Photograph by Anthony Tahlier
Few sommeliers in America have
enjoyed a trajectory as steep and rapid
as Alpana Singh. In 2000, at the age
of 23, she became the sommelier for
Chicago’s acclaimed Everest. Three
years later, she became the youngest
woman to become certified as a
Master Sommelier, and soon shifted
into a larger role as wine and spirits
director of the Lettuce Entertain You
(LEY) group. Singh left LEY late in
2011 but stayed in Chicago to pursue
a project of her own: The Boarding
House. The multi-level space is
divided into the First Floor Wine Bar
(featuring a chandelier made with
9,000 wine glasses); the Dining Room;
and, below ground, a more lounge-
ish Cellar. All three have been packed
since the December 2012 opening.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK:
have a go-to region or type of wine?
I would say South-
ern Rhône and Spain. We get a lot of
customers that like California Cabernet;
Rhône and Spanish wines pair well with
food but the style is not far off.
What is a favorite current
pairing from your menu and list?
Pierre Gonon St. Joseph ’09 with
Bavarian sausage and choucroute. The
smokiness of dish with Northern Rhône
Syrah is fantastic.
Do you do special
No. But I isolate a page of “top
wines of the moment” toward the front
of the list. We change that about every
What software system do you
use to manage your list/inventory?
I have a spreadsheet on Google
Docs. An outside company comes in
once a week to do bar and wine physi-
cal inventory, so I can monitor the differ-
ential between purchasing and selling.
Spoilage by the glass is important.
Do you have a system for
managing your wine orders?
I get nightly reports of what was
sold. Our master is set up listing bot-
tles on hand, with another field that al-
lows me to punch in number to order. I
can download that as an order sheet.
I order Monday for Tuesday and then
Thursday for Friday.
What were some of the
challenges in starting from scratch?
First was not knowing what to put on
the list. My taste leans toward classics;
I did not know if people were more into
esoteric or still drinking California. Also
just the general size of the list. At Ever-
est no one ever questioned the length
of the list. We have storage limitations
here at The Boarding House. I originally
aimed for 350, and tasted 1,400 wines
to start. Eventually we wound up at 500.
What are some wine trends
you have noticed recently?
Chinon. Loire in general. We went
through 50 cases of a Chinon—the dis-
tributor’s entire supply—then switched
to Olga Raffault and it still is very popu-
lar. Also Syrah; I don’t know why some
people think people are not ordering
Syrah. Something I think is coming:
esoteric grape varieties from California.
Arnot-Roberts and Palmina are two ex-
amples. Younger winemakers are geek-
ing out and there is a lot of potential to
work with interesting grapes.
What advice do you find
yourself frequently telling your staff?
My motto is: it’s all about the pal-
ate not the price point. We have enough
price points for a spectrum. Even if
someone wants to spend three digits,
the style comes first. We do wine training
once a week, and this is why we spend
a lot of time on comparative tasting, so
they are set up to recommend wine in
the style a customer asks for.
What is another wine program
that you admire?
Frasca in Boulder. Bobby Stuck-
ey has a super Italian selection that
matches the cuisine, and impeccably
A Fresh (& Big) Start
Alpana Singh, Proprietor/Master Sommelier,
The Boarding House, Chicago
BY W. R. TISH
Wine-inspired global cuisine
Selections on wine list:
Bottles in inventory:
Price range of list:
Average bottle price:
Sweet spot on list:
Wine list strengths:
France, Pinot Noir, small producers; the
list itself, organized mostly by grape, but
then sectioned by style/region and
annotated with eclectic wine quotations
3-ring binder; 50 total
Wines by the glass:
7 white; 9 red
Price range by the glass:
Schott Zwiesel Tritan Forte
None; turnover is
frequent and each part of the restaurant
starts with fresh bottles every shift
THE BOARDING HOUSE