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The New Role of the Expert

I was a sommelier on Nantucket Island through the ‘90s. This is where I found my passion for wine, met my husband, discovered fine cuisine and discovered the miracle of the right food and wine pairings. I learned how to run a beverage program, manage a wine list, and having not yet even been to the west coast, developed a deep love of California wine.

A big part of my job was introducing customers to wines they’d simply never heard of and certainly never tried. This was a golden era for the sommelier – we were the experts, and customers were totally reliant on our knowledge to make decisions. Today, that’s been turned on its head, and the classic model of the sommelier being the only source of information is fading away.

And believe it or not, I couldn’t be happier.

Back before the Internet made reviews from experts and enthusiasts readily available, even the deeply interested common man didn’t have access to information. With a new abundance of facts and opinions, wine drinkers are getting more confident in their choices and growing more willing to stray outside of the familiar. It’s a glorious free-for-all.

Rather than being rendered obsolete, the profession of sommelier has just been forced to evolve. After the direct-to-consumer blitz of the early 2000s, collectors with robust cellars are left with a whole lot of wine that consulting sommeliers can help guide them through. Based on their high level of experience, a sommelier is still uniquely qualified to answer how each of those precious bottles should be enjoyed, and when.

In restaurants, the sommelier can still offer an unrivaled level of familiarity with that wine list in relation to that menu, and they should welcome customers with infinite information available on their smartphone. These customers are more engaged and curious, and can feel even more confident in their selections.

The recommendation of an expert who can place a fine wine in context is still invaluable to help you discover new bottles. The recommendation is just the start of a journey.

My featured pick:

2007 & 2008 Arietta Napa Valley Red Blend Duo

Arietta Variation One and Quartet are red blends that swept me up in their extraordinary compositions. They’ve been featured on tasting menus at restaurants like the French Laundry, and won over sommeliers in fine restaurants across the country. These are two bold, food-friendly Napa reds perfect for those who love Californian interpretations of Old World style. But, of course, do your own research!

Follow me on Twitter @punkytime

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