Prominent New York Wine Merchant and Sommelier Dies Suddenly
One of New York City's more prominent and well-liked wine personalities, wine merchant and ex-sommelier Jean-Luc Le Dû, has died suddenly at the age of 52. No details are available at this time, but a note on the Facebook page for his highly rated 10,000-square-foot wineshop in Manhattan's West Village, posted shortly before 8 p.m. on December 27, read "With total sadness, we must announce the death of our founder, Jean-Luc Le Dû. He passed in his sleep. He was a light in our lives, for our shop, and for the world of wine. Bless him on his travels and let his soul be free."
Responses from Le Dû's friends and colleagues were immediate and often disbelieving. "Shocked, speechless and heartbroken!" wrote Aldo Sohm, head sommelier at Le Bernardin and proprietor of Aldo Sohm Wine Bar. Rita Jammet, former co-proprietor of the late, legendary La Caravelle and now a Champagne producer, wrote "I'm in complete and utter shock." Other comments included "What???? No!," "This is not possible," "OMG, this can not be real," and "Please tell us this is not real."
A native of Gourin in Brittany, Le Dû fell in love with wine not in France but in Queens. Visiting his aunt and uncle there for Thanksgiving in 1987, he tasted a bottle of 1964 Château Cheval Blanc, and, he later said, "I was blown away."
He resolved to teach himself about wine, and decided to spend $100 a week buying different wines to sample. He went to work as a captain at the now-closed Bouley, then was given the chance to use his early wine knowledge by composing a new wine list for One If by Land, Two If by Sea. His next stop was Restaurant Daniel, where he was to remain for a decade, soon becoming head sommelier.
He left the restaurant trade in 2004 and the next year opened Le Dû's Wines.
With his well-trimmed Van Dyke beard, unruly hair, and thick glasses, Le Dû could have been a Left Bank intellectual — maybe a professor of semiotics at the Sorbonne. His approach to wine, however, was anything but academic. As both a sommelier and a wine merchant, he was unpretentious, accessible, and animated with a genuine and contagious enthusiasm for wine, especially of the underappreciated variety.
He was also a sometime musician and lover of rock-and-roll — a wine guy to whom Hendrix, Jagger, and Strummer meant as much as Mondavi, Antinori, and Lurton. Combining his two great loves, he even supplied a "punk rock wine list" for The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists by Amy Wallace and Handsome Dick Manitoba. In matching the album "The Clash" (he specified the U.K. pressing) with Barolo, he noted "There's nothing like a blitz of razor-sharp guitars and incendiary political wit…to echo this classic, sharp-as-a-knife gem from Northern Italy…"
Former sommelier and wine educator Wayne Young, who now runs the Bastianich winery in Friuli, added this about Le Dû to the comments on Facebook after his demise: "You know those t-shirts with a list of wine stains on them? I’m pretty sure Jean-Luc invented it. It wa[s at] Vinitaly in the late 90s and Jean-Luc actually cataloged the wine stains on his t-shirt. True story!" Le Dû was, Young concludes, "A real gentleman and consummate professional."