him as the casino's sommelier.

His latest move in November 2011, found him at the Cioppino Restaurant and Cigar Bar in Pittsburgh's Strip District, where he started as beverage manager and assistant general manager. A month later, he became the restaurant's general manager and sommelier, where he oversees the wine list of more than 150 selections and works closely with executive chef and multiple James Beard nominee for the Best in the Mid-Atlantic, Greg Alauzen, to match his Tuscan-style cuisine with an appropriate wine.

"My goal is to diversify the wines to compliment the menu," said Mr. Tripodi, a resident of Mount Washington.

One of the first things he did at Cioppino was intensify the beverage training of the servers and oversee and the series of wine dinners held at the adjacent Osteria 2350, one of the four components of the Cioppino Group that includes Cioppino, the adjacent cigar bar and Osteria 100, located Downtown.

"The wine dinners covered five Italian culinary regions and featured Italian wines," he said. "At the beginning of May, we staged our first wine dinner at Cioppino."

Currently, Cioppino offers 50 percent off ultra-premium bottles of wine every Monday. The restaurant also serves what Mr. Tripodi calls "one of Pittsburgh's largest wine-by-the-glass selections."

"I'll sell 90 percent of the wines on my list by the glass if a patron gives me a two-glass guarantee," he said.

While Cioppino's cellar features wines from around the world, Mr. Tripodi hopes to add selections from Long Island and New York's Finger Lakes region soon.

Last year, he was named one of the city's three best sommeliers by CBS Pittsburgh in 2012.

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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