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August 1, 2014

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Beverage guru

Paul Peterson talks classic cocktails, French wine

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Beverly Poppe

Bouchon head sommelier Paul Peterson

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There once was a time when you didn't have to specify what spirit you wanted in your martini. It was gin, and only gin. For some of us, it still is, and on Bouchon's cocktail menu, the gin of choice is Oxley, a cold-distilled, small-batch gin (only 240 bottles are produced per day) that balances out the spirit's usually heavy pine accents with 14 different botanicals. Paired with Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery and Angostura orange bitters, it may just prove the death knell for that other martini spirit.

It's 3 p.m. and the lights are dimming as the oyster bar and cocktails crowd filters into Bouchon, Thomas Keller's French bistro perched on the 10th floor of The Venetian.

Head sommelier Paul Peterson is seated at a back booth inside the restaurant, where the Wrentham, Mass., native oversees its stellar beverage program, from classic cocktails to the 300-strong French- and American-focused wine list.

"In my experiences with European dining, wine is part of everyday life," Peterson said. "It's up to us to find value across the board, and for those willing to broaden their horizons, introduce them to something that they've maybe never had."

Some of Peterson's favorites lately are the Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py, a Beaujolais that challenges what drinkers have come to expect from the region, and Alain Brumont Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Brumaire, a dessert wine that pairs particularly well with Bouchon's crème brûlée. And then there are the cocktails.

"The bar program, like the wine program, is continuously evolving, but it is rooted in the classics," he said, and the attention to detail is comforting: a Negroni with a flamed orange peel and homemade quinine syrup in the reversed "Tonic & Gin." They'll even bring a fountain to your table if you're in the mood for absinthe.

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